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The 1969 election: A critical turning point

I was 16 during the 1969 Philippine presidential election and, like many who are still around, personally witnessed this critical poll exercise that helped shape today’s political, social, and economic landscape.

Ferdinand Marcos won over Sergio Osmeña Jr. There were just two political parties then, the Nacionalista Party with Marcos seeking reelection for another four-year term, and Osmeña’s Liberal Party. There were independent candidates as well, but they had negligible support.

Thanks to Google, we can revisit some facts, refresh our memory, and even speculate a bit.

What if Osmeña had won over Marcos? Would there have been a New People’s Army? Would we have remained frontrunner in Southeast Asia’s economy? Would our peso be this devalued? Would our national debt be this huge? Would corruption be this rampant? So many questions.

The Philippine election of 1969 was described by Newsweek and Time magazines as the dirtiest, most violent, and most corrupt election, that gave rise to the term “Three Gs,” for guns, goons, and gold. My research (Google/1969 Presidential Elections/Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Campaign) reveals that $50 million was spent during that time, most of which were unloaded in Cebu. Today, that amount is huge, considering inflation and the exchange rate then of P3.79 per US dollar.

I was an eye witness to terrorism and vote-buying. My late father worked for the national government, in the Bureau of Public Highways. Our neighbor, who was a political leader for Marcos then, knocked on our door two days before election, carrying a bag of money for distribution in the neighborhood. My father was told that if he was found to have voted for Osmeña, his job would be compromised. My parents were given P2 (in paper bills) each and their names written on a sheet of paper.

Osmeña was defeated by a large margin even in his home province of Cebu. Our dream to have a Cebuano elected president did not come true. The Marcos win defied two near-axiomatic facts: that no president was ever reelected in the post-Commonwealth era, and that no one can beat Osmeña in Cebu, much less with an Ilocano opponent.

In a fairly contested election, where there were no guns, goons, and gold, Marcos would have lost.

The Osmeñas are known for land development. The late Sergio Jr. or Serging initiated the Cebu North reclamation project where now stands SM City, while his son Tomas initiated the Cebu South reclamation project where SM Seaside and several world-class land developments including that of Filinvest, Robinsons (JG Summit), and the Ayala group are located. The late Lito Osmeña initiated the Ayala Center and IT Park, converting idle lots into world-class economic hubs when he was Cebu governor.

Comparatively, the business legacy left by Marcos were government takeovers. The Iligan Integrated Steel Mills of the Jacinto group was renamed National Steel Corp. and was managed by military officers, while the power industry was ruled by the National Power Corp., a government entity. Several cronies feasted on big industries and the country lost big on the mothballed nuclear power plant. Other industries like broadcast media and banking were also taken over by Marcos cronies. It’s laissez-faire in reverse.

Now Marcos’ son, Bongbong, is running for president. The junior is not as intellectual as the father and has already shown himself a dishonest person as evidenced by his lying about his Oxford college diploma and his tax evasion cases. Ironically, he leads surveys by a big margin over the second placer. But he is a carbon copy of his authoritarian father, and his win would mean handing over President Duterte’s dictatorial rule to another dictator.

I keep wondering if our country would have been better off today had the 1969 presidential election been fairly contested. I just hope that Filipinos won’t take that Marcos Jr. bait that if he wins, our country would become like Singapore—which, by the way, is ruled by an authoritarian type of government. Compared to the Philippines, Singapore is so small in terms of population and land area: only 700 square kilometers against the Philippines’ 300,000 sq. km in land area, and a 5 million population compared to our country’s 110 million. The other big difference is that its long-term prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was an exceptionally sincere leader untainted by corruption, a glaring contrast to the Marcoses.

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Manolo A. Villareal, 68, used to work as operations supervisor in a private corporation.

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