Marcos Flees the Philippines Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As a result of the People’s Revolution of February, 1986, Ferdinand Marcos was forced to flee the Philippines, ending more than a decade of authoritarian government, economic mismanagement, and human rights abuses.

Summary of Event

In 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines, Martial law;Philippines alleging a “national emergency” arising out of the country’s communist and Muslim insurgencies, economic dislocations, and general civil disorder. The insurgencies posed no immediate military threat to the country, but Marcos faced the end of his term in office and was constitutionally prohibited from seeking reelection. The national emergency was his way of retaining power. Nine years of formal martial law and an additional five years of de facto authoritarian government in the Philippines resulted in a deterioration of the political order, the militarization of society, widespread human rights abuses, and economic collapse. People’s Revolution (Philippines, 1986)[Peoples Revolution] Philippine Revolution (1986) Human rights abuses;Philippines Revolutions and coups;Philippines [kw]Marcos Flees the Philippines (Feb. 25, 1986) [kw]Philippines, Marcos Flees the (Feb. 25, 1986) People’s Revolution (Philippines, 1986)[Peoples Revolution] Philippine Revolution (1986) Human rights abuses;Philippines Revolutions and coups;Philippines [g]Southeast Asia;Feb. 25, 1986: Marcos Flees the Philippines[06030] [g]Philippines;Feb. 25, 1986: Marcos Flees the Philippines[06030] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Feb. 25, 1986: Marcos Flees the Philippines[06030] [c]Indigenous peoples’ rights;Feb. 25, 1986: Marcos Flees the Philippines[06030] Marcos, Ferdinand Aquino, Benigno, Jr. Aquino, Corazon Enrile, Juan Ponce Ramos, Fidel

Upon declaring martial law, Marcos suspended the country’s congress; he ruled by decree. Political opponents, including Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr., were arrested. Three years into martial law, fifty thousand people had been imprisoned. Newspapers as well as television and radio stations were shut down.

Deputy Chief of Staff General Fidel Ramos shows his elation after hearing that President Ferdinand Marcos has left the presidential palace as a sign of capitulation following the People’s Revolution in February, 1986.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Over the course of the martial law era, Marcos assumed most executive and legislative prerogatives within the country. Members of the judiciary served at his pleasure. Opposition newspapers and electronic media were sold to Marcos family members and friends. The media were subject to varying levels of censorship. Strikes were forbidden, and labor organizers, attorneys, civil rights workers, and dissident religious leaders were harassed and prosecuted. Citizens’ right to a writ of habeas corpus was suspended.

The implementation of martial law and the necessity of combating the growing communist and Muslim insurgencies were used as the rationale for massive increases in military manpower and expenditure levels. The armed forces, 62,000 strong in 1972, grew to 230,000 by 1986. During the martial law decade, military budgets increased 257 percent; by 1986, the Philippines had Asia’s fastest-growing military, with annual expenditures of $600 million. Military resources were concentrated in Manila to support the martial law government. In the countryside, a poorly paid and undisciplined army confronted insurgents in conditions of guerrilla warfare. Military abuses against the civilian population were pervasive.

The most blatant perpetrators of such abuses were the Civilian Home Defense Forces Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF), bullies and petty criminals recruited from the indigenous population and armed and paid by the Philippine government. Incidents of incommunicado detention, torture (including beatings, suffocation, electric shocks, rape, and mutilation), killings, and “disappearances” of civilians involving the armed forces of the Philippines and the CHDF were well documented by international organizations such as Amnesty International Amnesty International and Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP, a unit of the Association of Major Religious Superiors).

Between 1976 and 1986, the CHDF was implicated in more than two thousand murders. Immediately preceding the February, 1986, People’s Revolution, the city of Davao experienced an average of three to four murders per day, yet no one had been brought to justice in more than a year. During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, TFDP documented an average of thirty disappearances a year.

In terms of lasting damage, the reversal of political development and the cost in human suffering imposed by the martial law era were rivaled in severity by economic mismanagement. In 1965, the Philippines was second to Japan in the region in its prospects for economic growth. When Marcos fled the country, the Philippines was in an economic shambles. Ownership and control of entire economic sectors of the country had been transferred to approximately two hundred Marcos family members and friends in what became referred to as “crony capitalism.” Funds in the national treasury and aid from international sources were diverted from worthwhile ventures to kickbacks, showcase projects, and personal use. Moderate estimates suggest that Marcos and his associates transferred approximately $25 billion into foreign bank accounts and real estate investments in their own names.

The foreign debt of the Philippines in 1969 was $738 million; by 1986, the country’s external debt was $26.5 billion. Debt service consumed 60 percent of the country’s export earnings. This debt burden, mismanagement, corruption, and international factors such as oil crises and the decline of prices for export commodities produced a negative average annual growth rate of 3 percent in the country’s economy in the period 1984-1986. In 1965, 28 percent of the Philippine population lived below the internationally established poverty level; by 1986 that figure had risen to 60 percent. An unemployment and underemployment rate of 30 percent in 1986 and malnutrition among 70 percent of Philippine schoolchildren are indicators of the human suffering that resulted from mismanagement and corruption. In 1985, the Roman Catholic Church reported that one hundred children in the city of Bacolod died each month from hunger and hunger-related illnesses, out of a population of about 250,000. The World Health Organization reported that the Philippines had the highest incidence of tuberculosis of any country in the western Pacific.

These political, economic, and social conditions coalesced to create a volatile political environment in the early 1980’s. As the crony-run corporations collapsed and Marcos’s associates fled abroad with their assets, the financial situation deteriorated. This, combined with international outrage at the human rights violations, concerns about the rising influence of the Left in the country, and Marcos’s failing health, made change in the Philippines inevitable. The most prominent member of the exiled opposition, Benigno Aquino, was assassinated at the Manila airport on August 21, 1983, when he attempted to return home to participate in the process of political change. Most analysts regard the assassination as the beginning of the end for the Marcos regime. The official government investigation of the assassination and exoneration of the military officers accused of the crime did not convince the Philippine public of Marcos’s innocence in the act.

To provide legitimacy for his continued exercise of power in the face of increasing domestic and international pressure to step aside, Marcos called a snap presidential election for February 7, 1986. A multiplicity of opposition groups, including the Catholic Church, the labor movement, civil rights activists, students and academics, and—in the wake of the assassination and economic collapse—the middle class and the business community, united behind the candidacy of Corazon Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino.

Both Marcos and Aquino claimed presidential victory in the election, which was characterized by many highly publicized incidents of cheating by Marcos partisans. It is estimated that 400,000 people in Manila alone, or 10 percent of the electorate, were disenfranchised by having their names removed from electoral lists before election day. The Conference of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church charged the Marcos regime with a “criminal use of power to thwart the sovereign will of the people.” A compliant parliament validated Marcos’s election. Aquino responded on February 16 by calling her supporters to participate in a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign.

On February 22, as the Marcos regime moved to eliminate its enemies among the military reform movement, Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile and acting Army Chief of Staff Fidel Ramos joined the Aquino opposition in demanding Marcos’s ouster. In a three-day standoff between government and opposition military forces, as many as one million Aquino supporters, urged into the streets by Catholic Church-sponsored radio, formed a human barrier between advancing government armored personnel carriers and tanks to protect the rebel forces in an unprecedented show of unity that became known as the People’s Revolution. Faced with the public outpouring of antipathy against his regime, his inability to rout the rebel military forces without bloodshed, and withdrawal of U.S. support, Ferdinand Marcos and his family consented on February 25, 1986, to be airlifted out of the presidential palace into exile in Honolulu, Hawaii.


