Posts Tagged ‘Ferdinand Marcos’
Tags: Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, GMA, Philippine government, Philippine policy making, Philippine political economy, Philippine politics, Philippines
Tags: Cory Aquino, Economics, Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, GMA, Joseph Estrada, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Noynoy Aquino, people power, Philippine policy making, Philippine political economy, Philippine politics, Philippines, Philippines 2000, PIRMA, SONA, SONA 2014, State of the Nation
Yesterday was another State of Nation Address (SONA) day in the Philippines.
The SONA is supposed to be a report of the country’s chief executive on his government’s accomplishments over the past year as well as his plans for the future. In the case of the incumbent, President Benigno S. Aquino III, his plans for the remaining two years of his term.
Sadly, the SONA had been transformed into something less than that.
For one, the exercise has become a fashion spectacle, an obscene, ostentatious and insensitive display of wealth, pomp, and bad taste in the midst of hunger and poverty. You have the people’s representatives and servants trying to outdo each other on the red carpet.
Second, it became a game of up-onemanship, a very swell pissing contest. A president will list his accomplishments and declare he did more than his predecessors. Or all other previous administrations combined, for that matter. What should he do that? Does he have to do that? Under the 1987 Constitution, he is limited to a single term. He is not eligible to run for re-election. Why behave like a candidate on the hustings? Why can’t he locate himself in a continuing narrative of nation-building even if one president supposedly accomplished more than others?
Why can’t a president talk and report to the nation as the President of all Filipinos and not as leader of his party?
After all, the members of the opposition are fellow Filipinos, fellow citizens, and thus also his constituents.
Can a reform of our winner-take-all electoral possibly remedy this parochialism and short-sightedness? How about electing the president and the vice president as a single package, similar to what they do in the United States, to enhance unity at the very top of the country’s political leadership?
In the post-Marcos period, all chief executives have been put on the defensive sometime during their presidency and it has limited their effectivity. For some reason or the other, they sustain a significant dimunition of their political capital and suffer the consequences.
Even the saint-like Tita Cory saw a decrease of her political stock as her administration was unable to solve a power crisis (the same problem confronting his son at the moment). Only her clear intent not to succeed herself after 1992 prevented a further decrease in her political capital.
President Fidel V. Ramos developed a reputation of being a doer fortified by complete staff work (CSW) by his able lieutenants. He is the only post-Marcos president with a grand plan for the country (Philippines 2000) as well as the first one to plan to succeed himself. Thus the deliberate use of the year 2000 in the fighting slogan “Philippines 2000” even if his presidential term was supposed to end in June 1998.
Ramos’ image first took a hit with the execution of Flor Contemplacion, a Filipino domestic, in Singapore on murder charges. Most Filipinos believed she was innocent of the crime, that she was wrongly accused and put to death, and that the Philippine government acquiesced to the Singapore government’s judgement and did not do much to help her escape death.
Ramos’s bid to succeed himself through PIRMA was foiled by the opposition of erstwhile allies led by Jaime Cardinal Sin and Tita Cory. What finally did him was the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98.
While President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was elected in 1998 by the single largest number of voters in the country’s political history, his downfall was swift. As early as 2000, he faced accusations of grand corruption and tried to parry his political opponents by launching a war against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Eventually, he was impeached and removed by another people power insurrection in January 2001, after only two years and seven months in power.
As vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) assumed the office and served the remainder of President Estrada’s term. The constitutional restrictions of a single term did not apply to her and she successfully stood for election as president in May 2004. Following the 2005 revelation of her taped conversations with a top Commission on Elections (COMELEC) official suggesting that the count be tampered in her favor, GMA was put on the so-called “survival mode”. She was hounded by corruption charges during the remainder of her term, largely because of the unsavory reputation of her husband, the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo.
This time around, President Noynoy Aquino has to deal with a Supreme Court decision that declared his Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) (or budget impounding schemes, as other would have it) unconstitutional. His popularity rating plummeted and he faces impechment complaints–an entirely new situation for him. He chose to go on an offensive short of calling the Supreme Court as the chief obstruction to his progressive reforms. His defense: he did what he did for the good of the people. He says he will follow processes and file a motion for reconsideration with the Court. Then he commits the gaffe of accusing the Court of committing the same proscribed cross-border transactions when in fact, the Court did not.
In yesterday’s SONA, the President wisely backed away from his tirades against the Supreme Court. What he did was to ask his allies in the Lower House to act on a proposed P2.3 trillion 2015 budget which will give him the leeway to spend public money as he saw fit.
He spent the initial part of the SONA listing his accomplishments in a rather haphazard manner and lacking a unifying or thematic framework that could have earned him a very low grade if he was making the presentation in my class. It was too micro and a big picture is barely discernible.
While the accomplishments are praiseworthy, I would have wanted them to be presented in the context of what needs to be done for the remainder of his term. A generic “good governance” may suffice at the beginning of his term but is inadequate given the context of his remaining years.
I think he made a few assertions regarding the swiftness of government’s response to the super-typhoon Haiyan that can be effectively challenged by the victims themselves and fact checkers.
The single most important gap is the parochialism of the speech. President Aquino focused on domestic matters and did not respond to urgent foreign policy concerns. For instance, there was no mention of (continuing?) preparations for the impending 2015 full integration of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
He spends some choice minutes by attacking his critics and so-called “enemies of reform” first before individually naming and praising allies and well-meaning Filipinos who can continue his reform efforts even after he steps down from the Presidency. He succumbed to the cheap joy of finding comfort among friends instead of embarking on the more difficult path of reaching out and establishing broad unity.
While I am pessimistic of the prospects, I do hope he will change his stance and will be the President of all Filipinos. That is after all what is contained in his oath of office.
Tags: Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, Philippine political economy, Philippine politics, Philippines
On the night of 25 February 1986, Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos and their children plus their closest associates (like Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco) were whisked off Malakanyang Palace by USAF helicopters. They spent the night at Clark Air Base and were subsequently flown to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, headquarters of the US Pacific Command.
The Marcos Honolulu Papers (MHP) were documents seized by the US Customs Service from the Marcos party upon arrival at Hickam. After being catalogued, the entire document set was turned over to the US State Department and Rep. Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House sub-committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Solarz then released copies of the MHP, except for at least a hundred pages which were supposed to be personal in nature, to the mass media and academics. The Philippine government under President Cory Aquino then received its copy through the New York office of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency established by President Aquino to recover ill-gotten Marcos wealth. The PCGG was subsequently able to obtain copies of the Solarz-withheld pages.
In connection with a book project with Japanese colleagues on the corrupt collaboration between Marcos and private Japanese companies , I annotated every page of the almost 2,000 page MHP set. [Unfortunately, I lost the electronic file of these annotations due to defective hard drives and floppy disks.) An initial examination of the documents suggests two possible hypotheses about their nature. The first and more plausible one avers that the MHP is composed both of papers kept personally and carefully by Marcos over the years and documents which were randomly picked up and packed in the confusion of his last days in Malakanyang Palace. If this is the case, future analysts of the MHP must attempt to segregate one set from the other.
The second, and apparently less tenable thesis, holds that all of the papers were indeed carefully-kept personal files of Marcos. If this interpretation was true, then seemingly innocuous papers, like the curriculum vitae of an assistant provincial fiscal or an obscure community nurse, must be studied for possible connections with the man himself. Or could they simply indicate the broad range of concerns that occupied Marcos during his twenty-year rule.
As it is, the document set is a formidable collection of papers of diverse nature, including financial reports, stock certificates, letters, handwritten notes, business cards, and then some. Instead of trying vainly to devise a scheme to tie all the papers into a unified, comprehensible lot, it is better to highlight which ones are most interesting or useful in understanding what Marcos did during those years.
For those who are interested in the business activities of Marcos, his immediate family, and his close friends and cronies–the papers relating to the Herdis Group, Inc (HGI), Prime Holdings, Universal Holdings, financial reports prepared by Carlos J. Valdez, bank transaction reports, Roberto Benedicto, Rolando Gapud, Jose Y. Campos, Rodolfo Cuenca, and the Bataan Shipyard & Engineering Co., Inc. (BASECO) could be examined. Included in this group are papers pertaining to the Angenit Investment Corporation, headed by Marcos crony and former Batasang Pambansa (National Parliament) assemblyman Andres Genito Jr. The Genito papers are useful to investigators of transactions entered into between Japanese companies and Filipino firms concerning Philippine projects financed by Japanese official development assistance (ODA) funds. (I know that most of the names and firms mentioned here are relatively unknown to a contemporary audience. I will discuss them in greater detail in a future blog post.)
