Philippine strong man Ferdinand Marcos claimed a galloping win in last week's presidential polls, but serious problems continue to confront his regime. The election exercise, which bestowed on Marcos the legitimacy he desperately sought, was characterized by state manipulation and voter intimidation. But it produced the desired 90 percent electoral endorsement of his political leadership, election officials said.
Significantly, the well-oiled government propaganda machine trumpeted US President Ronald Reagan's congratulatory letter, hand carried by Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., in Manila for the ministerial conference of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Vice-President George Bush will represent President Reagan at Marcos's June 30 "inauguration."
Haig's statement on the two countries' "unshakable unity," which "President Reagan knows and recognizes" as the dominating factor in the US-Philippine relations, indicated the Reagan's administration's attitude toward the Marcos regime.
Critics of Marcos's pro-US policies decried the convivial exchange of praise between Marcos and Haig. It hardened the opinion of those believing that both the April plebiscite on constitutional amendments and the June 16 presidential elections were US-inspired scenarios to prop up the present regime.
Marcos's 16-year rule, which the election has extended by six years, continues to be badgered by high inflation and unemployment. The economy is almost wholly dependent on borrowed funds -- debts now reach over $13 billion -- mainly from American banks and international lenders like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Giant Philippine conglomerates owned by cronies and relatives of the Marcoses are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Large-scale corruption in the government is among the problems that add to the growing alienation of the middle class. Composed mostly of middle-level bureaucrats and technocrats who had earlier gained from Marcos's political system, the middle class is now losing many of its gains to inflation and taxes.
But the main grievance is the absence of a legitimate avenue for protest. The overzealous military establishment labels all dissent subversive.
Marcos, in his preelection statements promised to curb corruption in the government, initially by revamping his Cabinet. He also indicated that he would name Finance Minister Cesar Virata as prime minister.This would shore up the credibility of the regime because of Virata's prestige in the international financial community, not to mention the fact that Virata is considered one of the few honest men in the Marcos Cabinet.
Marcos also promised to conduct an offensive against the outlawed New People's Army (NPA), the military wing of the Philippine Communist Party. Since its inception in 1969, the NPA has grown in strength in the countryside.
The communist insurgency and the Muslim secessionist rebellion in Mindanao are the main thorns in the side of the regime. Over the years, the existence of these two underground rebel organizations has justified continued American support for Marcos's unpopular regime.