The Turbulent ’60s and Marcos’ Ascent to Power

We come to it at last, the ’60s. The Philippine economy was doing fairly well. But I have to quickly point out that the line we keep on hearing that the Philippines then was “second only to Japan” was actually a data collated by Angus Maddison in 1950, and in fact, we only became second by default because data from East and Southeast Asian economies have yet to be analyzed then. And the economy was mainly buoyed by war reparations as the scars of war and poverty remained.

But who does the statistical readings but the intellectuals? If one had to keep up with what was the talk of the town, then Philippine politics was it. The latest craze, the latest scandals, the funny quips and booboos of the high and mighty, the common switching of political alliances like the changing of one’s own clothes—these were what was being read by the public with great anticipation.

Scandal and betrayal

Who could forget the Stonehill Scandal? In 1960, only three months after Diosdado Macapagal sat in Malacañang as President, the scandal broke out. Harry Stonehill, the American tycoon and resident of the Philippines, with a wealth worth millions of dollars, was put on the spotlight when his very own manager, Menhart Spielman spilled the beans and revealed Stonehill’s alleged links of corruption with key government officials, whom he bribed and supported in previous elections (foreigners were forbidden to financially support candidates). 

Harry Stonehill, American tycoon in the Philippines
Harry Stonehill, American tycoon in the Philippines. Source: Lopez Museum and Library, via

Spielman was the first whistleblower before Janet Napoles ever was. The Blue Book, where all of Stonehill’s transactions with these corrupt government officials were listed, were all revealed to the public, thanks to the raid led by Macapagal’s Justice Secretary, Jose “Pepe” W. Diokno. The list included President Macapagal himself, who immediately panicked upon hearing about the investigation. 

Jose "Pepe" Diokno revealing Stonehill exposé
Justice Secretary Jose “Pepe” Diokno speaks to televiewers revealing the Stonehill expose. Source: blog of historian Xiao Chua.

Before Diokno could mount a full-blown investigation and before the Senate could implement the scheduled Senate Probe on Stonehill, Macapagal was quick to respond. He immediately defrocked Diokno, deported Stonehill to the U.S. by virtue of Administrative Order No. 19, s. 1962, and appointed a new Justice Secretary by the name of Salvador Marino.

Marino, then in a series of live telecasts, divulged an alleged new list from the Stonehill files, virtually implicating the opposition, and two of Macapagal’s partymates which included Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez and Senator Ferdinand Marcos. Both were of the Liberal Party (LP). (Yes guys, Marcos was formerly LP). Perhaps, Marcos had never forgotten this betrayal, which Macapagal’s Executive Secretary Rufino Hechanova said was only a ruse of President Macapagal to discredit Diokno’s allegations. Nevertheless, the public was desensitized to it, and the issue died down.

Ferdinand Marcos was already a household name, and while certain people tried to stop his meteoric rise, no one could.

When Senator Marcos wanted to run as Senate President in 1963, a fierce opposition from the Nacionalista Party gathered. To desperately delay the election, Senator Roseller T. Lim of the Nacionalista Party, who was earlier bribed by Marcos and was therefore insulted, stood for 18 hours and 30 minutes on the Senate floor without taking a break, or even eating (this is called “filibustering”) to wait for his fellow partymate Senator Alejandro Almendras to arrive at the Legislative Building from the U.S. so that Marcos wouldn’t win.

Sen. Alejandro Almendras Privilege Speech
Senator Alejandro Almendras of the Nacionalista Party, delivering his privilege speech on the Senate floor in the Old Legislative Building (now the National Museum). Source: National Library of the Philippines.

It all ended when Lim fainted out of exhaustion.  The great twist to the story was Lim waking up in the hospital bed only to find out that Marcos won the Senate Presidency, with Almendras casting the vote for Marcos.

Marcos wins his first term

Defections are very common in Philippine politics, and in the events leading up to the 1965 Presidential Elections, the most prominent defection was that of Senate President Marcos who left the Liberal Party to join the opposing Nacionalista Party. The same was also done by Vice President Pelaez.

Marcos’ reason for the sudden switch was because Macapagal wanted to run for a second term as President, violating their previous agreement that this was Marcos’ time as LP standard bearer to run for president. But as we have seen from the events that have happened, it was more than that.

The ‘65 Elections was unique in that it was the first time where all the 12 presidential candidates were born AFTER the Spanish Colonial Period. It was also the first time when film and printed biographies were used as electoral campaign ads. On film, if Marcos had Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story (1965) starring Luis Gonzales and Gloria Romero, Macapagal had Ang Daigdig ng mga Api (1965) directed by Gerardo de Leon, The Macapagal Story (1963) and Tagumpay ng Mahirap (1965) directed by de Leon and Lamberto Avellana.

