Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 February 2016


In the light of attempts by some quarters at historical revisionism—trying to sell Ferdinand Marcos and his more than two decades in power as some sort of “golden age” in Philippine history, supposedly with very little crime, minimal corruption, and fantastic infrastructure buildup—it is time to take a hard look at the facts.

There is also an attempt to pooh-pooh the Marcos dictatorship as nothing harmful, as really the norm in Asia; moreover, since it was one of the shortest-lived dictatorships (and one of the least ruthless, according to the same view), it is possible that that was the reason the country didn’t grow as fast as the others did. In short, we should have had more of Marcos. Good grief.

Certain facts have already been revealed or restated in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa Revolution. Raissa Robles’ book, “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again,” summarizes the Marcos atrocities: 3,247 murdered, 40,000 tortured, and over 60,000 illegally detained. Divided by the 13-year dictatorship period, that comes out to 250 murders, 3,077 tortures, and 4,615 illegal incarcerations a year. All these, with Marcos’ knowledge.

No matter how you look at it, it makes the charges of extrajudicial killings in recent years (Arroyo, Aquino) pale by comparison. For example, the Inquirer reported 299 killings from October 2001 to April 2007 (55 killings a year) under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In the first two years of P-Noy, 10 cases were reported. Of course, any number above zero is unacceptable, but there can be no comparing Marcos and his successors. Unfortunately, I have no data on the other countries to compare whether he was more or less ruthless than the other dictators. But the absolute levels are enough to question the use of the term “benevolent” to describe the dictatorship. “Benevolence” and “atrocity” are oxymoronic, don’t you think?

What about the criminality during the Marcos era? “An Analysis of the Philippine Economic Crisis” had this to say: “The national crime rate (crimes committed and reported per 100,000 population) stood at 247 in 1971…. It fell to 236 (in 1972) … to 183 (1976)… climbed continuously to 279 in 1980…. It rose further to 313 in 1982 (according to then Philippine Constabulary chief Gen. Fidel V. Ramos). Considering these were data during a dictatorship, we can safely say that there was gross underreporting of crimes, but the trends are clear.

Now for the view that the Marcos period was a “golden age,” particularly for the economy. That is totally erroneous, from all indicators, as discussed in the cited report “An Analysis of the Philippine Economic Crisis,” which resulted from a series of workshops between November 1983 and May 1984, in which several faculty members of the University of the Philippines School of Economics participated (myself included).

Crisis. In other words, the Marcos era, which may have started with a bang (pardon the pun), ended with a whimper. “The conclusion reached in this report: … [T]he major explanation [for the crisis] must lie in the character of economic policies and of policy-making by the leadership”—and proceeds to explain why, with facts, figures and graphs.

They show that the Philippines grew fastest among its neighbors between 1950 and 1960. But it lost steam, and between 1960 and 1980, it was the slowest grower. Add to that its 1983 debt crisis (the only one in Asia), and you see the “sick man of Asia.”

Aside from wrong policies, “[w]e argue that the main characteristic distinguishing the Marcos years from other periods in our economic history has been the trend towards concentration of power in the hands of the government.” Add to that the government-mandated monopolies (e.g., sugar, coconut). Further along, “…[I]n a number of instances, though the outward purpose of the projects might be endowed with some plausible economic or social justification, a more urgent reason for pursuing them was the opportunity to use government activity as a vehicle for private gain.” Thus does corruption rear its ugly head.

One indicator that corruption was occurring in spades was the incremental capital output ratio, or the units of capital required to produce one unit of output. In the 1960s, this was 4.2—i.e., it took 4.2 units of capital to produce one unit of output. In the 1970s, it went up to 5.0, and by the 1980s, it had risen to 9. This says that as the Marcos years tooled along, the amount of capital required to produce one unit of output more than doubled—suggesting waste and inefficiency.

This was reinforced by data on capital outlays. Whereas in the first half of the 1970s infrastructure spending comprised 50.2 percent of total capital outlays, by 1981-83 this had decreased to 36.3 percent. What happened to the rest? It went to corporate equity investment (which became the single most important capital outlay) and “other” capital outlays.

Etc. Income distribution became more unequal: From 1971 to 1979, the share of the poorest 60 percent fell from 25.0 percent to 22.5 percent of total income, while the richest 10 percent increased their share from 37.1 percent to 41.7 percent. The real wage rate index deteriorated from 100 in 1972 to 53.4 in 1980.

The bottom line. Marcos left such an economic hole that it took the country another 14 years (since 1986) before we could regain the real per capita income levels we were enjoying, such as they were, before the Philippine collapse in 1983. That was, unarguably, the Marcos Legacy. And arguably he left us also a culture of impunity and world-class corruption that is even more difficult to erase. To top it all, the Marcos who wants to be vice president is unapologetic about martial law.