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Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s last election campaign (Part 2)

Epic fail of a political machinery

Almost a month before the May 9 national elections, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s presidential campaign claimed to have the support of 85 percent of all municipal and city councilors (or 14,600 out of the 17,177 total) and 90 percent of all the country’s governors (73 of 81).

No verifiable proof to these claims were offered, except photos of 31 governors (or their representatives) and one gubernatorial aspirant seated around a table with Bongbong on April 3, 11, and 28. But for Quezon Governor Danilo Suarez, it’s all over but for the counting. “Right now we have a new President,” he said.

Not satisfied with this claim of overwhelming strength, Marcos partisans are now even saying that the very parties that challenged Bongbong’s father, Ferdinand Sr., at the tailend of his dictatorship like PDP-Laban and UNIDO, in their unrecognizable resurrections, now favor a Marcos restoration.

Reliance on political machinery to canvass votes and transforming that very same mechanism into a juggernaut of intimidation, deception, corruption, and violence brings us back to Marcos Sr. who had so depended on it in his unrelenting quest to keep himself and his family in power.

President Ferdinand E. Marcos attends a political rally druing the 1986 snap election.
An ailing President Ferdinand E. Marcos (Notice bandaged left hand) attends a political rally during the 1986 snap election. Photo by Peter Charlesworth from

In his 21 years as president (1965-72) and dictator (1972-86), Ferdinand Marcos destroyed all political parties other than his own Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL).

When he ran for president a third time in 1981, Marcos Sr. had almost complete control of local government officials. In a recent study on the KBL by Julio C. Teehankee, he pointed out that in the 1980 local elections, Marcos’ party “won 69 out of 73 governorships and nearly 1,450 out of 1,560 mayoral contests.”

Tested in two presidential referendums and one election, this much vaunted-political machinery delivered the votes at the dictator’s command. Marcos Sr.  was the unrivaled practitioner of machine politics in the country — or so it seemed.

Cracks in the Marcos political machine started to show in the 1984 Batasan election. And the dictator’s last campaign ended in a popular revolt that forced him, his family, and his cabal into exile.

If Black, Manafort, and Stone were putting on a show for Marcos for Washington, who then functioned as the domestic campaign managers of the Marcos-Tolentino tandem in the snap election?

Unsurprisingly, those who principally oversaw the campaign included people in the Marcos cabinet, with the starring role given to labor minister Blas Ople.

Foreign correspondents referred to Ople as Marcos’s campaign manager or, more specifically, the head of Marcos’s campaign in Luzon. Documents in the custody of the Presidential Commission on Good Government suggest that he was a bit more than that.  Ople led a team that formulated Marcos’s 1986 national campaign strategy shortly after he announced in November 1985 his willingness to hold a snap election.

Ople headed an ad hoc group that produced a report that “[embodied] early perceptions of the political situation, the possible strategy and specific proposals towards an effective information campaign,” which was transmitted to Imelda Marcos on November 22, 1985.

In the 32-page “Election Memo,” Ople’s group stated that although “the First Lady [asked them] to specifically look into the information and propaganda problem [emphasis theirs],” they could “only formulate an adequate information and propaganda plan within the context of a coherent and unified overall campaign plan.”

The report was precisely that: a brief, though detailed, electoral campaign playbook.

03 Ople Campaign Plan Memo -p 1 to 15 by VERA Files on Scribd

03 Ople Campaign Plan Memo – p 16 to 34 by VERA Files on Scribd

At that time, Cory Aquino had not officially declared that she would run for president, but the “Ople Plan” already considered her the most viable opposition candidate. Ople acknowledged the difficulty of running against the widow of Ninoy Aquino, whose assassination was being pinned by many on Marcos or his closest allies.

“Cory’s candidacy will run on emotion and inflated invective against the President and his family . . . We cannot afford to make the Aquino widow more sympathetic to voters than she perhaps already is,” the report stated.

“It’s the kind of candidacy which can either be beaten mercilessly at the polls or catch fire and spark popular support,” it added.  “You cannot predict where it will end [emphasis theirs].”

To address this, the Ople Plan suggested that Marcos “lay down the [line of his party, the KBL]: while Mrs. Aquino deserves our compassion, the question of running the affairs of state is something else entirely, particularly at this time [emphasis theirs].”

