1981 Philippine presidential election and referendum

The 1981 Philippine presidential election and national referendum was held on June 16, 1981. President Ferdinand E. Marcos of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) defeated retired general and World War II veteran Alejo Santos of the Nacionalista Party in a landslide victory. Most opposition parties boycotted the election as a sign of protest over the 1978 election for the Interim Batasang Pambansa (National Assembly), which they condemned as fraudulent. At the same time, a national referendum was held on the question in holding elections for barangay elections in 1982.

1981 Philippine presidential election

← 1969 June 16, 1981 1986 →
Turnout80.9% Increase 1.3%
  Ferdinand Marcos (cropped).jpg Alejo Santos.png
Nominee Ferdinand Marcos Alejo Santos
Party KBL Nacionalista
Popular vote 18,309,360 1,716,449
Percentage 88.02% 8.25%

1981 Philippine presidential election result per province.png
Election result per province. Marcos won in every province, city, and municipality.

President before election

Ferdinand Marcos

Elected President

Ferdinand Marcos

June 1981 Philippine referendum
June 16, 1981

Should there be barangay elections right after the presidential elections?
OutcomeProposal carried
Response Votes %
Yes 16,268,523 81.09%
No 3,793,322 18.91%
Valid votes 20,061,845 91.84%
Invalid or blank votes 1,781,984 8.16%
Total votes 21,843,829 100.00%

Marcos' 80% margin of victory is the most lopsided Philippine presidential election ever, beating out Manuel L. Quezon's landslide victory of 64% in 1941. Marcos getting 88% of the vote is also the largest in Philippine presidential election history, also beating Quezon's 1941 record of 82%. This is also the most votes received by a person in the Philippines for a single-winner election until 2022 when both his son Bongbong, and his running mate Sara Duterte, won more than 31 million votes.; for multiple-winner elections, it was beaten by Mar Roxas in 2004. This was also the presidential election with the most number of candidates, with 13, although nine candidates with the fewest votes collectively just got 0.13% of the vote.

Marcos would have served another six-year term ending in 1987, but it was cut short by the 1986 snap election that eventually resulted in his ouster in the People Power Revolution.

Lifting of martial lawEdit

On January 17, 1981, President Marcos announced the lifting of martial law via Proclamation No. 2045; in his address, he also inaugurated the "New Republic." Although martial law has ended, Marcos retained all presidential decrees, legislative powers and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus. The lifting of martial law was speculated to be due to the election of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, with whom Marcos wanted to have close relationship with and who was to be inaugurated only three days later, and the arrival of Pope John Paul II in the country. In February, the Interim Batasang Pambansa (parliament) passed a constitutional amendment that changed the parliamentary system of government to a semi-presidential modeled on that of France. The electorate approved the amendment in a plebiscite held in April. Marcos then called for a presidential election to be scheduled in June.[1]


The opposition, as early as April, had decided to boycott the election. The United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), the main opposition umbrella group, wanted to clean the voters' list, a revamping of the Commission on Elections, a campaign to be held nationwide and that UNIDO accredited as a minority party. Marcos did not accept the demands which led UNIDO to call for a boycott. This caused for Marcos to be reportedly dismayed as he could not legitimize the election without a viable opposition candidate.[1] UNIDO also refused to participate as Benigno Aquino Jr. (who was in exile in Massachusetts) was not allowed to participate since only people fifty years old or older were allowed to participate (Aquino was 48 years old at the time).[2]

Marcos instructed Nacionalista Party president Jose Roy to find a token candidate to oppose him. The Nacionalista Party was then a moribund political entity because Marcos, who was elected twice before under its banner, had alternately lured and coerced the vast majority its members to his new Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. The Nacionalista Party chose former Defense Secretary and Bulacan governor Alejo Santos as their standard bearer. Santos, who was appointed by Marcos as chairman of the board of the Philippine Veterans Bank, had Francisco Tatad, Marcos' former information minister, as his campaign manager. The other main candidate was Bartolome Cabangbang of the Federalist Party, whose platform was for the Philippines to become the 51st state of the United States.[1]

With UNIDO pressing for a boycott, the government issued a statement that abstention was a mortal sin; the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin responded that the people "were free to exercise their moral judgment whether to vote or not." Those who did not vote on the April plebiscite were issued summons to force them to vote. Marcos won overwhelmingly,[1] but with people remembering the American colonial era and wanting a change from the martial law conditions, Cabangbang surprisingly got 4% of the vote.[2]


Presidential electionEdit

Ferdinand MarcosKilusang Bagong Lipunan18,309,36088.02
Alejo SantosNacionalista Party (Roy wing)[a]1,716,4498.25
Bartolome CabangbangFederal Party749,8453.60
Delfin ManapazIndependent6,4990.03
Ursula DajaoIndependent4,9550.02
Benito ValdezIndependent4,2240.02
Lope RimandoIndependent1,9540.01
Lucio HinigpitSovereign Citizen Party1,9450.01
Pacifico MorelosIndependent1,7400.01
Jose IgtobayIndependent1,4210.01
Simeon del RosarioIndependent1,2340.01
Salvador EnageIndependent1,1850.01
Florencio TipanoIndependent5920.00
Valid votes20,801,40395.23
Invalid/blank votes1,042,4264.77
Total votes21,843,829100.00
Registered voters/turnout26,986,45180.94
Source: Dieter Nohlen; Florian Grotz; Christof Hartmann; Graham Hassall; Soliman M. Santos.
Elections in Asia and the Pacific: A Data Handbook: Volume II: South East Asia, East Asia, and the South Pacific
  1. ^ Santos ran under Jose Roy's wing of the Nacionalista Party, while the rest of the party boycotted the election.
Popular vote

Referendum on holding barangay electionsEdit

Should there be barangay elections right after the presidential elections?
Choice Votes %
  Yes 16,268,523 81.09
No 3,793,322 18.91
Required majority 50.00
Total votes 20,061,845 100.00
Source: Proclamation No. 2094, s. 1981


Marcos was inaugurated on June 30, 1981, at the Quirino Grandstand, with then-United States Vice President George H. W. Bush in attendance. This is when Bush made the infamous praise for Marcos: "We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process."[3]

Barangay elections were indeed held on May 17, 1982.

On August 21, 1983, Senator Aquino returned from exile in the United States, but was assassinated at Manila International Airport. Growing unrest followed, and Marcos was forced to call the snap election of 1986, where UNIDO and Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan participated and nominated Aquino's widow Corazon Aquino as their standard bearer. Marcos claimed victory over Aquino despite reports of massive cheating, but he was removed from power a few hours after his oath-taking on February 25, 1986.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Celoza, Albert (1997). Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines: The Political Economy of Authoritarianism. Praeger Publishers. pp. 73–76. ISBN 978-0-275-94137-6.
  2. ^ a b Steinberg, David Joel (2000). The Philippines: A Singular and a Plural Place. Westview Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-8133-3755-5.
  3. ^ Russell, George (February 3, 1986). "A Test for Democracy". TIME. Archived from the original on March 4, 2008.

External linksEdit