THE tragedy of the “EDSA People Power Revolution” involves three inarguable facts. It merely reinstated elite rule, and the political system that maintains their power. It allowed the growth of insurgencies that have scared away investments. It demonized the kind of state-directed economic policy responsible for the growth of the “Dragon and Tiger” economies of Asia.
The tragedy of EDSA is that it didn’t help us much in achieving economic growth on a scale our neighbors did.
First, while toppling a dictatorship, EDSA swiftly restored the Philippines’ anarchy of elite families that was the situation since the nation’s birth. This reality has always been and still is, though concealed through the scheme of popular voting that also prevents inter-elite conflicts from turning violent that would be disastrous for everyone.
Emblematic of the return of the old oligarchs — whose unabated rule Marcos used as a justification for martial law — was the quick turnover of the giant broadcasting firm ABS-CBN and Meralco to the oligarchic Lopez family, despite the huge debts to government it had incurred before martial law. The Lopez clan would then incur huge loans from the Development Bank of the Philippines in the post-Marcos period to expand their empire. Antonio Cojuangco, Cory Aquino’s favorite nephew, would find one fine morning the stock certificates of PLDT in a drawer to prove that his father owned it (rather than Marcos), and thus managed to take over the telephone monopoly.
So symbolic was that Cory Aquino’s Cojuangco clan, representing the old landlord elites, would evade the agrarian reform program she had boasted about as her key agenda, through the flimsy scheme of turning Hacienda Luisita’s tenants into purported stockholders. Imelda Marcos’ famous quip when asked about her husband’s cronies certainly applies to the elites that grew during and after martial law: “Some are smarter than others.”
Our representative democracy however has degenerated in the new era in which TV, movies, the internet and social media have been the most dominant force in shaping people’s consciousness. Thus we have actors becoming senators, and because of sheer name recall (because of media) we have even children of actors, and of old elites joining them. “You don’t need to be intelligent or a leader to become a senator or even a president. You just have to be popular, for any reason.”
Second, because the Maoists and Islamic separatists were allies of the Yellows in overthrowing the dictatorship, the first two post-Marcos administrations — under Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos — followed a policy of appeasement toward these insurgencies, allowing them to survive and even grow to be disincentives for foreign investments of the magnitudes China and Malaysia received since the late 1980s.
The biggest factor that boosted East Asian economies in the post-war era was the massive migration of Japanese capital starting in the mid-1980s. This was the result of the devaluation of the yen in 1985 (forced by the West) that prompted Japanese capital to migrate to Southeast Asia, partly to take advantage of the bigger amount of capital the devalued yen could generate in these countries. Thus mainly because of Japanese investments, foreign net direct investments (FDI) as a percentage of Malaysia’s GDP averaged 5.1 percent from 1986 to 1999; and Thailand’s 2.3 percent. In our case, our FDI averaged a measly 1.6 percent of GDP in the same period.
That’s not unsurprising: the communists’ New People’s Army grew to even threaten Davao City and to control several parts of Mindanao and the Visayas. The giant Mitsui Co.’s executive Nobuyaki Wakaoji was kidnapped by an NPA unit in November 1986 and held for four months until a $5 million ransom was paid. Japanese investments into the Philippines ground to a halt, and instead went to Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Even the Japanese executives assigned here were given strict orders to limit their movements from office to home. Japanese executives refused to be stationed in Manila.
Third, because of the view spread by the Yellows that the kind of government programs to direct industrial development bears the demonic DNA of the Marcos dictatorship, we’ve never undertaken that kind of economic policy. Instead we believed the myth spread by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the US (called the Washington Consensus) that free markets with stable exchange and inflation rates, with the least state intervention will result in economic growth. Our anarchy of elite families extends to the economic sphere. Even to this day that’s the dogma, what with formerly anti-Marcos professors, now top economic advisers of the son, Benjamin Diokno and Felipe Medalla in the 1980s authors of a purportedly economic study seeing nothing but bad during the Marcos years.
Marcos technocrats like Cesar Virata and Gerardo Sicat who were true believers of that Washington Consensus got new, better professional careers in the post-Marcos period. The center of student (read: communist) protests against Marcos renamed its School of Business as the Cesar Virata School of Business, located just a stone’s throw from the Martial Law (i.e., anti-Marcos) Museum that will be built with a P500 million allocation ordered by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd.
But it was precisely that kind of government-directed economic programs that explains the amazing growth of China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia from the 1970s and 1980. Even today the power of government industrial policy is being demonstrated by Vietnam, with its one-party rule. Thus FDI as a percent of Vietnam’s GDP has averaged 3.8 percent from 1997 to 2021; China’s 3.1 percent; ours is just 2 percent in the same period.
Nothing probably represents better the EDSA tragedy in the business sphere than the take-over by Indonesian magnate Anthoni Salim (through the First Pacific he is the majority owner of) of the most lucrative public utility firms in the country, Meralco and PLDT, from the Lopez oligarchs.
I had estimated in my book Colossal Deception that Salim has remitted over $1 billion annually in profits from these two firms, a huge decapitalization of our economy. This would be many times more than the purported Marcos wealth which had been kept in the Swiss banks, and sent back to the country by a Swiss Supreme Court.
The phenomenon of our overseas workers buoying up the economy started during the Marcos era, initially as big Filipino construction firms brought Filipino workers with them in their projects in Saudi Arabia. This functioned as an escape valve for the rising pressures in the economy during the second half of the Marcos era.
Partly because of government protection and even romanticization (such as the absurd “Bagong Bayani”), the country now has the dubious distinction of having the most number of OFWs abroad that is not due to sheer overpopulation (as it is for China and India) or war (as in the case of Syria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and now Ukraine). If not for OFWs, the basic flaws of an economy that is not being guided by the state, would have torn the country apart, or would have allowed the communists to seize power because of massive poverty in the country. OFW remittances have been the economy’s escape valve.
The romanticization of EDSA has been fast declining, as more and more Filipinos intuitively have realized it changed very little, and even made the country worse off. The “I-was-there” or” it-was-a-heroic-moment” narratives have rung hollow, or even ridiculous. The Catholic Church that backed the EDSA revolution has lost its prestige by having been servile to the Yellow leaders.
The good news is that President Rodrigo Duterte had started to bury EDSA’s consequences: His very presidency, a president coming from the farthest city from Manila, his bold blows against the Lopez oligarchy represented by its loss of ABS-CBN and the humbling of the Yellows controlling the Philippine Daily Inquirer, his expressed distaste for the US which had been the patron of the Philippine elite, his demonstration through his war against illegal drugs and his Build, Build, Build program that we need a strong state.
All these point to the fact that the spell of EDSA has ended. What more powerful proof its demythization than the landslide victory of the son of the strongman it toppled 36 years ago.
It would be another tragedy though, if his son reverses Duterte’s achievements in terminating the ghost of EDSA.
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