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Marcos: A Presidential Post-Mortem

March 02, 1986|Norman Cousins | Norman Cousins, former editor of the Saturday Review, is on the faculty of the School of Medicine, UCLA.

"We are determined to prove two things. First, that we are capable of being independent of the United States. Second, that we deserve to be independent of the United States."

It was the day after the inauguration of Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1966. The new president of the Phillippines leaned forward, his arms on the black mahogany desk in his elegant office, and repeated the sentence, making sure I caught the distinction between capable and deserve .

"Some people here say we are not yet fully ready for self-government," he continued. "They underestimate America's skill as teachers and our aptitude as students. Yes, I suppose there are those who feel that the only way they can prove they can stand by themselves is by kicking papa. This has been the history of many countries coming out of colonial control. But I don't think this will happen here. The resentment against the United States as a colonial master is minor, very minor, alongside the sense of most people that we have a joint heritage--both Filipinos and American. I regard the American part of that heritage as a powerful asset and I intend to make full use of it."

I had gone to Manila as one of President Lyndon B. Johnson's ambassadors to the inauguration--with Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Jack Valenti and others--aboard Air Force One.

What impressed me the most about the inauguration was that it was patterned so closely after the U.S. model. Yet, the Filipinos took pains to say that what they did was a vital sign of their independence.

Marcos' resignation, like the inauguration itself, was almost a carbon copy of an American event. Richard M. Nixon was forced to leave the White House because public opinion in the United States turned out to be stronger than the presidency. Marcos probably never thought it could happen to him. He began office by saying he valued his lessons in American history, but his tragic flaw was that being president was more important than the institution of the presidency.

He never quite realized how much closer to American institutions his countrymen were than was he. Too late he discovered history's most important lesson: People once free do not give up freedom willingly or easily.

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