With the Herdis papers is a detailed accounting of the $60 million commission received by Herdis on Marcos’ behalf received from Westinghouse, the supplier of the Bataan nuclear power plant. The Philippine government under Tita Cory submitted this report as evidence in the case it filed in a US court against Westinghouse for fraud.
The papers about the dissolution of the marriage and divorce of Ms. Aurora Pijuan (former Ms. International) and Mr. Tomas Manotoc (who later married Imee Marcos), the letter of Marcos’ nephew Michael Keon providing for the “settlement of all outstanding matters” between Keon and “the family of H. E. Ferdinand E. Marcos,” and the file on the American actress Dovie Beams, believed to have carried on a scandalous affair with Marcos in late 1970–will certainly appeal to those interested in the personal lives of the Marcoses.
Most of the papers initially withheld by the US authorities were secret or confidential Philippine government intelligence reports on various corrupt activities, including bribery, malversation, nepotism, and rape, of a high official of the Department of Local Government and Community Development (DLGCD) and the Metro Manila Commission, where Imelda Marcos served as chairperson.
The collection includes pieces of evidence of how Marcos employed governmental power and resources for various ends. Among them are reports on various ‘intelligence’ funds, and the apparent distribution of large sums of money during the February 7, 1986 snap elections. Of particular interest is a statement of expenses of the Mabuhay Corporation which made several political contributions to American politicians and political parties, including $50,000 apiece to 1980 presidential candidates Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. These contributions were cleared through Gen. Fabian Ver, commander of the Presidential Security Command.
Several papers allude to the growing power and political role of Imelda Marcos. An outstanding example is a handwritten presidential decree (numbered 731 and dated 7 June 1975) that provided for the creation of an executive committee to be headed by Imelda that would assume the powers and responsibilities of the President in the event of Marcos’ death or permanent disability.
The wealth and diversity of the papers contained in the collection make the MHP one of the “must-see” sources for serious students of the Marcos period.
Tags: Ferdinand Marcos, martial law, Philippine politics, Philippines
Some 39 years ago today, I was awakened by a sharp blow delivered to my chest with the butt of an M16 assault rifle. When I came to, I was blinded by flashlights and poked by gun barrels to get up. That marked the start of the most horrifying three weeks of my life. Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law became so real to me.
I was captured in Barrio Magsaysay, Tondo, Manila on September 16, 1973. I was 19 at the time. The term “captured” is, I believe, more appropriate than “arrested” since no warrant of arrest was presented. I was captured by a composite team of police and military officers. They dragged me out of the shanty where I was staying temporarily and manhandled me on the sidewalk. Apparently they received intelligence reports that I brought an arms cache to Magsaysay to fight government’s plans to demolish the huge community of shanties. They kept on asking me where the weapons were while boxing and kicking me. Notwithstanding the pain, it was an easy question since there were no arms. I will later learn that I, together with a dozen others, was betrayed by a comrade who inflated my standing in the underground movement against Marcos authoritarianism.
Among my betrayed comrades was a town mate, who like me was assigned to Barrio Magsaysay. His cover was that of a vinegar vendor. Mine was probably not too strong. I was supposed to be a relative of the old couple I was living with looking for work in the big city. A residence certificate supported my cover which was why I got captured under the name Roel Malaya y Benitez. In retrospect, a cover story collapses when one gets betrayed.
Let’s call my betrayed town mate Mauro (since he also had a false residence certificate like me). Mauro is younger (I think he was 15 or 16 at the time) and shorter than me; I was a 6-footer while Mauro was about 5’5. Try imagining this. I was handcuffed to him through my left wrist with the cuffs passing under my testicles and connecting to Mauro’s left (or was it right?) wrist.
