Filipinos have the longest democractic tradition in Southeast Asia. But it is democracy imposed by colonial rule, with elements of Spanish feudalism, American capitalism, and Asian hierarchy. The landed gentry created by Spain became the elite to which the US handed power in 1946. What developed then fell short of the democratic ideal -- a system where patronage fuels politics, and politics brings wealth and social status. COUNTRY AND PEOPLE 56.8 million people, spread over three main islands or island groups -- Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the middle, and Mindanao in the south. 40 percent of the population is under the age of 15. RELIGIONS 84 percent Roman Catholic, about 6 percent Muslim, 2.9 percent Protestant, 2.1 percent animist. A further 5 percent is Aglipayan -- members of a national church that broke away from Catholicism at the turn of the century. Aglipayan leaders regularly tell church members to vote for Marcos. The two principal minority groups, Muslims and animists, are found mostly in Mindanao. They are culturally different but ethnically similar to the majority. ECONOMY Foreign debt is $25.6 billion. Negative growth predicted for 1986. The cost of the election -- up to $500 million, spent mostly by the government -- will aggravate this further. Main export products are agricultural -- rice, sugar, coconut products. Logging, some mining.
First Spanish foray to the islands arrived 1521, led by Ferdinand Magellan. Islands named after King Philip II. By end of 16th century most of archipelago -- down to northern Mindanao, where Islam is still dominant -- was under Spanish control and converted to Roman Catholicism. In the 1890s, Europe-educated Filipinos began nationalist movement that led to Philippine revolution. Truce signed with Spaniards in 1897. Spanish-American War declared April 1898. Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo, confident of US support during war, declared independence June 12, 1898, about a month after Comm. George Dewey defeated Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. But, under terms of Treaty of Paris signed in December, Spain ceded islands to US, and Philippines became US's first and last colony. Short-lived Philippine government formed January 1899, with Aguinaldo as President. US took two years to capture Aguinaldo and bring his rebel forces under control. First elective legislative body in Southeast Asia -- Philippine Assembly, the lower house of a new bicameral body -- elected in 1907. Upper house consisted of commission of Americans sent by US government. Meanwhile, in US there was much debate over whether US should have a colony, and US became conscious of need to ``train'' Filipinos for self-government. Tydings-McDuffie Act, passed by US Congress in 1934, provided for 10-year commonwealth followed by complete independence. Filipinos framed own Constitution -- approved by plebiscite and by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Philippine Commonwealth inaugurated Nov. 15, 1935. President Manuel Quezon and Vice-President Sergio Osmea won landslide election. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, retiring as US Army chief of staff, was called by President Quezon in 1941 to direct military preparation. Japanese attacked Dec. 8. Filipino and American forces surrendered to Japanese on Corregidor, May 1942. Japanese chose Jos'e Laurel, former associate justice in the Commonwealth Supreme Court (and father of current opposition vice-presidential candidate Salvador Laurel), to be President in 1943. Filipino guerrillas developed widespread network of resistance during Japanese occupation. Unlike reactions elsewhere in region, Filipinos called the US's return in October 1944 ``liberation.'' In April 1946, Manuel Roxas, candidate favored by General MacArthur, beat Mr. Osmea by narrow margin and became last chief executive of the commonwealth and first President of the Republic of the Philippines. Ferdinand Marcos was appointed special technical assistant to Mr. Roxas. Roxas accepted tough US conditions in return for drastically needed economic aid: 1) free trade with the Philippines for eight years, followed by 20 years of gradually increasing tariffs, 2) 99-year lease for military bases, 3) amendment of Philippine Constitution to give US citizens equal rights with Filipinos for exploitation of natural resources. Mr. Marcos elected to Philippine House of Representatives 1949 and Senate in 1959. Marcos defeated President Diosdado Macapagal in 1965 presidential election after switching from Liberal Party to Nationalist Party. Marcos reelected in 1969, becoming first Filipino President to serve second term. Marcos declared martial law September 1972. Bicameral Congress suspended, opposition leaders arrested, private armies of landed oligarchs disbanded, stringent press censorship introduced, and Marcos ruled by decree. January 1973, Marcos announced ratification of new Constitution providing for unicameral National Assembly and sharply increased authority for President. Constitution held in abeyance under martial law. President had combined authority of presidency and premiership without any fixed term of office. July 1973 referendum approved Marcos's continuation in office beyond elected term. February 1975 referendum approved continuation of martial law. October 1976 referendum did same. December 1977 referendum approved another extension of presidential term. November 1977, death sentence imposed on opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. for alleged murder, subversion, and possession of firearms. Marcos later allowed stay of execution and some general relaxation of martial law. National Assembly elections held April 1978. Marcos's party won 151 of 165 elective seats. January 1980 local elections gave ruling party sweeping victory. Mr. Aquino released from prison May 1980 for medical treatment in US. Marcos later ordered his arrest in absentia. Martial law lifted January 1981, and hundreds of prisoners freed, but Marcos retained most of the powers he gained on declaring martial law. April referendum approved constitutional amendments that permitted him to renew mandate by direct popular vote. In June 1981 election, amid allegations of election fraud, Marcos returned to office for six-year term. Aquino shot dead on arrival at Manila airport August 1983. October 1984, Five-member commission of inquiry that had been nominated by government formally charged 25 military men (including chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver) and one civilian with conspiracy to murder Aquino. In May 1984 assembly elections, surprising victory for opposition: won 59 of the 183 elective seats -- up from 14 seats in 1978. November 1985, Marcos announces presidential election to be held in early 1986 in order to renew his mandate. General Ver and 25 others accused in Aquino assassination were acquitted by special court in December 1985.