Marcos: The Great, Tragic Reformer

Last August 22, as if timed as a counter-event to the August 21 commemoration of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, the darkest point of the 13-year dictatorship – the University of the Philippines’ top officials launched the first extensive pro-Marcos revisionist history of that era.

Of course, the book’s title wasn’t that above. The author, economist Gerardo Sicat, who had been one of Marcos’ top technocrats, is a clever fellow who knew that the UP Press wouldn’t touch it, much less shoulder its costs, if the title revealed its thesis of Marcos as the misunderstood reformer.

Sicat’s book, instead, is supposedly a biography of Cesar Virata, Marcos finance minister during the entire martial-law period, and elected Prime Minister by the sham parliament in 1981.

Virata’s life is just an excuse for Sicat to write a history of the Marcos era in a way that justifies his spending the best years of his professional life, from 1970 to 1984, in the service of the dictatorship. It’s as if Walther Funk, Hitler’s economic minister, suddenly wrote a biography of Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosig (Hitler’s finance minister and a bit like Virata, the Reich Chancellor) in order really to write a sympathetic history of the Fuhrer.

I certainly do not subscribe to the Yellow Cult’s fairy-tale fake narrative of Marcos as the Dark Lord overthrown by the Fellowship of the Yellow Ribbon, and I have written about this in the past (See for instance, “Economics of martial law and people power,” Oct 3, 2012, Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Sicat’s book, though, goes overboard in its very sympathetic and naively optimistic favorable portrayal of the dictatorship.

Sicat20141112
Book launching last Aug 22: Sicat the author, the book, the real topic, Marcos. Seated, intently listening: UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan, UP School of Economics Dean Ramon Clarete and UP President Alfredo Pascual.

The book is now the thickest in my library, thicker even than the width of my iPhone. Yet in all of its 846 pages (370,000 words!), there is not one sentence on a phenomenon that will haunt the nation for decades: The killing, torture, and imprisonment of the best and brightest, the most idealistic of our youth who protested the imposition of a dictatorship, and the thrashing of our democracy. There is no mention at all of detention camps for political prisoners in Fort Bonifacio, Camp Crame, Camp Aguinaldo and throughout the country where the country’s best and brightest were jailed without charges.

Too busy
As a reporter covering Virata in the early 1980s, I asked in a press conference why he wasn’t protesting human rights abuses when he was supposedly the Prime Minister, the second most powerful man in the country at that time. His answer floored me: “It’s obvious I’m busy with other duties.”

For Sicat to write a history of the dictatorship without one word on the human rights abuses under Marcos means that he is dismissing this darkest side of that era and even ethically supporting the abuses. And Sicat can’t make the lame excuse that he is writing solely “economic history.” Using my analogy above, it would be as if the biography of the Nazi finance minister contained not a word about the holocaust that killed 10 million Jews and other European cultural minorities.

Many of those who lost their lives, or had their lives destroyed, were students of UP, believing in the democratic and patriotic values the institution instilled in them.

By publishing such a pro-Marcos book, the UP is spitting on these UP heroes’ graves. This is unsurprising with the University, for the first time in its 100 years of existence, having a president who spent all of his professional life as a finance man and as an Asian Development Bank technocrat, obviously oblivious to the social and political upheavals in the country.

Sicat, of course, has all the right to write a glowing biography of Virata and a sympathetic account of the dictatorship. His book would certainly be valuable for historians as much as the publication of Marcos’ diaries, “Delusions of a Dictator,” were. It would also help for posterity to come up with a more balanced view of that era beyond the black-and-white narratives of the Yellow Cult.

But for our premiere state university to publish such a book demeans the institution.

The book wouldn’t stand the requirements of an academic book, as is required by any real University Press, since it is Sicat’s biased apologia for the dictatorship of which he was a part.

Nearly all of its assertions aren’t backed up by references, but simply stand on the author’s say-so.

