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The dismal record of the Marcos regime

What was the true record of President Ferdinand Marcos’ 20-year rule, including 14 years of martial law and dictatorship? 

In the Feb. 13, 2011 edition of the Philippine STAR coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the overthrow of the Marcos regime, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was quoted as saying:

“If there was no EDSA I, if my father was allowed to pursue his plans, I believe that we would be like Singapore now …. The truth about the administration of my father is now becoming clear  that he accomplished a lot, he helped many people and there was great progress during his time.”

We must restate the historical record, lest many of our countrymen, should forget, being perhaps afflicted by fading memories and gripped by an undeserved nostalgia for an authoritarian regime especially when compared with faltering succeeding administrations. 

To begin with, poverty significantly worsened during the Marcos years. “A World Bank study estimated that the proportion of people living below the poverty line in [Phl] cities had risen from 24 percent in 1974 to 40 percent in 1986 [the year Marcos was ousted]. The countryside was no better.” Thus wrote the well-respected journalist and historian Stanley Karnow in his book, In Our Image, America’s Empire in the Philippines, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History. 

Economic growth slackened. Penn World Tables reported that while real growth in GDP per capita averaged 3.5 percent from 1951 to 1965, under the Marcos regime (1966 to 1986) annual average growth was only 1.4 percent (Wikipedia). So how could the Philippines have overtaken Singapore which had witnessed “unprecedented economic growth” averaging 12.7 percent of real GDP from 1965 to 1973, according to the Library of the US Congress? Thereafter, Singapore frequently reached growth rates averaging 8-10 percent. 

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Workers’ wages decreased drastically. Between 1982 and 1986, real wages of unskilled laborers in Metropolitan Manila declined annually at 5.8 percent, and those of skilled laborers at 5.2 percent. Agricultural wages also declined at the same rate, according to James K. Boyce, associate professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts in his book, The Political Economy of Growth and Impoverishment in the Marcos Era.

But the rich got richer. In his book, The Marcos File, Charles C. McDougald reported that in 1980 the top 12.9 percent of the Filipino population received 22.1 percent of total income, while the bottom 11 percent just received 16.6 percent. In 1983, the top 12.9 percent now received 45.5 percent of total income, while the bottom 11 percent received only 6.4 percent. The poor got poorer.  

Public debt soared. The peso-dollar official exchange rate was P3.90 to the dollar in 1966 when Marcos became president. It fell to P20.53 to the dollar in 1986. The Philippines’ foreign debt rose from $360 million in 1962 to $28.3 billion in 1986, said Boyce. Hence, more than one-half of the present $53 billion external debt was contributed by Marcos. It is now helping cost our government more than 40 percent of its budget in debt service, forcing the Aquino II administration to cut budgetary allocations for essential services, like education, health and infrastructure. 

The insurgency intensified. “. . . [T]he US foreign policy experts also perceived that the longer Marcos’ excesses continue, the faster the Communist insurgency would spread . . . So his profligacy, corruption and repression presented a potential danger to America’s strategic interests,” said Karnow. Not only did the Communist insurgency strengthen, the Muslim insurgency erupted and after protracted war forced the Marcos government to sign the humiliating Tripoli Agreement giving concessions to the Moro National Liberation Front.

Hunger spread. “In the 1950s, Filipinos had probably been the best fed in Asia; now [the Marcos period] the people in India, Indonesia and perhaps Bangladesh were eating better than they. A staggering 40 percent of all the nation’s death were caused by malnutrition. The infant mortality rate was nearly twice as high in the Philippines as in South Korea.” (Raymond Bonner, Waltzing With A Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy, 1978.) 

I will not mention the unparalleled graft and corruption of the Marcos regime and the “Conjugal Dictatorship”. Some estimates say that Marcos skimmed some $30 billion from the economy, foreign aid, private investors and government revenues. Some $450 million were found stashed in a Swiss bank under pseudonyms of President Marcos and Imelda. Millions more were discovered in properties in the United States, which have been monetized by private lawyers and US courts and now is being distributed to martial law victims. We are still suffering the blows of the Marcos legacy of corruption.

By all standards  economic, political, social and moral  it is abundantly clear that the Marcos 20-year regime from 1966 to 1986 was a total disaster for the nation. It showed definitely that dictatorship is not the path to progress, a lesson being learned by the Arab nations now in turmoil. For the Marcos family, it raised a vast fortune that now finances a flourishing political dynasty, which could have another stab at the presidency in six years’ time.

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