All the betrayed will be brought to Precinct 1 of the Manila Police Department in Balut, Tondo together with the squealer–Eddie Babon. Separate office rooms were used for interrogation and temporary detention. Babon was kept separate from us and I guess he was questioned carefully ahead of us–to provide the basis for our own questioning later. However, he knew that Mauro and I were not from Barrio Magsaysay and thus the conclusion–we were there on a mission.
The head of the composite grab team is a Lt. Nacu of the Metropolitan Police and Investigation Service (MPIS), with its headquarters in Camp Crame. While questioning Babon, I overheard Nacu shout: “Balikan ninyo yung babae!” (Go back for the woman!). I feared for my wife Rosalie, who was also assigned to Barrio Magsaysay. I will learn later than she evaded capture for two reasons: Babon hesitated in identifying her, and her hosts strongly supported her cover story. Mabuhay ka Ka Flor sampu ng iyong pamilya! After the grab team left, Rosalie also sought refuge elsewhere.
The rest of the day was spent on humdrum activities: finger printing, taking of photos (front, left, and right) with the obligatory identifying sign, and additional paperwork. We were then led into the regular detention cell of Precinct 1–a 4 x 5 meter cell that can comfortably accommodate 30 persons. At the time, it was standing room only (SRO with about 80 detainees. Most of the 80 were charged with criminal offenses and heavily tattooed according to their gang affiliations. It was a cause for worry and the new gang–“The Betrayed”–decided to close ranks and maintain vigilance. It turned out that our fears did not materialize. They kept a safe distance from us (even under SRO conditions). A few of them expressed admiration for our cojones–for fighting the biggest gang of all–the Marcos government.
In subsequent posts, I will explain the events and decisions I made that led to September 16, 1973. Of course, I will also write on what happened after this day.
Tags: Benigno Aquino Jr., Ferdinand Marcos, people power, Philippine political history, Philippine politics, Philippines
August 21 is a most significant day in Philippine political history.
Exactly forty one years ago, the proclamation rally (otherwise called ‘miting de abanse‘) of the opposition Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in the center of Manila was bombed with two grenades. Fortunately, one of the grenades was a dud and nine people including a girl and Manila Times photographer Ben Roxas died and 95 were injured. I remember a photo of the dying Roxas published the day after staring right into the camera–dazed but seemingly not in pain. Almost all the Liberal Party’s candidates for senator and local posts in Manila were severely wounded.
President Ferdinand Marcos responded to the bombing by suspending the writ of habeas corpus through Proclamation No. 889, later amended by Proclamation No. 889-A supposedly to align the suspension with the bill of rights provision of the Constitution. He promptly blamed the communists for the bombing and justified the writ suspension as necessary to restore peace and order.
While Marcos was the usual suspect for the Plaza Miranda bombing, several personalities including former Senator Jovito Salonga (who was seriously injured during the rally) began to believe that the communists were responsible. Victor Corpus, the army lieutenant who carted arms from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) and joined the communist-led New People’s Army (NPA) in 1970, wrote in his book Silent War he was present when top communist leaders including Jose Ma. Sison, plotted the bombing. Sison argued the bombing will be a win-win for the communists: Marcos will be put on the defensive, the ruling class will be split, and the revolutionary cause could thus advance. Corpus will repeat this same allegation in an interview with veteran Filipino journalist Max Soliven. Sison and his followers have repeatedly denied these allegations.
Exactly twenty nine years ago–Benigno Aquino Jr–the man believed by many to most likely have been the President of the Philippines if Marcos did not declare martial law in September 1972 was assassinated in the Manila International Airport minutes after his plane landed. The alleged gunman, Rolando Galman, was killed by government troops supposedly after he killed Ninoy Aquino. Marcos again blamed the communists for Aquino’s murder and alleged that Galman was acting under their orders.
In both occasions, Marcos’ accusations against the communists were not believed. Most thought that he ordered both the bombing of the Liberal Party proclamation rally and the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. The logic behind the belief? The physical elimination of the Liberal Party leadership would redound to his ruling party’s benefit. The writ’s suspension was seen as a cover-up for the Plaza Miranda bombing. The death of Ninoy removes the strongest opposition figure that could threaten Marcos’ lifetime rule.