It pretends to be an academic work by listing 25 academic-journal articles in its bibliography. However, 14 of these are by Sicat himself, and he obviously either rejects or is unaware of the numerous academic writings on Marcos history, especially those written by his colleagues at the School of Economics that contradict his assertions.

For a biography of Virata, he didn’t even list as reference the most extensive academic account of the technocrat, “Virata: The Trials and Tribulations of a ‘Chief Technocrat’” by UP professor Teresa Encarnacion Tadem, published in the Philippine Political Science Journal. That omission alone demonstrates he doesn’t really know or has researched enough on his subject, or is selective about his sources, excluding those that aren’t cheering Virata as he does.

By having it published, the UP Press—the country’s premiere academic institution—gives it its imprimatur, that it is an academic work, and therefore, is objective and accurate.

The book contains so many errors that reveal its author’s bias not just for Virata but for Marcos. “When Cesar Virata joined the government, his life became one of self-abnegation,” wrote Sicat.

Self-abnegation
How could be it be one of self-abnegation when in a list released by the Commission on Audit in 1983, Virata was chairman or member of the board of directors of 22 government entities? If the list had included two more of his posts representing the Philippines in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, he would have held 24 seats—beating Imelda Marcos who had 23 seats. If he got just P50,000 in salaries and honoraria from each of these government firms, he would have made P1.2 million a month from those positions, a fortune during that time.

But Sicat’s portrayal of Virata is nothing compared to how he portrays Marcos and his dictatorship. He describes the imposition of martial law in 1983 as follows:

“Economic reforms suddenly became possible under martial law. The powerful opponents of reform were silenced and the organized opposition was also quilted. In the past, it took enormous wrangling and preliminary stage-managing of political forces before a piece of economic reform legislation could even pass through Congress. Now it was possible to have the needed changes undertaken through presidential decree. Marcos wanted to deliver major changes in an economic policy that the government had tried to propose earlier.”

And Marcos reforms, Sicat says, were embraced by the nation:

“The enormous shift in the mood of the nation showed from within the government after martial law was imposed. The testimonies of officials of private chambers of commerce and of private businessmen dictated enormous support for what was happening. At least, the objectives of the development were now being achieved…”

So why did Marcos fall if he was a great reformer?

Sicat, of course, won’t point to economic mismanagement that led to an untenable build-up of foreign debts leading to the debt crisis of 1983 or he would incriminate himself: he headed the National Economic and Development Authority from 1973 to 1981.

Marcos’ fall, of course, for Sicat wasn’t due to the rise in poverty under this regime, and the consequent growth of the New People’s Army and other opposition organizations that made the country so politically volatile.

Marcos fall, of course, wasn’t due to corruption on a grand scale that allowed Marcos to amass millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. A former Marcos official told me last year: “No one among us had any inkling that Marcos had stashed millions of dollars abroad. For me, its discovery shattered everything I thought Marcos was.”

Unbothered by Marcos’ corruption
Sicat is, on the other hand, unbothered by that. He doesn’t even condemn Marcos’ corruption and even claims it is “perfectly understandable.” “His financial coffers … would assure his longevity as the country’s leader. The accumulation of financial wealth for the purpose of advancing political motives was perfectly understandable within the context of such a life.”

Sicat’s rather simple explanation why Marcos was kicked out by the nation: “Toward the end of his rule, it became apparent that some supporters appeared to have received more benefits than might have been warranted by circumstances. This was aggravated by the onset of an economic crisis that incurred a major adjustment in financial resources. When key business groups that were not close to him began to feel the repercussions of the crisis and recognized that not everyone was suffering to the same extent, it became easier and more logical for them to transfer their support to the opposition.”

Is this guy talking about the Philippines in the 1980s or some European country?

Sicat wrote something which I can claim 100 percent is a fallacy.

What delayed an international rescue package for the Philippines when it defaulted on its debts in October 1983 was the discovery that the central bank fudged its reports on its international reserves by as much as $1 billion earlier in the year to fool the global financial community that it could still pay its debts. The discovery, of course, angered the IMF and the World Bank, which then required a full audit of the country’s reserves and all its data before it supports the rescheduling of our debts and extend a huge loan to tide us over.

