It is disappointing that Bongbong Marcos chose not to participate in Jessica Soho’s presidential interview last month. Although I realize he has a lot to avoid, I never thought of him as a man who would easily back down from public discourse. His refusal to participate confirmed two of my hypotheses about him. First, that he is unable to defend his family’s wealth, his human rights record and his personal achievements in a serious interview. And two, that he would rather let the trolls fight their wars for him through half-truths and misinformation.
What are the issues that Marcos Jr. can’t seem to defend? What questions does he hesitate to answer?
Thanks to well-produced videos, memes and posts on social media, certain myths have formed about the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos and Marcos Jr. himself. Some of these myths cannot be defended in an intelligent fact-based interview.
Myth #1. That the 1970s, under martial law, were the country’s golden age. It was a time when the country was prosperous and poverty did not exist.
Here are the facts. During the 21 years that Marcos was in charge, the economy only grew at an average rate of 3.8%. We were left behind by Thailand and Malaysia whose economies grew by 6-7%.
The peso depreciated from a steep 3.92P to a US dollar in 1965 to 19.99P in 1986 – a loss in value of 500%; real wages (purchasing power) fell from 100 P/day in 1966 to only 27 P/day in 1986; per capita income has only tripled in 21 years, while it has increased tenfold in Thailand and Malaysia; unemployment was 7.2% in 1965 and jumped to 33% in 1986; poverty rates were 7.2% in 1965 and reached a staggering 44.2% in 1986.
At the time Marcos was ousted, the Philippines was among the poorest countries in Asia with lower per capita income than Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Macao, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Thailand and even Mongolia. .
We have lost competitiveness in most of our industries. Martial law gave Marcos extraordinary legislative and executive powers which he used to sequester successful industrial enterprises such as automobile manufacturing, steel mills, and textile mills. These companies were taken over by cronies, not all of whom managed to maintain their profitability. The failure was partly due to corruption and partly due to a simple lack of management expertise. Marcos selected his acolytes not for their talents but for their loyalty.
In agriculture, the cronies were driven to establish monopolies to give the dictator absolute economic control of the sector. As court records indicate, Danding Cojuangco controlled the coconut industry, Juan Ponce Enrile controlled logging, and Roberto Benedicto controlled sugar. These industries eventually collapsed as well.
The era of martial law was not the golden age of the Philippines, rather it was the time of our great fall from one of the richest countries in Asia to one of the poorest.
Myth #2. That the Marcos era was the pinnacle of infrastructure.
Here are the facts. With borrowed funds, Marcos established the Construction and Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP). While it is true that roads, bridges and classrooms have been built by the CDCP, significant sums have fallen into personal pockets. It was the same story for the electricity sector, the housing sector and the transport sector.
History further shows that infrastructure projects were often over-engineered, designed to extract maximum commission or kickbacks.
Prestige projects like the Cultural Center, the Coconut Palace and the Folk Arts Theater projected the image of progress but had little or no economic impact. They were built to create an illusion of prosperity, all financed by debt.
Speaking of debt – from a foreign debt of just $600 million when Marcos took office in 1965, foreign bonds rose 43 times to $26 billion in 1986. In October 1983, the Marcos government exhausted its dollar reserves and had no choice but to declare a debt moratorium. To keep the economy afloat, Marcos resorted to short-term loans at high interest rates. In 1986, our debts were so massive that debt service alone accounted for half of the country’s exports. This led to a currency crisis and the need to further devalue the peso.
Economists agree that the Philippines’ economic collapse of the 1980s was due to Marcos’ debt-driven economic policy. Heavy indebtedness was also the reason that successive governments in the 1990s and early 2000s were unable to invest much in infrastructure and social services.
Myth #3. Marcos fought the oligarchs.
The fact is that Marcos was the oligarch of oligarchs. In 1998, Imelda boasted of a Applicant interview, and I quote: “We own practically everything in the Philippines, from electricity, telecommunications, airlines, banks, beer, tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, transport shipping, petroleum, mining, hotels and resorts, to coconut milling, small farms, real estate and insurance.
Successful businesses have been sequestered by Marcos from hard-working entrepreneurs. But because the Marcoses and their cronies had little management expertise, these companies ended up going bankrupt. This is why the Philippines has lost its economic competitiveness in multiple industries.
Myth #4. Marcos Jr. is the most prepared and trusted presidential candidate.
We all know that Marcos Jr. lied about his college degrees, lied in court about his family’s ill-gotten wealth, lied about human rights abuses, and failed to file his tax returns. How can a liar and tax delinquent be considered trustworthy?
As for its governance capabilities, the best benchmark is to look at Ilocos Norte. Marcos Jr. and his kin controlled Ilocos Norte for decades. Yet it remains one of the poorest regions of the country where the majority live hand to mouth. A quick look at NEDA statistics on regional GDP proves it. They don’t have world-class industries to speak of. The Bangui wind farm, for which Marcos Jr. takes credit, was not built by him but by Northwind Power, a subsidiary of Ayala.
Interviews and debates are meant to reveal a candidate’s true courage. They are intended to clarify doubts and illuminate gray areas. By refusing to be interviewed, it’s clear that Marcos Jr. prefers to live in the shadows — relying on trolls to spread myths..
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist