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THE DOWNFALL OF A DICTATOR : Marcos' Lust for Power a Key Element in His Demise

February 26, 1986|BOB SECTER | Times Staff Writer

And the constitution was changed to allow Marcos to continue in office indefinitely, with extraordinary powers. He called his new form of government "constitutional authoritarianism."

For a time, martial law was welcomed by many Filipinos who liked the order it brought to the often chaotic country, but it also ushered in a new climate of fear and paranoia among a people known for their fun-loving and casual manner.

Marcos' authoritarianism also served to radicalize many Roman Catholic priests and nuns who joined in anti-government activities. Manila's outspoken archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Sin, became a persistent critic of Marcos and had frequent run-ins with the president.

Marcos finally lifted martial law in January, 1981, just ahead of a visit to the country by Pope John Paul II, but many Filipinos saw little difference, since the president retained his extraordinary powers.

Though his relations with President Jimmy Carter were chilly because of alleged Philippine human rights violations, the Reagan Administration embraced Marcos warmly. Vice President George Bush came to Manila in 1981 and praised Marcos' "adherence to democratic principles and democratic processes." The next year Marcos was welcomed by President Reagan during a state visit to the United States.

Marcos' bubble burst with the Aquino assassination.

Had Macho Image

Feisty and pugnacious by nature, Marcos' attempts to halt the erosion of his authority were hampered by illness. A man of few physical excesses, the 5-foot, 6-inch Marcos neither drank nor smoked and reveled in his macho image as a fitness buff.

But in the last few years he suffered serious kidney problems aggravated by a degenerative disease that attacked his body's immune system. Aides fabricated elaborate cover stories to mask his illnesses and government publicists often distributed old pictures and videotapes of Marcos at work to counter rumors that he was bedridden.

So completely had the once-granite ruler faded that when the end came Tuesday, he was carried ignominiously to a waiting U.S. transport plane on a stretcher.

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