Sicat wrote: “The matter became public knowledge when a staff from [the] IMF openly questioned the number during discussions in Manila. The local press picked up on the incident and sensationalized it, thus making it of interest to the international media. Eventually, the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off the story and made it even bigger.”

Sicat is lying. It was the other way around, and he knows it.

It was a reporter for the Business Day newspaper who discovered that the central bank was deliberately tampering with the figures on the country’s capital inflows, which resulted in a fake level of international reserves. While the IMF was investigating the report, the Wall Street Journal a month later wrote a banner story on it. The IMF confirmed its findings. Virata sheepishly admitted the fudging of the country’s economic data.

Report by a local reporter that led to the unearthing of the falsified report on the central bank’s international reserves.

I know this to be true since I was that Business Day reporter.

PNB juggling
And what government body was principally involved in the tampering? It was the Philippine National Bank, which juggled its foreign funds to make it appear that the country was getting more dollar inflows than it did.

And who was the PNB chair at that time? Sicat.

Admittedly, I am not sure if Sicat knew about the scam. I’m sure, though, that the PNB president at the time, Placido Mapa, knew about it as he threatened to ask my publisher Raul Locsin to fire me if I pursued the story, boasting that the newspaper had outstanding loans from the bank for which it could demand repayment immediately. Locsin himself told me about the threat, but merely admonished me to be sure I have my documents and my facts right.

Because of that episode, the IMF demanded that Sicat, Mapa, central bank governor Jaime Laya – as well as Virata, according to my source at that time — be fired from their posts before the international monetary body could help the country deal with its debt crisis.

All of them were, indeed, given the boot except for Virata, as the IMF and the World Bank couldn’t recommend a replacement while Marcos said it was non-negotiable. (The next in line in Marcos’ stable of technocrats was Roberto Ongpin, who had been known to be anti-IMF.)

It would be kind of us to claim that the fault of Sicat and Ongpin was merely along the lines of Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke’s insight: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The myth of Marcos’ dictatorship is that it was run by generals with their soldiers at every street corner.

The reality is, just like Nazi Germany and many of the Latin American dictatorships in the 1960s, it operated and survived for so long because of technocrats like Virata, Sicat, and Ongpin, who not only ran the engines of the dictatorship but deodorized it, thereby concealing its bloody side of tortures and killings.

Sicat and Virata, of course, have never even apologized for their role in the dictatorship that set the country back a decade, impairing us so much that the country had become the economic laggard in Southeast Asia.

They’re even proud of it, as is UP. Oh well, like many institutions during this regime, UP is going to the dogs.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. DuterteFan1989

    I am thinking Ferdinand Marcos and Ninoy Aquino are not both heroes. I am neutral to Aquinos and Marcoses.

    I remember the pasts of painful Martial Law in September 23, 1972 and boring Edsa Revolution in February 25, 1986. I was unborn yet until 3 years later.

    Contrary to this, Lee Kuan Yew pointed out that Ferdinand Marcos is a crook (but he did good things to let Aquino go to US exile and not let soldiers attack people, instrumental part of People Power_ and Mr. Gadon said that Ninoy Aquino is a fake/false hero (hidden instrumental part is that Ninoy is almost the “virtual” and “technical” president that many would never have or see).

    Sometimes, Yellow Cult confuses many people like that.

    At least Dutertes and sometimes Arroyos would repair our present and future.

  2. Daniel B. Laurente

    It good to learn how ex Pres. Marcos financial technocrats manipulaed our country’s financial standing in the world opposite the reality. Also it is surprising that after the fall of Marcos regime no one from the succeding government went after these technocrats to answer for their fallacy in running the affairs of their respective job.
    Is opposition group also a partner in the imposition of martial rule if i may ask you Mr. Tiglao. Your view on this could perhaps enlighten me because the saying goes that “it takes two to tango”.

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