As Bongbong Marcos gears for the 2016 presidential elections, social media networking sites are littered with pro-Marcos sentiments on how prosperous the country was during the era of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
These misguided were not aware that the country at the time Marcos fled to Hawaii, was heavily in debt of US$25 Billion. The bulk of these borrowed funds, according to sources, had been plundered leaving the Filipino people to pay for them.
In 1983, after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the international community repudiated Marcos. No one would lend him money anymore. To service the country’s debt, Marcos came begging Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore for $US300-500 million loan. Guided by astute business sense, Lee did not lend Marcos any cent. But he said though that of the US$25 billion RP’s debt, US$8 Billion was an old loan from Singapore. Lee virtually pictured Marcos as a beggar.
Here is Lee in his book, “From Third World To First.”
“In Bali in 1976 at the first Asian summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in Asia, but we could not go faster than the others. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore across-the-board 10 per cent reduction of existing tariffs on all proucts and to promote intra-Asean trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippine-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communique was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.
We met every two to three years. He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacanang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for election. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as anti-Japanese guerilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence When they visited Singapore before the Bali summit they came in style in two DC8s, his and hers.
Marcos did not consider China a threat for the immediate future unlike Japan. He did not rule out the possibility of an aggressive Japan if circumstances changed. He had memories of the horrors the Imperial Army had inflicted in Manila. We had strongly divergent views on the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. While he, pro forma, condemned the Vietnamese occupation, he did not consider it a danger to the Philippines. There was the South China Sea separating them and the American navy guaranteed their security. As a result, Marcos was not active on the Cambodian question. Moreover, he was to become preoccupied with the deteriorating security in his country.
Marcos, ruling under martial law had detained opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, reputed to be as charismatic and powerful a campaigner as he was. He freed Aquino and allowed him to go to the United States. As the economic situation in the Philippines deteriorated, Aquino announced his decision to return. Mrs. Marcos issued a veiled warnings. When the plane arrived at Manila airport from Taipei in August 1983, he was shot as he descended from the aircraft. A whole posse of foreign correspondents with television camera crews accompanying him on the aircraft was not enough protection.
International outrage over the killing resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines, which owed over US$25 billion and could not pay the interest due. This brought Marcos to the crunch. He sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of US$300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We will never see that money back.” Morever, I added, everyone knew that Marcos was seriously ill and under constant medication for a wasting disease. What was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.
Shortly afterward, in February 1984, Marcos met me in Brunei at the sultanate’s independence celebration. He had undergone a dramatic physical change. Although less puffy than he had appeared in television, his complexion was dark as if he had been out in the sun. He was breathing hard as he spoke, his voice was soft, eyes bleary and hair thinnning. He looked most unhealthy. An ambulance with all the necessary equipment and a team of Filipino doctors were on standaby outside his guest bungalow. Marcos spent much of the time giving me a most improbable story of how Aquino had been shot.
As soon as all our aids left, I went straight to the point, that no bank was going to lend him money. They wanted to know who was going to succeed him if anything were to happen to him; all the bankers could see that he no longer looked healthy. Singapore banks had lent US8 billion of the US$25 billion owing. The hard fact was they were not likely to get repayment for some 20 years. He countered that it would only be eight years. I said the bankers wanted to see a strong leader in the Philippines who could restore stability, and the Americans hoped the election in May would throw up someone who could be such a leader. I asked whom he could nominate for the election. He said Prime Minister Cesar Virata. I was blunt. Virata was a nonstarter, a first-class administrator but no political leader; further his most politically astute colleague, defense minister Juan Enrile, was out of favor. Marcos was silent, then he admitted that succession was the nub of the problem. If he could find a successor, there would be a solution. As I left, he said, “You are a true friend.” I did not understand him. It was a strange meeting.” (p. 300-302)
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In post Marcos era, Lee Kuan Yew continued to analyze the problem of the Philippines:
“Something had gone seriously wrong. Millions of Filipinos men and women had to leave the country for jobs abroad beneath their level of education. Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed. their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours. Hundreds of thousands of them have left for Hawaii and for the American mainland. It is a problem the solution to which has not been made easier by the American version of American constitution.
The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assasinated, had fled the Philippines with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada administration gave the general military honors at his burial. One Filipino newspaper, Today, wrote on 22 November 1998, “Ver, Marcos and the rest of the official family plunged the country into two decades of lies, tortures, and plunder. Over the next decade, Marcos’s cronies and immediate family would tiptoe back into the country, one by one – always to the public revulsion and disgust, though they showed that there was nothing that hidden money and thick hides could not withstand.” Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved.” (p. 304-305).
Incidentally, Estrada was a Marcos protégée, Binay is Estrada’s protégée therefore they are but the spitting images of Marcos himself.