Can Duterte do a Marcos?

To be fair, Digong’s men have run the most powerful social media campaign we have thus far seen, but Marcos’s appeal transcended simple propaganda: Of all presidents, he was the one who articulated a programmatic, albeit hypocritical, long term vision of what he wanted for the country. 

Second, Marcos implemented martial law at a time when the legal constraints on the president were not as well defined. Say what you will about the 1987 Constitution, but its paranoia may end up saving us. Even if Congress abdicates its role to review martial law, we can still take them to task, because, well, at least they’re still there. And given the history of judicial cowardice during the martial law period, I doubt the Supreme Court under this chief justice will simply let the executive have its way. 

Most importantly, Marcos had the luxury of time. To engineer a successful autogolpe, one needs strong support from the military. Marcos built this support, not by going around camps giving away Glocks as Digong does, but through slow, deliberate scheming. Alfred McCoy’s history of the Marcos military, Closer than Brothers, makes it plain that Marcos’s campaign to corrupt the military began as early as his first year in power. For 7 years (1965-1972), he eased out professional graduates from the PMA, retired critical voices, and promoted Ilocano lackeys like Fabian Ver. 

Bid vs time

Marcos did the corrupting quietly, without the braggadocio and macho cursing of his 21st century imitator. It took more than two years for a critic, Ninoy Aquino, to point out in 1968 that Marcos was secretly creating a “garrison state” by “ballooning” the military budget and privileging overstaying generals. And even then some people thought Aquino was being paranoid. 

Duterte does not have 7 years. His age, his health, and his term limit make his autocratic bid a bid against time. And as time runs out, Duterte will rush. And as he rushes, he will make mistakes. 

But even if he executes his plans masterfully, he will still have to confront a military that is now more professional than ever. Decades of security sector reform after Marcos have yielded an AFP that will not simply allow itself to be used by politicians for anti-democratic ends. The Western Mindanao command, for example, has displayed incredible restrain amid these trying times. Matikas po ang ating mga kawal

Of course absolute power can corrupt absolutely, and Duterte is a powerful and popular man. I worry about the state of our democracy and the stability of our institutions. Yet I will sleep tonight knowing that years of democratic consolidation cannot simply be overturned overnight.

I hope I am not being naïve. –


Lisandro E. Claudio (@leloyclaudio on Twitter) is an Associate Professor at the Department of History, De La Salle University-Manila