It elaborated further, recommending a “strong attacking line to dent the [opposition] candidacy”: “Cory Aquino is weak on experience and looks even now befuddled outside of public office. Doy Laurel [should the opposition field him instead, was to be painted as] irascible, mediocre, and born to be caricatured.”

Cory wirh Noynoy
Cory Aquino with her son, Benigno S. Aquino III (who later became the 15th Philippine president) on the campaign trail, 1986. Photo from Teddy Locsin Jr. from

In connection with this line of attack, Ople’s recommended central campaign theme was: “The problems that confront our country today—insurgency, economic depression, social ferment, a restive Armed Forces—call for a Man of Strength, Courage, Intelligence and Experience to be at the helm [emphasis supplied].”

Ople, however, was well aware of Marcos’s physical limitations at the time. He was among the first officials to publicly confirm that Marcos had health issues. The Ople Plan stated that “the more punishing task of leapfrogging the whole country should be left to the Vice-Presidential candidate [then yet to be determined] and the First Lady, who will serve as the President’s surrogate in the campaign.”

Besides attacking the opposition’s perceived weakness and projecting Marcos’s strength, the Ople Plan recommended a number of other strategic interventions. Among these was to make it appear that the opposition was in bed with the communist insurgency.

“The ‘coalition-government’ plan of the Opposition should be exposed as a proposal that will offer the nation on a silver platter to the Communists. That, after all, is its history,” the memo stated, recommending sanctions against “certain anti-administration provincial radio stations and commentators,” such as “the radio station of Luis Villafuerte [of Camarines Sur] which apart from being abusive in its attacks against us, has provided regular hour for the [New People’s Army].”

Subversion,” the plan continued (emphasis theirs), “can be the reason for suspending or revoking its (the radio station’s) license to operate.”

The Bureaucracy and Local Governments as Campaign Machinery 

In a section of the election memo on campaign organization, it urged that “[in] this all-important electoral contest, the President must sound the call to all: We must get our act together. The in-fighting and intramurals must stop. Our political future, perhaps even our lives, are on the line.”

“All” referred to “elements of the broad campaign organization,” which included 1) the KBL: “its leadership and membership; 2) The Cabinet and the government bureaucracy; 3) The local governments and local officials up to the barangal [sic] level”; and 4) The civic action groups and sectoral organizations supporting the president.”

Of interest is the inclusion of the bureaucracy which, under current laws, are banned from engaging in partisan political activity during elections.

In a memorandum to Marcos dated January 15, 1986, Ople updated Marcos about the matters of political interest discussed in a meeting of the cabinet which adopted a proposal to use appointments in government positions as a way to “turn some of our own lukewarm soldiers and officers into tigers in the battlefield.”

Marcos’s campaign manager was referring to government officials who had been officers-in-charge for more than the recommended period and whose “appointments have not been acted upon simply because of lack of time on the part of the President, insufficient lobbying or timorousness of the ministers, or plain and simple inertia.” The ministers were then asked to “submit all proposed appointments on a single sheet of paper, and the Prime Minister should handcarry these proposals of all ministries for immediate action by the President.”

04-Ople Memo Re Jan 1986 Cabinet Meeting by VERA Files on Scribd

Ople also touched on the cabinet’s take on “the proper and effective utilization of the bureaucracy.” He decried “the fact that many public servants and employees are working openly and covertly for the opposition, sometimes using government facilities for this purpose.”

The cabinet then agreed that “ministers and agency heads should exercise more vigorous leadership to convert or recruit renegades in their own jurisdictions and equally important, mobilize the special constituencies under their jurisdictions.” Ople cited the Ministry of Agrarian Reform and his own Ministry of Labor that were to mobilize unions and peasant groups.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry, he continued, “should organize the businessmen and industrialists sympathetic to us, who will then articulate principled grounds why business should support the Marcos-Tolentino team.”

The same was relayed by Edgardo “Ed” B. Adea, assistant cabinet secretary, in his letter to Marcos dated January 17, 1986.  He revealed that some ministers “confirmed their problems with regard to their employees’ voting tendency,” prompting Ople to urge ministers Jose Dans (transportation) and Roberto Ongpin (trade and industry) to “confer with drivers and businessmen whom they are serving.”

