The Five Pitfalls of Marcos that Duterte must avoid

Whether you are pro- or anti-Marocs,  one thing can’t be denied. That is when Pres. Marcos fled the country in 1986, he did so because much of the military, the Catholic church, civil society and his allies in Washington had had enough.

So, the question is: can Pres. Duterte avoid the pitfalls that contributed to Pres. Marcos’ downfall? Here in no particular order are five pitfalls that Duterte must avoid, if he is to succeed, where Marcos failed.

Lack of accountability or lust for power

FM at the end of his second and final term declared martial law, amended the 1973 constitution and took on legislative, and even judicial power, to stay on indefinitely.

This made him accountable to no other political authority but himself. A lack of checks and balance, which in turn led to a whole host of problems associated with his regime.

Crony capitalism and corruption. As the saying goes power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Does Duterte risk falling into this trap? Some feel he already has. But before we jump to conclusions, let’s examine the evidence.


FM was a brilliant political strategist and tactician. He knew how to bend geopolitical powers to suit his own agenda. He knew how to extract military aid from the United States by sewing anxiety in the West that the scourge of communism could take over the country.

He also used technocrats to deodorize his regime to become the favoured child of the IMF and World Bank, to acquire soft loans. Once he had gained access to Uncle Sam’s pocket book, he turned around and committed the cardinal mistake of using the funds to enrich himself and his family.

Sen Trillanes has alleged that Duterte holds billions in several bank accounts, which would be unexplained by his income as a public servant.  He produced a report supposedly by the Anti-Money Laundering Council to back his claim. A report which the AMLAC denies comes from them.

Pres. Duterte has said previously that if these allegations can be proven, he would resign. And if the allegations against his son are proven, he would gladly have him prosecuted. 


The ultimate kind of hubris is the belief in one’s own invincibility, that one can hold on to the top spot indefinitely.

While his absolute grip on power allowed Pres Marcos and his administration to take a long-term view to public policy and planning, which was a positive, the belief that he could hold on indefinitely was the source of his ultimate downfall.

The discontinuation of many well-designed projects associated with Marcos, such as his population commission, metro transport authority and long-term energy contracts weakened the state’s ability to manage key functions of economic development.

This all stemmed from Marcos’ inability to contemplate his own demise and prepare for it, which was a result of his hubris.

Can Pres. Duterte avoid this pitfall? 

Misuse of violence for political ends

Pres Marcos justified his use of force to save the nation from the stranglehold of oligarchs and the threat of communist rebellion to build a ‘new society’. 

According to one account: “34,000 trade unionists, student leaders, writers and politicians were tortured with electric shocks, heated irons and rape; 3,240 men and women were dumped dead in public places; 398 others simply disappeared.”

Digong could be doing the same in his war on drugs to keep us from becoming a narco-state. You might say in this regard he and his followers have fallen into the same trap. Nothing should justify the killing of people in the name of a better world. But how violent is Digong’s war on drugs if we compared it to what is occurring in other states faced with the same challenge?

Debt-driven growth strategy

In 1971, the Philippine debt stock stood at $2.4 bn. A decade later, in 1982, it grew to $24 bn. By 1986, the external debt obligation of the country reached 99% of our gross national income, or more than 3 times the value of our exports.

Marcos’ debt-driven growth strategy would have worked if the money had been put into productive use. Instead, Marcos siphoned as much as $10 billion through dummy companies in charge of many of their monopolies, projects and aid money, as per the supreme court’s estimate, of which a mere $3.7 billion has been recorded. Because Marcos extracted so much from the projects being financed by these loans, the proceeds could not be re-invested to expand the economy and improve productive capacity in the country.

This was the beginning of the end for Pres. Marcos. So, is Pres. Duterte at risk of falling into this same trap? Vice President Leni Robredo seems to think so. This time the source of credit is China. The Philippines, she warns could get caught in a “debt trap” as is the case with Sri Lanka, which now spends 95% of its government revenues to pay its loans to China, according to a BBC article, which she cited. Is she right?

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