I AM convinced so. But you decide. I provide you with data and information.
Indeed, it’s not just an academic question these days. With Ferdinand Marcos’ son running for the presidency, the shoo-in, it seems now there has been a resurgence of articles by the Yellows claiming that the Marcos era was an economic disaster, so that Bongbong has no moral right to lead the country.
For instance, a Philippine Star amateur columnist in two columns pontificated that “statistics” (he actually means economic measures as GDP) such as the anemic 3.8 percent during Marcos’ 21-year rule prove so. He says that’s one reason Bongbong should not run for the presidency. That’s total baloney.
The Marcos regime’s economic performance must be divided into two parts, or else it cannot be understood: how could Filipinos live in such a “dark age” for 13 years?
The first period was from 1972 to 1980, which I term, to irritate the Yellows, Marcos’ “Golden Years” during which GDP growth surged to an average 6 percent, one of the highest rates since the Republic was born; better than that of Cory Aquino’s at 3.9 percent and Fidel Ramos’ at 4.8 percent.
This robust growth was really the reason why there was so much support for martial law and for Marcos during this period, especially as the backs of the communist and Islamic insurgencies appeared to have been broken, with the capture or surrender of their leaders. Business was booming, Lucio Tan was on to breaking decades-old San Miguel’s monopoly with his Asia Beer and we even had the first semiconductor assembly plants in Asia.
However, the economy suddenly stalled in 1981 to just a 3.4-percent growth, from the 5.1 percent the previous year. This was the start of the second part of the Marcos era’s economic performance, when GDP growth decelerated sharply, to even contract by 7 percent in 1984 and by 6.9 percent 1985.
If one includes these two years to get the average for the economic performance during the entire Marcos years, you would indeed get the dismal 3.4 percent that the Yellows often quote, far from the 6 percent average from 1972 to 1980. But that doesn’t explain anything and is only as good as protest graffiti on a wall.
So, what happened? In 1980, a global financial perfect storm happened. The US betrayed the world when the US Federal Reserve — without any coordination with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other countries — raised steep interest rates in late 1979, purportedly to control the inflationary spiral in the US at that time. Known as the “Volcker shock” after the Federal Reserve Bank chairman, it ignored the fact that American and European banks had, for the first time in the world’s history, flooded since 1970 Third World countries, especially Latin America and the Philippines, with low-interest dollar loans.
They could do this because they had been awash with the so-called petrodollars of the OPEC countries that became rich overnight during the oil crisis of the 1970s, which they deposited in US and European banks (where else?). The IMF and World Bank, in fact, saw it as manna from heaven, as the Third World would have access to the enormous capital their own economies couldn’t raise, but purportedly needed for their development.
But then the unthinkable (Muslim vs Muslim?) Iraq-Iran War broke out in September 1980, just as global interest rates were zooming after the Volcker shock, pushing up oil prices worldwide. It was a double whammy for many developing countries, including us.
Mexico, the biggest recipient of foreign loans (of course, since it was just a few hours by plane from New York banks’ headquarters) and supposedly the most credit-worthy, defaulted on its foreign loans in August 1982. That, of course, spooked the US and European banks, which then raised interest rates on their short-term loans, which many of the borrowing countries used to service their long-term debts, or just stopped lending.
The Mexican default triggered others in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, as well as 14 other countries, resulting in the world’s worst financial-turned-economic crisis ever, which took the affected countries a decade to recover from.
However, the Philippines did not default (yet), with the economy even growing 3.4 percent in 1981 and 3.5 percent in 1982, as shown in the accompanying table. Interestingly, then-Central Bank governor Jaime Laya, testifying in the trial of Imelda Marcos in the New York Southern District court, claimed in effect that Marcos had “caused” — he said it was from his friends’ in Europe — the inflow of $75 million into the central bank to help the country service its foreign debts at that time. That is a crucial detail as you will realize below.
But then, as dramatically shown in the table, GDP, which grew 1.9 percent in 1983, suddenly contracted by 7.1 percent in 1984 and by 6.9 percent in 1985, which meant an economic meltdown never before seen.
What happened? Benigno Aquino Jr. happened.
On Aug. 21, 1983, Ninoy was assassinated with a single shot to the head as he was leaving the plane that brought him to the country. Why did he return to the Philippines, of all times when the world was going through an economic storm never seen before?
As I wrote in two earlier columns and recorded in tapes of the conversation Ninoy had with his friend Steve Psinakis just before he left the US, Aquino said: “Marcos is a dying man now: Terminal… now that he is about to meet his Maker, I am almost confident that I can talk to him and sell him something.” He said his source on Marcos’ dying condition was Cardinal Sin.
The Yellow myth is that he returned in order to save the nation from Marcos. The record shows he knew Marcos was dying and he had to return to the Philippines to replace him as soon as the strongman died, as there were others — Imelda, Salvador Laurel, Juan Ponce Enrile and even the US main man here at that time, Fidel Ramos — who were poised to do that and were already in the arena here. (Aware of the emerging debt crisis, as Laya’s testimony indicated, why would Marcos do something, that is, order Aquino assassinated, when he knew that would worsen the situation and the foreign debt crisis?)
Whether he was killed or not is inconsequential. Ninoy alive would have led non-stop demonstrations to force Marcos down, even leading to a coup d’état.
Either scenario, Ninoy — alive or dead in the Philippines — frightened even the boldest foreign banks from lending to us and there was a stampede for the elites to get out of the country with as many dollars as they could fearing a civil war between the two factions of the elite, with the communist New People’s Army taking advantage of it to seize power.
Fifty-four days after the Aquino’s August assassination, on October 14, the Philippines declared it could no longer service its foreign debts, and with that, the import-dependent country was practically shut off from all trade to the outside world.
The economy collapsed. The Philippine economy was like a ship hit by a first torpedo, the debt crisis, but still sailing — until sunk by a second torpedo, the political crisis, thanks to Aquino.
Knowing, of course, that the US controlled the IMF and the World Bank — which was implementing a plan to reschedule the Philippines’ foreign debt so it could limp to economic recovery — Marcos agreed to the US demand for “snap-elections” for the presidency in 1986 purportedly to prove to the US that he was still in control, but which turned out to be a devious US trap.
I was the senior financial reporter at Business Day and closely covered the crisis as it unfolded. The then very tight-lipped central bank research department head Armando Tetangco, who would head the institution after two decades, was visibly mad as he told me: “We were getting to manage the crisis, but then they pushed us off the brink.” I’m not sure who he was referring to — Aquino’s assassins or his camp.
And the Yellows and Pinkos keep screaming that the Marcos era were the darkest years of the country. Well, their “martyr” made it such.
“Setting the record straight on Ninoy as opposition leader, martyr,” Aug. 28, 2020; and “Ninoy Aquino: Hero or miscalculating ‘throne’ gamer?” Sept. 5, 2016.
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