Everybody from the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the communists were being blamed for Ninoy’s death. His death likewise spawned a fever of jokes. One of the most popular run like this:
Ninoy: Hindi ka nag-iisa (Ninoy, you’re not alone!)
Marcos: Naka-isa ka! (Marcos, you put one over all of us!)
Galman: Naisahan ka! (Galman, you’ve been had!)
Still another: Use Galman briefs! It will bring out the killer in you.
Kidding aside, Ninoy’s assassination was the game-changer in the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. Prior to August 21, 1983, the opposition to the regime was born by armed rebels–communists and Muslim secessionists. The legal opposition got scattered when Marcos closed the legislature, arrested and imprisoned many, and sent scores to exile. Some of them dabbled in violence through the Light-a-Fire and April 6 Liberation movements.
However, Ninoy’s death emboldened hitherto inert social forces such as the middle class, businessmen, professionals, clergy and like to express their strong opposition to the authoritarian regime. On a sustained basis. Until February 1986 when Marcos and his immediate coterie left for Hawaii.
The armed opposition did not figure well in this end game against Marcos. They lost what business theorists and military strategists call the ‘first mover advantage’. The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) absorbed the brunt of Marcos’ military offensives as it fought conventional warfare in the early going. In 1977, it signed a peace agreement with Marcos only to be outwitted by the latter in the agreement’s (non)implementation. The MNLF resumed its military struggle but was soon weakened by a split that produced the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The communists were sidelined when they decided to boycott the ‘snap elections’ that pitted Marcos against Ninoy’s widow, Cory Cojuangco Aquino. EDSA 1986 was a sea of yellow–the color associated with Cory and the moderate political forces. A lot of communists and radicals were also there; however, they could not unfurl their red banners.
Of course, the picture was not a black-and-white one. The radicals joined the newly enervated political forces from the middle class in regular protests against Marcos. The rallying cry was: Justice for (Ninoy) Aquino, Justice for All! They parted ways in the 1984 parliamentary elections: Cory and her allies decided to participate and won a significant number of seats while the radicals predictably boycotted.
By 1985, the trajectory was quite clear. The strength of the moderates had grown so much. As a result, they spurned a coalition, BAYAN, with the radicals. They formed their own group, BANDILA.
EDSA 1986 actually started with a failed military coup led by the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM) led by Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and his protege, Colonel Gregorio Honasan. It soon morphed into a peaceful uprising as Jaime Cardinal Sin called on the faithful to gather en masse to protect the rebel soldiers from the loyalists. The failure of the military coup contemplated for early 1986 and the communist boycott of the snap elections allowed non-violent forces to claim victory against Marcos in February 1986. The key figure here was the martyred Aquino – likened to the national hero, José Rizal (1861-96), or even to Jesus Christ. Neither the dictatorship nor the insurgents and the military rebels had any equivalent.
Ninoy’s bloodied and bruised remains in an open coffin were visited by hundreds of thousands at the Santo Domingo Church. When he was finally laid to rest in Paranaque City, the funeral march took some 11 hours to reach its final destination. The historic event was practically ignored by the regime-controlled mass media. I remember that the Philippine Daily Express (derisively called the Daily Suppress) chose to report the death by lightning of a person who was watching the funeral procession.
Elsewhere in Luzon, the other victim–Rolando Galman–was mourned and buried without much ado by his relatives and friends.
C’est la vie?
C’est la guerre?
Meanwhile, this morning today, the death of Interior Secretary and Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Good Governance Jesse Robredo was announced after his body was recovered in the waters off Masbate island. The reader is enjoined to a say a prayer for this quiet and good man and public servant.
Tags: cigarette taxes, Ferdinand Marcos, Fidel Ramos, Lucio Tan, Philippine political economy, Philippine politics, Philippines, sin taxes
The term ‘Solid North’ first came up during the quest of one Ferdinand Edralin Marcos for the highest political post of the land–the Presidency. It was understood to mean that Ilocanos and Ilocano-speaking persons in Northern Luzon will vote as a bloc for Marcos. Marcos’ election to the Senate and his election and re-election as president in 1965 and 1969, respectively, were cited as proof of the region’s solidity. He lifted martial law in 1981 and new presidential elections were held which he won handily. Another score for the Solid North.