1965 Elections Campaign Posters
Campaign posters of Macapagal and Marcos in the 1965 Elections. Noticeable is the absence of Marcos’ running mate, Fernando Lopez, on the Marcos poster, whom Marcos secretly disliked. Source: The Philippine Electoral Almanac.

And as if speaking for this post-Philippine Revolution generation, Ferdinand Marcos and his partymate Fernando Lopez won as President and Vice President of the Philippines respectively, winning by plurality.

Writer Napoleon Rama, on November 20, 1965, explains: 

Every election season the them dinned into the ears of the electorate is that the presidential aspirant can do what the incumbent president did not accomplish. The companion theme is that for all the evils buffeting the country the President is to blame. Alas for President Macapagal, there were even those who blamed him for the eruption of Taal Volcano.

Thus, in every election campaign the people’s mind is conditioned to fixing responsibility for the unsolved problems of the nation on the incumbent president. They expect the in-coming president to perform miracles. The clamor for change becomes the opposition’s most resonant was cry. Every opposition party since Roxas’ Liberal Party has adopted the battle cry. It has never failed. No theme, the politicos have discovered, more effectively establishes identification with the electorate. For it echoes the popular sentiment. It was the issue that licked President Garcia, the theme that beat President Macapagal.

For all the expert analyses on the factors that swept President-elect Marcos into power, the obvious reason is a simple one, a needy people demanded a change – any change. This demand was stronger than all other factors put together in the last campaign.

Hence, the biggest most powerful vote in the country is not the Ilocano vote, the Cebuano vote, the Iglesia Ni Cristo vote, the NP or LP vote, but the protest vote, the poverty vote. There is no other way of explaining why President Macapagal lost or scored so poorly in almost all undisputed LP bailiwicks.

And thus Marcos won the Presidency.

And yet the disparity between the rich and the poor remained a gruesome reality. Perhaps the first ever violent attempt to overthrow Marcos was staged by the cultic political party called the Lapiang Malaya. Believing that the Marcos administration was leaning too much on U.S. aid in exchange for intrusion of our sovereignty, the group staged an attempted coup by marching on the streets of Taft to Malacañang to oust Marcos.

On the night of May 21, 1967, armed with only anting-anting (amulets), “sacred” bolos, and “bullet-proof” shirts with strange diagrams, the members of the cult advanced despite the warnings of the Philippine Constabulary (PC). The conflict ended in bloodshed, known as “Black Sunday” as the PC opened fire to the unarmed group, killing 33 of their members, and leaving 47 wounded.

Dead Members of Lapiang Malaya during Black Sunday coup attempt
Manileños woke up with the news that 33 members of the Lapiang Malaya laid dead in Taft Avenue. The cult tried to storm Malacañang on the night of May 21, 1967, known as “Black Sunday.” Source: Philippines Free Press.

Despite this, the midterm legislative election of that same year showed positive support for Marcos, with the Nacionalistas dominating the Senate, and only 1 Liberal Party candidate winning a seat. The LP winner was the youngest LP senator of that time, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., who would become Marcos’ staunch critic and a thorn on his side.

Newly Elected Senators
Newly elected mid-term Senators are sworn into office in 1967. From left to right: Emmanuel Pelaez, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Jose Roy, Magnolia Antonio, Salvador “Doy” H. Laurel, Leonardo Perez, Helena Benitez, and Lorenzo Teves. Senator Aquino was the only member of the Liberal Party to secure a seat in the Senate. Source: Presidential Museum and Library.

There was also talk of amending the 1935 Constitution. The popular sentiment of the time was that the Constitution needed to be amended (updated) to cope up with the needs of the people. But the electorate still had reservations, since there was a widespread distrust of politicians and any proposed amendments then were rejected.

This dissatisfaction with the Constitution, however, would not die down but culminate in the election of the delegates of the Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) in 1971. The Con-Con ideally should have been non-partisan, and independent of any pressures from government. But as we would see, the Executive branch would eventually pressure the delegates in favor of Marcos. 

On December 26, 1968, in commemoration of the 75th birth anniversary of Mao Zedong of Communist China, Jose Ma. Sison of the Kabataang Makabayan and members of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas established the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), with 75 initial members. Three months later, the New People’s Army (NPA), the military arm of CPP, was organized with the sole aim of destabilizing the government through armed struggle.

1967 Manila Summit Party in Malacañan
A Barrio Fiesta-themed party was hosted by President Ferdinand Marcos for the leaders of the Manila Summit on October 25, 1966 at the Executive Building at Malacañan Palace, renamed by Marcos as Maharlika Hall. Source: Presidential Museum and Library.

This rise of insurgency was unprecedented, and it didn’t help that the public saw the government’s wasteful spending, as was the case when Senator Ninoy Aquino called out First Lady Imelda Marcos with all the lavish and excessive parties in the Malacañan Palace. On the Senate floor, he said:

I have risen at risk of her fury because country and people demand they cease those wild Palace and yacht Bacchanalian feasts… a voice must be raised to try and put a stop to the First Family’s wasteful misuse of public money.

Imelda Marcos, wife of President Marcos, had the entire second floor of the former Executive Building of Malacañan Palace converted into a ballroom area where the gentry and the political establishment were invited in parties and revelry.

Imelda Marcos with Kakuei Tanaka
First Lady Imelda Marcos leads the way into the Maharlika Hall, as Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka attends the State Dinner hosted by President Marcos for the Japanese head of state. Source: Presidential Museum and Library

The rising insurgency and popular discontent may have given Marcos the idea of solving this, not through a change of policy but rather via a military intervention. The 1935 Constitution provided extraordinary powers to the Chief Executive in emergency situations, with no limits to its duration. The Constitution reads:

The President shall be commander-in-chief of all armed forces of the Philippines and, whenever it becomes necessary, he may call out such armed forces to prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion, insurrection, or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof, when the public safety requires it, he may suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corpus, or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.

No one could tell however, when exactly Marcos thought of using this power to extend his two-term limit, but one can already guess that he was planning this even before his first term ended. The first time President Marcos divulged this idea on record was on May 17, 1969, when he was addressing the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association:

One of my favorite mental exercises, which others may find useful, is to foresee possible problems one may have to face in the future and to determine what solutions can possibly be made to meet these problems.

For instance, if I were suddenly asked, to pose a given situation, to decide in five minutes when and where to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, I have decided that there should be at least five questions that I would ask, and depending on the answers to these five questions, I would know when and where to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.

The same thing is true with the declaration of martial law…. It is a useful mental exercise to meet a problem before it happens.

We will be shown these “mental exercises” when we read through the Marcos Diary. 


___, Philippine Electoral Almanac: Expanded and Revised. Manila: Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office, 2016.

Beje, Edsel, “Rebuilding the PH Economy,” The Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 14, 2012, link.

Liang, Dapen. Philippine Parties and Politics: A Historical Study of National Experience in Democracy. San Francisco, The Gladstone Co., 1970.

Gleeck, Lewis. The Rise and Fall of Harry Stonehill in the Philippines. Loyal Printings Incorporated, 1989.

Ileto, Reynaldo. Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1979.

Mustafa, Noralyn, “Roseller T. Lim: He stood up on senate floor for 18 hours to stop Marcos but…”, Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 18, 2004, link.

Editor’s note: This 15-part series called the Road to Martial Law first appeared on the author’s Tumbler page. It documents the unprecedented rise of a Filipino dictator and the sudden death of Philippine democracy with the declaration of a nationwide Martial Law via live television on September 23, 1972. Minor edits have been made by editors.

Part 1: It Takes a Village to Raise a Dictator: The Philippines before Martial Law
Part 4: The Turbulent ’60s and Marcos’ Ascent to Power
Part 6: First Quarter Storm of 1970: Philippines on the Brink
Part 7: Plan for Endgame: Plots, Protests, Scandals and Assassinations
Part 8: Plaza Miranda Bombing: Prelude to Marcos’ Endgame
Part 9: Hijacking Democracy: The Mood Before the Declaration of Martial Law
Part 10: September 21, 1972: When Martial Law Had to Wait for One More Day
Part 11: Like a Thief in the Night: Martial Law Implemented
Part 12: The Long Night Begins: Martial Law Announced on Live TV
Part 13: A Mere Scrap of Paper: The Constitutional Convention Hijacked under Martial Law
(up next) Part 14: The Final Blow: A compromised Supreme Court legitimized Martial Law
(up next) Part 15: Road to Martial Law Redux: A Conclusion to a Series

About the Author

Kristoffer Pasion the resident historian of Team He is a public historian working for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. He has been serving in government for almost a decade, having worked as cultural officer for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (2011-2013), and as history researcher for the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines (2013-2016).

He runs the blog Indiohistorian, and does active history writing on social media. He is finishing his masteral studies in History at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, pursuing research on the history of government institutions.

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