Following the war, Marcos began his political career as an aide to President Manuel Roxas during 1946–1947. In 1949 he won election to the Philippine House of Representatives as a Liberal Party candidate. In 1959 he was elected a senator. Abandoning the Liberal Party for the Nationalist Party, he was elected president of the Philippines in November 1965.
The Americans saw in Marcos a potential ally in the escalating Vietnam War. Marcos in fact agreed to send some Filipino forces to the Republic of Vietnam (ROV, South Vietnam) as a show of support for anticommunism in Southeast Asia. Although as a senator he had opposed earlier requests to send troops to Vietnam, as president he agreed to send 2,000 noncombat soldiers, claiming that he could send no more because of Filipino opposition to the war. In return, the United States increased its financial aid to the Philippines.
In 1969 Marcos launched simultaneous campaigns to crush the ongoing communist Hukbalahap insurgency and the Muslim Moro uprising in Mindanao. In November that same year he became the first president of the Philippines to win reelection, although his second term was marked by increasing civil unrest. In September 1972 he imposed martial law following a series of bombings in the capital city of Manila, the discovery of an assassination plot, and an alleged communist conspiracy to seize power.
Although Washington undoubtedly knew of the rampant government corruption and the president's exaggeration of the threat of a communist coup, it continued to support the regime in order to ensure Filipino support of its own Cold War aims, including endorsement of the continued lease of important U.S. military bases in the islands. U.S. officials hoped, vainly as it turned out, that Marcos would implement reforms to reduce the grinding poverty of millions of Filipinos, which the United States believed was fueling the resistance movements. Although Marcos ended martial law in 1981, he carried on his increasingly autocratic rule.
In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan's administration continued to back Marcos, despite his dictatorial ways and abuse of human rights. The 21 August 1983 assassination of Marcos's political rival Benigno Aquino, however, united the anti-Marcos opposition and marked the beginning of the end for his rule.
In the snap election of February 1986, Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, ran against Marcos. Marcos claimed a dubious victory amid widespread accusations of electoral fraud, which emboldened his opponents to drive him from power. In February 1986, as angry mobs converged on the presidential palace, Marcos and his wife Imelda fled to Hawaii. In October 1988, a U.S. federal court indicted the Marcoses on racketeering charges. Ferdinand Marcos died in Honolulu on 28 September 1989.
Brands, H. W. Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.; Celoza, Albert F. Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of Authoritarianism. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.