Corazon Aquino was perceived as personally incorruptible and provided an inspiring role model for government service. She restored representative government and the independence of the national judiciary to the Philippines. Citizens’ right to a writ of habeus corpus was reinstated, more than five hundred political prisoners were released, and a presidential commission on human rights, under the leadership of Jose Diokno, Diokno, Jose was established to investigate allegations of torture under the previous regime. News media censorship was abolished, and workers’ right to strike was restored.

Hundreds of corporations previously owned by the state or controlled by Marcos’s cronies were returned to the private sector. The United States, Japan, and the international lending institutions supported the Aquino regime by facilitating the rescheduling of Philippine debt and offering further financial support. The country’s economy achieved an average annual growth rate of 6 percent between 1987 and 1990. This growth, however, was not translated into improved living conditions for most of the country’s poor.

The Aquino government exhibited the uncertainties and divisions endemic to coalitions. The military reformers that joined forces with Aquino’s party to end the Marcos government became dissatisfied with what they perceived as the president’s indecisiveness and softness toward the communist and Muslim insurgents. At least eight attempts of varying significance were made to overthrow the government; these were mostly led by disgruntled junior military officers.

Early in 1986, the Aquino government initiated dialogue with the communist and Muslim opposition, releasing their leadership from prison and offering them amnesty if they agreed to forsake armed struggle. These efforts at reconciliation failed with the Communist New People’s Army and yielded mixed results with the Muslims. The Left regarded the revolution in the Philippines as incomplete, lacking transformation of basic economic and social structures.

Corazon Aquino completed her term in office in 1992, but political divisiveness continued to plague the country into the twenty-first century. People’s Revolution (Philippines, 1986)[Peoples Revolution] Philippine Revolution (1986) Human rights abuses;Philippines Revolutions and coups;Philippines

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aquino, Belinda A. Politics of Plunder: The Philippines Under Marcos. Quezon City, Philippines: Great Books Trading, 1987. Details the corruption of the Marcos regime. Researched primarily from twenty-three hundred pages of documents retrieved from the plane that carried Marcos’s personal possessions when he fled the Philippines. Includes bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bresnan, John, ed. Crisis in the Philippines: The Marcos Era and Beyond. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986. Collection of essays by established U.S. and Filipino scholars addresses the social, political, and economic crises that precipitated the February, 1986, revolution. Includes a list of suggested further readings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Celoza, Albert F. Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of Authoritarianism. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1997. Examines the history and effects of the Marcos regime. Includes selected bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines. New York: Random House, 1989. Well-researched, journalistic account of U.S. involvement in the Philippines, beginning with the period of colonization and concluding with the 1986 revolution. Provides maps, chronology, bibliographic information, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mercado, Monina Allarey, ed. People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986. Manila, Philippines: James B. Reuter, S.J., Foundation, 1986. Presents pictorial and eyewitness accounts of the Benigno Aquino assassination, the 1983-1985 street demonstrations against the Marcos regime, and the 1986 electoral campaign and revolution. Includes maps and chronology.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rempel, William C. Delusions of a Dictator: The Mind of Marcos as Revealed in His Secret Diaries. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993. Absorbing account written by a reporter who gained access to Ferdinand Marcos’s diaries. Provides fascinating insight into the mind of the infamous leader. Includes bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sterling, Seagrave. The Marcos Dynasty. New York: Harper & Row, 1988. Presents the personal histories of Marcos family members from birth to exile in Hawaii. Includes photographs, map, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Mark R. The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. Scholarly, political examination of the collapse of democracy in the Philippines and the struggle toward democratic transition. Includes selected bibliography and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wright, Martin, ed. Revolution in the Philippines? A Keesing’s Special Report. Harlow, Essex, England: Longman, 1988. Discusses the challenges faced by Corazon Aquino’s government in the early part of her presidency. Particularly informative concerning the various factions within the communist and Muslim opposition movements and the early coup attempts. Includes map, bibliography, and index.

Marcos Declares Martial Law in the Philippines

Assassination of Philippine Opposition Leader Benigno Aquino

Categories: History