After the ouster and demise of Marcos, talk about ethnic-based voting blocs diminished and the political strength of religious groups was increasingly recognized. To this date, vote-seeking politicians try to insinuate themselves into the assemblies of these groups.
Eventually, the Solid North got reincarnated as a potent legislative bloc composed mostly of representatives of tobacco-growing districts in Northern Luzon. This bloc was named the Northern Luzon Alliance (NLA).
The Northern Luzon Alliance is specially active every time government tries to reform taxes on sin products like cigarettes and cigars. Lucio Tan’s cigarette-manufacturing companies are heavy buyers of raw tobacco from the NLA districts. Tan’s competitors do not manufacture low- and middle-quality cigarettes and do not use local leaf tobacco. It is thus not surprising that NLA representatives supported Tan’s tax preferences. President Ramos tried reforming sin taxes twice–in 1993 and in 1996. In both instances, strong opposition from the Northern Luzon Alliance adulterated the reform effort. In 1996, Ramos cajoled his fellow Ilocano congressmen, scolding them at times for parochialism, to stop stonewalling against the sin tax reform measure so he could present it as a trophy to the APEC summit in Subic Bay, Zambales. To get their support, he sponsored a measure providing for an annual P400 million tobacco fund for tobacco-growing provinces to be distributed in accordance to production volumes. Needless to say, both measures got passed but Ramos did not get the sin tax measure he really wanted.
Since last year, the legislative mill is processing yet another version of a sin tax measure. However, the context has changed. Tan’s cigarette company has merged with its competitor forming the Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation (PMFTC) in 2010 to capture about 90% of the market. A newer entrant, British American Tobacco (BAT) which produces such brands as Lucky Strike, Kent and Dunhill, will have to work hard to make a dent on the market. For this reason, it is interested in the unitary tax on cigarettes as currently proposed by administration legislators. Of course, Tan wants to preserve a multi-tiered tax structure that makes his brands more competitive. Under the existing law, cigarette brands introduced after 1996 have to pay a higher excise tax. Tan’s products were introduced before 1996.
Also, there seems to be cracks within the Northern Luzon Alliance. In a press conference sponsored by the Department of Health, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson said he was supporting government’s plan to increase cigarette taxes after decades of blocking higher taxes. Chavit explained that the monopoly formed by the merger of Fortune Tobacco and Philip Morris depressed prices of tobacco leaf to the detriment of Ilocano tobacco farmers. And he predicted prices will continue going down since there was only one buyer. To the extent that this was true, Singson argued that only cigarette manufacturers prospered at the expense of tobacco farmers.
Singson’s stand is supported by the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) president Oriental Mindoro Governor Alfonso Umali. La Union (also part of Northern Luzon) Governor Manuel Ortega claimed Umali did not consult LPP members in making his statement in support of Singson.
Also, there is division in the House Singson. After Singson pere’s press conference, his son Ryan, a member of the House of Representatives, refuted his father and claimed that Ilocos Sur became a first class province primarily due to the additional income earned by farmers from the tobacco sold to cigarette manufacturers. Another relation, Rep. Eric Singson Jr., also contradicted Chavit’s contentions.
Will Chavit’s arguments affect the ultimate fate of the current sin tax measure? He reportedly intends to meet with NLA colleagues about the dangers of allowing PMFTC to continue its monopoly and dictate the prices of raw tobacco. Perhaps, he can score if he gets firm commitments from BAT that it will also buy locally-grown tobacco.
In addition, he needs to convince his relatives.
Tags: economic rents, Eduardo Cojuangco, elites, Ferdinand Marcos, John Nye, martial law, Noel de Dios, political cycle, property rights
Last Friday, I attended a symposium entitled ‘Will Elites Allow Reform: Property Rights Issues in the Philippines’ at the UP School of Economics. One of the speakers, Prof. John Nye of the George Mason University, argued that a necessary condition for economic growth is ending the vicious cycle of vindictiveness amongst the elite fractions in the country. He said that if those in power are (deadly) sure of being punished by incoming elites, the latter will cling to power by all means. In the end, these elite struggles will harm the prospects of economic growth.
