‘The good is oft interred with their bones’

Published September 21, 2020, 7:42 AM

by Jaime Laya

GOOD TIMES, BAD TIMES Portrait of the author Dr. Jaime Laya (when he was minister of budget) by national artist Federico Alcuaz

So it has been with former President Ferdinand E. Marcos. Every Feb. 25 (EDSA Day), Aug. 29 (Ninoy Day), Sept.11 (birthday), Sept. 21 (Declaration of Martial Law), and whenever Senator Imee, Congresswoman Imelda, or VP candidate Bong Bong say anything, Shakespeare is again proven right.

Leftist insurgency and urban unrest were part of life in the late 1960s. Practically every day there were unruly demonstrations before Congress and the U.S. Embassy and for a week, leftist groups formed the “Diliman Republic,” a week-long takeover of the U.P. Diliman campus. All these led to the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus and the declaration of Martial Law.

Academicians, writers and journalists, politicians, leftists, innocents were jailed and sometimes tortured and died during Marial Law. Their accounts comprise most of the written history of the Marcos years—a litany of human rights violations, crony capitalism, lavish lifestyle, corruption, hidden wealth, and so on.  Generalizations and sometimes unfounded or exaggerated accusations have been repeated and have become accepted as fact. On the other hand, accomplishments under the difficult international and domestic conditions of the time are ignored or forgotten.

There was no love lost between the late Senator Vicente T. Paterno and the Marcoses. He served, reluctantly, during the Marcos administration as chairman of the Board of Investments and minister of industry and minister of public highways, but insisted on leaving government in 1980. President CorazonAquino appointed him deputy secretary for energy and chairman of the Philippine National Oil Company.  

THE TECHNOCRATS Cesar E. Virata served served as Finance Minister from 1970 to 1986 under President Marcos

Paterno was a fair man and notwithstanding some of his disagreements with the Marcoses, he felt that the other side of the picture deserved to be acknowledged. Memories are short and selective and many now seem to think that conditions were perfect until the Marcos years when everything started going downhill.

Marcos was in fact President at a time of international instability. There was unrest in the Middle East (Yom Kippur War, 1973) and two international oil crises (1973 and 1979) when oil production was cut and crude price jumped. We experienced serious supply shortages and huge increases in gasoline and diesel price, dislocating the price of electricity, transportation, freight, and therefore food prices, cost of living, business income, and just about everything else.  

Those disruptions have been forgotten and it is as if nothing was done to ease the impact of those serious difficulties. Hence, shortly before he passed away in 2014, Senator Paterno invited some of his senior colleagues who served before and during the nine years of Martial Law (1972-1981) to recall their work in those years.

Present at those meetings held from November 2012 to March 2013 were economic managers Cesar E.A. Virata, Gerardo P. Sicat, Placido L. Mapa, Jr., and myself, and Estelito P. Mendoza, guiding legal mind.  The meetings were not intended to vindicate or to apologize for anything, but simply to record decisions taken in response to difficult conditions.

Marcos was in fact President at a time of international instability. There was unrest in the Middle East (Yom Kippur War, 1973) and two international oil crises (1973 and 1979) when oil production was cut and crude price.

Domestic politics had blocked reform during the post-war years and many important laws pending in Congress and new ones—on agrarian reform, government organization, internal revenue and customs codes, insurance code, export processing zones, petroleum law, budget reform—became law as presidential decrees.  

PRIME MOVER In recognition of his efforts to foster Philippine-Japanese friendship based on equality, reciprocity, and mutual respect, