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Opinion

Corruption, economic crisis under Marcos rule

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

On Feb. 22-25, the nation again commemorates those four days – 36 years ago – when Filipinos rose up in determined yet peaceful protest, converged on Edsa and with their own bodies stopped the military tanks and troops dispatched to disperse them. That popular uprising, replicated in other parts of the country, ended the 14-year Marcos dictatorship.

A disturbing specter, however, is lurking in the atmosphere: “No to the return of the Marcoses to Malacañang and Duterte’s extended stay in power!” is the outcry of a significant segment of the citizenry. The specter could materialize should the Marcos-Duterte tandem, touted as leading by a wide margin in pre-official campaign surveys, win the presidency and vice presidency in the May 9 elections.

In the past weeks, several commentaries in the media have debunked Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s false claim that his father’s tyrannical rule embodied the country’s “golden age.” They pointedly remind us that the Marcos “reign” reeked of corruption and drove the nation’s economy into unprecedented crisis.

I’ll just cite and quote four critical pieces written by fellow columnists.

• In a column piece in PhilSTAR’s Lifestyle section last Jan. 30, the writer Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura harked back to 1972 (the year Marcos declared martial law). Just turning 28, “still young and stupid” with young kids needing her care, she moved “into a beautiful home in an expensive subdivision” with a former banker, then one of Marcos’ finance undersecretaries.

The man amazed her “and took hold of [her] heart” when he replied “No” to her question: Are you for the Marcoses? She remembered him as saying: “I see myself as cosmetic, like lipstick. I think they hired me because I make them look good.”

“The first brick that built my knowledge, my resentment of martial law and the Marcoses,” Gonzalez-Ventura recalled, was when her partner answered a phone call in their home, hearing him laugh and tell the caller, “Kung ang pera tumatawa, tanggapin mo. Huwag kang mag-alala.” “That was my friend, the lawyer,” he told her. She was shocked: “It was the first real hint of kickbacks.” Six years went by, during which she increasingly realized the extent of the corruption: he kept five attaché cases at home, each one filled with cash.

“That had become his lifestyle. With the passage of time and his success with the First Lady and through her the President, they – and life – got progressively worse,” she wrote. In 1977, she broke off the relationship.

“Please don’t believe what the Marcoses say about their lives then,” Gonzalez-Ventura urged her readers. “Their money laughed loudly and heartily. They took from the Philippines everything they could until the day when they had to stop.” Then she mused: “One day they will suffer for it. Perhaps that day is dawning.”

• The social scientist Mahar Mangahas, in his Inquirer column on Feb. 12, revisited a series of surveys conducted in 1981-1983, which he initiated as research head of the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP). The DAP was about to publish a book on the findings, but “changed its mind” just before printing in 1983. Why?

A partial explanation may be gleaned from these sample replies to an April-May 1981 survey of Metro Manila adults who were asked to compare conditions between 1981 and pre-martial law: On graft and corruption, 49 percent said it was worse under martial law. The prevalence of crime was also thought to be worse (50 percent), as was inflation (75 percent).

These negative perceptions by the people themselves, Mangahas wrote, disprove claims of a “golden age” during martial law either in the late ‘70s or the early ‘80s.

• PhilSTAR business columnists Boo Chanco and Iris Gonzales, on Feb. 16, wrote back-to-back pieces about the Marcos cronies and the economic impact of their businesses’ huge debts to the government.

Chanco recalled that Marcos’s economic managers got embarrassed in New York when told by the lead bank handling the country’s account that the Central Bank had overstated its foreign exchange reserves by $600 million in 1983.

“We were caught with our pants down,” he quoted Cesar Buenaventura, a Monetary Board member who was with the delegation to New York, as telling him in an interview last Feb. 12.

“The country was broke. It was caused by a combination of factors constituting a perfect storm,” Chanco wrote. “The Marcos cronies couldn’t pay PNB, DBP, GSIS, giving rise to a crisis among the three GFIs [government financing institutions].” He cited the measures taken to resolve the crisis, but the economic mess got worse. “Stagflation set in and GDP contracted for successive years. As a result many businesses failed.”

As epilogue, Chanco wrote: “Marcos bankrupted the Central Bank; it had to be dissolved and replaced by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.” Even today, the Marcos Central Bank’s bad accounts are still being paid by taxpayers.

Gonzales, on her part, recalled Imelda Marcos making a “damning revelation” (in an Inquirer interview in 1998) that some of the giant companies in the country really belonged to her family, that the supposed owners “merely acted as dummies for the Marcoses.”

“We practically own everything in the Philippines,” Mrs. Marcos bragged, referring to “electricity, telecommunications, airline, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil and mining, hotels and beach resorts, down to coconut milling, small farms, real estate and insurance.”

The Marcos matriarch claimed that “up to P1 trillion in equity in more than 100 top corporations” were entrusted by Marcos Sr. to his associates. Gonzales noted, however, that some of today’s taipans and businessmen have already won favorable court decisions proving ownership of their respective businesses.

“The question going around business circles these days,” Gonzales pointed out, “is this: What would Marcos Jr. do with these businesses if he becomes president? Would he go after his family’s supposed shares in the different corporations? Would that be part of Marcos Jr.’s agenda if he wins?”

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Email: [email protected]

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