UP SE dean Noel de Dios invited me to join John and others to dinner after the symposium. On our way to Trinoma, we mulled on the possibility of ending vindictiveness amongst elites and concluded that it was a problem of ‘credible commitment’. Absent a third party enforcer, how will the ‘ins’ be assured that the ‘outs’ will not punish them when the former were the new ‘outs’? Which led us to property rights issues.
The property rights system of the country is a product both of its colonial history and developments over the past few decades. The Spanish colonial state sought to impose property rights regimes that were alien to those previously instituted by the indigenous peoples of the archipelago, which included stewardship, usufruct, and communal ownership. In the process, massive asset theft typical of all colonial ventures occurred in the country. The main object of theft and ownership then was arable land. While resolving the ownership of the so-called ‘friar estates’, the American colonial state also introduced the distinction between public and inalienable land and privately-owned and alienable real estate. This had the further effect of legally disenfranchising indigenous peoples from their land. The 1946-1972 post-colonial state continued these Western-originated property regimes even as the asset structure diversified over time. In general, access to political power guaranteed security of property rights and elites at various levels consolidated their political and economic positions.
Up to the eve of the declaration of martial law in September 1972, the property rights of rival elite factions were generally secure regardless of the political cycle’s outcome. Ownership rights were not extinguished by an electoral loss. The elites were organized into two political parties that alternated in power at the national level. These parties were roughly at par with each other in terms of power and resources. The ability of an elite faction to regain power in the next election deterred the faction in power from erasing the property rights of the ‘outs.’ Elite factions, therefore, were prevented by the possibility of electoral defeat from disrespecting the property rights of their rivals. The default behaviour was for the ‘ins’ to plunder the state treasury and cash in on the ‘economic rents’ created during incumbency instead of confiscating the property of the ‘outs.’ Notwithstanding a constitutional provision for two presidential terms, no president has been able to win re-election until 1969 when Ferdinand Marcos won an unprecedented second term.
The balance of power between the rival elite factions shifted decisively in favour of his faction after Marcos’ unprecedented re-election in 1969. He monopolized political power through the declaration of martial law in September 1972 and proceeded to violate the property rights of his political opponents. The demise of the dictatorship in February 1986 saw the post-Marcos elites attempting a restoration of pre-martial law arrangements with respect to property rights and access to political power. The properties of the anti-Marcos elites (such as the Lopez, Lopa, and Jacinto families) were returned to their former owners while a new constitution adopted in 1987 provided the ground rules for political contestation and all but forestalled the possibility of new dictatorships. After an initial lock-out period, even the Marcoses were allowed back into the country and managed to win electoral posts or stand for elections. Despite the formation of a presidential commission mandated to recover the so-called ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies, these properties got entangled in a quagmire of unresolved law suits filed within and without the country.
The violation of elite property rights by Marcos during the dictatorship’s heyday is like a genie let out of the bottle. Despite all efforts to date, the mess created by the initial massive cancellation of property rights has not been sorted out to satisfaction. The ownership of substantial portions of major Philippine corporations (including the top-ranked San Miguel Corporation and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company) remains contested. The fall of the dictatorship also led to the recognition of new asset claimants—the thousands of human rights victims who were tortured or murdered by Marcos’ security forces and the coconut farmers disenfranchised by the so-called coconut levy. The claims of the human rights victims against the Marcos estate had been repeatedly recognized by US courts while the Philippine Supreme Court had frequently ruled that the coconut levy was a public fund and must be taken from the control of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, who used the money to wrest control of the country’s premier business firm—the San Miguel Corporation (SMC). To date, however, none of these judicial decisions have been enforced since rival claimants have managed to secure restraining orders against them.
The discussion so far indicates that from 1946 to 1972, there was an institutional mechanism that ‘tamed’ the relations between rival elite fractions in the Philippines. We have shown how such a mechanism was shattered by Marcos. We pointed to the difficulty of repairing the ‘property rights mess’ of the martial law period even after the dictatorship’s demise. In my next blog, I will discuss why the cycle of vindictiveness amongst Filipino elites seems to be more intractable during the post-Marcos period. However, I also promise to answer the questions raised by Raul Pangalangan and Rex Ubac re my blog on GMA’s supposedly last SONA. Patience!