Rather, the Dark Ages!

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(Published on pressone.ph, March 19, 2024)

Discombobulated. That was how President Bongbong Marcos, Jr., appeared in his interview with ABC Australia’s Sarah Ferguson in his recent visit there. Asked by the veteran journalist why he would not return the family’s ill-gotten wealth so it could be used to help the Philippines, Marcos was flummoxed by the audacity or rudeness of Ferguson. He could only let out what seemed to be a reflexive nervous laughter. Ferguson pummeled him further with a follow-up question, “What’s funny?” Visibly annoyed, the President stammered to explain that there was no such thing, that they were wrongly accused. Unfortunately for the President, his communications team has not prepared or coached him on how to handle questions about the past, especially as pertains to the record of his father.

But what becomes pleasantly apparent from that faux pas is that one can fool 31 million, but not the whole world. Or as Abraham Lincoln famously said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” The truth is simply tenacious. Somewhere out there, everything is being recorded and documented. Like in the Guinness Book of World Records, or, presently, in UP economist JC Punongbayan’s “False Nostalgia: The Marcos ‘Golden Age’ Myths and how to Debunk them.”

In this very scholarly yet readable work, Punongbayan addresses the mother of all myths about the Marcos’ years: that it was supposedly the Golden Age in the history of the country’s economic development! This was, of course, the favorite lie peddled by BBM’s camp during the campaign period in 2022. Using data from various academic sources here and abroad, Punongbayan writes that, in fact, it was the worst of all time for the economy, eclipsing even the pandemic years which expectedly were challenging times. Specifically, the worst years were 1984 and 1985, when the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) declined by 14 percent, compared to the 9.6 percent GDP decline in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. Inflation rate in 1984 was recorded at a whopping 50 percent, the highest after the Second World War. Unemployment, on the other hand, was 12.6 percent, while underemployment was 32.9 Percent.  External debt stood at USD 25.45 billion by 1985. Consequently, a staggering 60.6 percent of the population were poor! So much for the Golden Age! Indeed, it seemed more like the darkest age. And, as Punongbayan notes, it would take 21 years, after the Marcoses left, for the economy to somehow recover!

The BBM camp also touted about the “Golden Age of Infrastructure” during Marcos’ time, pointing to Imelda Marcos’ beautification projects like her “designer” hospitals, the CCP complex, the “palace” in her hometown and the unfinished one in Tagaytay. However, as Punongbayan points out, firstly, some of these were merely ornamental, capricious, and ostentatious, with Imelda Marcos’ just wanting to “show the world that… we have a pretty face.” Secondly, owing to corruption, other projects ended up being substandard and therefore defective, such as the USD 2.3 billion – Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which was dangerously built near active volcanoes. More importantly, however, it was because of this extravagant over-spending on infrastructure that our national debt ballooned.

Aside from a “Golden Age of Infrastructure,” the Marcoses also claim of achieving a “Golden Age of Agriculture” during the Martial Law years. In fact, they would brag that the Philippines then was a top rice-exporter. Again, Punongbayan dismantles these myths, pointing out that in fact, it was during this period that many of our agricultural industries like abaca, coconut, sugar, and rice suffered great financial losses and irreparable damages. And for good measure, he also clarifies that the trailblazing rice institute, IRRI, was not established by Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., but by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations in 1960, and that Masagana 99 was actually a total disaster, much to the chagrin of Senator Imee Marcos.

But what explains these economic dark ages during the Martial Law years? In a word, mismanagement! Mismanagement caused by greed. First, there was the insatiable and unbridled greed of the Marcos family who treated the country as their private property and the national coffers as their personal piggy bank. Imelda Marcos would be quoted in a 1988 interview proudly saying, “we practically own everything in the Philippines, from electricity, telecommunications, airlines, banking, beer and tobacco, newspaper publishing, television stations, shipping, oil and mining, hotels and beach resorts, down to coconut milling, small farms, real estate and insurance.” And yet, contrary to BBM’s claim in his woeful interview, in numerous court cases, the Philippine Government has successfully pursued and recovered much of this “ill-gotten wealth.”

To date, it has won back USD 174.23 billion stashed here and overseas (the balance however is estimated at USD 125.98). Secondly, economic mismanagement occurred due to the rapacious crony capitalist system that the Marcoses built around them. In other words, like leeches and parasites, Marcos’ cabal of friends sucked the nation’s economic blood dry. They set up monopolies that practically destroyed industries, such as the sugar industry. They also feasted on and laid to waste our precious natural resources. For instance, Punongbayan writes, about “312 thousand hectares of forest land were lost each year from 1968 to 1984 due to timber concessions granted by Marcos to his cronies.” To date, many of these cronies have been made to answer for their crime since the fall of their patron. But others roam free with their largesse still unaccounted for.

At any rate, with Punongbayan’s solid research and analysis, conducted by a competent and well-respected economist and academician like himself, the so-called Marcos’ Golden Age crumbles to the ground. Against the light of facts, data, statistics, it becomes untenable and simply an utter lie. Indeed, in the end, the truth will out.


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