Other communications further prove the participation of the sprawling Marcos bureaucracy in aiding the reelection effort. These include political assessment reports from the Minister of Natural Resources, Rodolfo Del Rosario. One such report, dated January 10, 1986, detailed information gathered by “field area managers” that reached the central office of the Wood Industry Development Authority showing that Marcos was not favored in many provinces, such as Benguet, Pangasinan, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, and Camarines Sur.

In Camarines Norte, Del Rosario mentioned that the opposition was gaining ground, with officials such as Daet mayor Marcial Pimentel and MP Roy Padilla—father of current senatorial candidate Robin Padilla—controlling five of the province’s twelve mayors against Marcos.

05-Min. Del Rosario (Natural Resources) Political Assessment Memo, 10 Jan 1986, p. 1-Converted by VERA Files on Scribd

In fact, many areas in the Philippines did not vote KBL in the 1984 parliamentary elections, resulting in over a third of the membership of the first Regular Batasang Pambansa going to the opposition and independents. The Ople group concluded that “over-confidence in the 1984 parliamentary elections was probably a turn-off in addition to being unwarranted.”

The annex of the Ople Plan, “Notes on the 1984 Parliamentary Elections,” pointed out that “of the thirteen regions, only three voted solidly for KBL [Regions II, VIII, and XII],” and that KBL “lost heavily” in the National Capital Region, Region IV, and Region V.

“In general, the KBL lost in urban areas,” the memo continued, further noting that “[the] vaunted Solid North has shown some dents.”

Even Marcos’s running mate, Tolentino, was quoted by the foreign press (i.e., Asiaweek, as reported by TIME in an article published on January 26, 1986) as saying that Cory was “slightly ahead of Marcos in the surveys, with 40% of voters undecided.”

Still, Ople continued to fulfill his role.  An editorial published in We Forum noted that while campaigning in Iriga on January 15, Ople said that with a new mandate, “a new Marcos will emerge from the cocoon of the old,” with “a vision that will impel him to reject all forms of worldliness and the importunings of friends and associates for self-aggrandizement.”

The editorial noted that this was, at the very least, an indirect admission that “the President had failed to temper his worldliness, control the lust for riches of those close to him, during his past years in power” and that it was difficult to believe that “what the younger and healthier Marcos failed to fulfill in the past 20 years, an older and visibly faltering Marcos could achieve if given another term.”

Other ministers also provided words for the Marcos campaign, sometimes in the form of statements for their principal. A January 7, 1986 memorandum was sent by National Economic Development Authority director-general/Minister of Economic Planning Vicente Valdepeñas Jr. on the “Draft Economic Statement for [the] Makati Business Club” which Marcos was to deliver later that month. The draft comprehensively covered economic developments and policies, and contained a push for Marcos to issue a presidential decree on National Policies on Agricultural Development and Incentives.

Although the statement was drafted for Marcos, Adea would fawn over the dictator’s “eloquent and convincing replies” to questions from the Makati businessmen.  In a January 21, 1986 letter, Adea wrote that this was “100% proof” of Marcos’s knowledge and affirmed that a debate with Cory would be like “a novice against a professional fighter in the ring.”

A document with the header “Ministry of Human Settlements, Region X, Cagayan De Oro City” contains what is purportedly the results of an “opinion poll survey” as of January 26, 1986. While it showed that Marcos would win in Region X, it projected a Marcos loss in three cities there: Cagayan de Oro, Surigao, and Tangub, due to “relative inactivity and/or indifference of the mayor on the campaign,” specifically in Surigao.

The Ministry of Human Settlements was headed by Imelda Marcos. The 1988 COA annual audit report on the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) — chaired by Imelda—noted that the Metro Manila Commission (MMC) —yet another body led by Imelda—took P135,372.50 worth of LRT tokens on February 4-5, 1986, a few days before the snap election, presumably to give free rides. In its 1987 report on the LRTA, COA recommended that the agency recover that amount, as well as the cash value of an earlier transfer of tokens to the MMC for “Barangay Day” in 1985, via the Office of the President or the Presidential Commission on Good Government, but this recommendation—which would have added over P 210,000 to the LRTA’s bleeding coffers—went unheeded.

Also under the MMC were the metro aides (street cleaners). In his column in the January 14-20, 1986 issue of We Forum, Raul Gonzalez—future Secretary of Justice of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—said that he saw metro aides “removing posters from walls and other public places and the usual target are the posters of Cory Aquino and Doy Laurel.”

In his autobiography Light from my Father’s Shadow, current vice presidential candidate Lito Atienza claimed that “extra allowances” from the “KBL kitty” were also given to metro aides, as well as to Manila city hall employees and even “individual oppositionists” to ensure that Marcos won in the capital.

Some local officials contributed to a Marcos victory in a rather odd manner. On election day, NAMFREL volunteers, who were tasked to guard the electoral process, became fair game for Marcos operatives. James Hamilton Paterson in America’s Boy recounts the effort by local leaders of Caloocan who transported lepers from Tala Leprosarium to polling precincts, effectively warding off both voters and volunteers.

Still, both the Comelec and NAMFREL tallies showed that Marcos lost to Aquino by hundreds of thousands of votes in NCR.

The Campaigning Armed Forces

Ople had some suggestions on how Marcos should deal with uncooperative government agents, particularly one Philippine Constabulary commander. In a January 20, 1986 memo, Ople told Marcos that “Governor Juanito S. Remulla of Cavite and the main KBL grouping in that province are extremely concerned that the incumbent PC Commander, Col. Wilfredo Nicolas, has remained allegedly indifferent and uncooperative [thus being an] impediment to delivering the proportions of the vote” pledged to Marcos. Ople suggested that either Nicolas be coerced to be more cooperative, or replaced. He said Remulla’s preferred replacement was then Lt. Col. Panfilo Lacson (now senator and presidential candidate), “who assists Col. Rolly Abadilla” in the Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group.

06-Ople Memo on Cavite PC Commander by VERA Files on Scribd

It is unclear what Marcos’s response to Ople’s memo was; there is no evidence that Lacson or anyone else replaced Nicolas.

But it was clear that members of the military and the police did participate in the campaign effort.

From the Integrated National Police, Maj. Florendo Gascon, station commander of Muntinlupa, wrote a letter dated December 30, 1985 with the subject “Political Situation Report” to the district superintendent of the Eastern Police District of the Metropolitan Police Force. Gascon reported about a “volatile political situation” in his area because of the “poor leadership” of then mayor Santiago Carlos Jr., a KBL member.

Gascon wrote that Carlos appointed oppositionists from UNIDO/Laban to “vacant key positions” and cut subsidies that lowered police morale. He suggested that the KBL leadership in Muntinlupa be reorganized, giving the party chairmanship to “an aggressive and strong leader,” and that more active campaigning be done, mobilizing “all available resources to offset whatever political gain the Unido has achieved.”

From the constabulary, Brig. Gen. Carlos F. Malana sent a memo dated January 27, 1986 to Marcos regarding “Organizations Given Seminars on Filipino Ideology Who are Willing to Support the President.” Malana stated that “the officers of these organizations are willing to have an audience with His Excellency and give their pledges of full support to the President’s reelection bid.” Malana, however, noted that some groups in the “Loyalists for Marcos Movement”—led by Anacleto Dizon, author of Ferdinand Marcos: Itinadhana sa Kadakilaan—“sense they are only used for political purposes during elections, after which they are totally ignored and forgotten.”

Retired military officers given government positions also campaigned for Marcos. A January 21, 1986 letter written on the letterhead of the National Housing Authority (NHA) was sent to Col. Arturo Aruiza and Capt. Ramon Azurin, aide-de-camp to the president, by retired Maj. Gen. Gaudencio V. Tobias, NHA general manager. The letter talked about preparations for the “Assembly of the Urban Poor for the President” scheduled on January 23, 1986 in Tondo, Manila.

Protecting the ballot
To thwart ballot-box snatching, vigilantes form human barricades for ballot boxes being brought from precincts to municipal halls for official tally of the results of the snap election. Photo by Ben Avestruz, People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986.

Other members of the AFP or the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF) took an even more direct—and violent—approach to assisting the Marcos-Tolentino campaign. The Report on the February 7, 1986 Presidential Election in the Philippines by the International Observer Delegation noted a number of violations by members of the military, either directly observed by them or from other sources. These included “individuals in military uniform, or otherwise armed, well within the 50 meters (from polling places) proscribed by the Election Code,” military men attacking the headquarters of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) in Baybay and Tacloban, Leyte and harrassing/injuring NAMFREL volunteers in several other locations.

Military trucks carried armed men in the convoy of campaigning officials. This was reported in Antique, with the particular official being a Marcos ally, MP Arturo Pacificador, by Evelio Javier, who was UNIDO party representative. On February 11, 1986, while the counting of votes was still ongoing, Javier was assassinated by masked gunmen.

The Ople Plan contained a warning: “An Escalante occuring at the height of the campaign will be a disaster for the party and could be the boost needed by the Opposition.” This was a reference to the Escalante Massacre, which was declared by the Supreme Court as an unjustified killing of activists by government agents on September 20, 1985.

“In urging an energetic campaign effort throughout the country, we nonetheless would counsel our regional leaders and local commanders to take every care that our forces do not commit local acts of repression in the drive to win votes. Any local repression on our part will be laid at the President’s door on the national level (emphasis theirs),” the Election Memo stated.

Javier’s killing was suspected to have been instigated by Pacificador, whose proclamation as the representative of Antique in1984 over his rival,Javier, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court after the EDSA Revolution. Pacificador was acquitted of masterminding Javier’s assassination in 2004, but his lawyer Avelino Javellana, former Antique PC chief Capt. John Paloy, and several of his security men were found guilty of the crime.

Last February 23, the memory of Javier’s killing by Marcos allies and henchmen forced the campaign of Bongbong Marcos to call off their rally in the very same field where Javier was killed after residents protested.

The International Observer Delegation noted other deaths, such as that of Jeremias de Jesus, “a UNIDO organizer in St. Lucia, Tarlac” who was killed “apparently by four members of the CHDF.” It said that “[the] most serious form of intimidation observed by members of the delegation was that practiced by the CHDF in provinces and cities with a local strongman [areas, where they] were responsible for threatening voters and opposition poll-watchers with guns, poles or by their mere presence [and were also] responsible for snatching and stuffing of ballot boxes.” The Delegation noted that the Army’s count of election-related deaths was 80, claiming that more KBL supporters were killed (20) than UNIDO supporters (10).  It cited two NAMFREL volunteers who were killed, including one who challenged “the anomalous counting of ballots in the province of Agusan del Sur.”

Not content with intimidation and rigging of polls at the local level, the Marcos electoral machine tried to tamper with the final tally of votes. Thirty-five Comelec technicians and computer programmers, unable to stomach the blatant cheating, walked out of the Philippine International Convention Center where the election results were being canvassed on  February 9, 1986.  They were given sanctuary by the Catholic church.

Maleen Cruz, who was among the 35, related to Marilies von Brevern in her book The Turning Point that they received word “that Bongbong Marcos had dispatched some men to track us down” but none of them was harmed.

The Delegation concluded that Marcos’s “win” as proclaimed by the Comelec in 1986 was not the result of a free and fair democratic exercise.”  Before the group completed its report, events such as Javier’s killing had already convinced some in the opposition of the need to force Marcos out —by means of a revolt, if necessary.

On February 15, 1986, the Batasang Pambansa declared Marcos and Tolentino winners of the snap election. The following day, Cory Aquino gathered more than a million Filipinos at the Luneta to protest the results and launch a civil disobedience campaign against Marcos.

In her memoir, To Love Another Day, Aquino recalled that when asked how long she could sustain the protest, she replied: six months. But in her mind, she doubted if she could continue the effort protest for more than three months.

Ten days later, the Edsa revolt happened. Marcos, his family, and close associates were forced into exile in Hawaii.

As the Ople Plan noted, “[the] most powerful issue that the opposition can use in the campaign is the issue of Responsibility, i.e. the President and his administration are responsible for the crises that now confront the nation, [such as] the murder of Ninoy Aquino, the miscarriage of justice, the plunder of the coffers of government.”

The events before, during, and immediately after the 1986 snap election show that an assignment of such responsibility by the opposition to the Marcos government was perfectly justified.

(Miguel Paolo P. Reyes, Larah Vinda Del Mundo, and Joel F. Ariate Jr., are researchers at the Third World Studies Center, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman. This piece is part of their Center’s on-going research program, the Marcos Regime Research.)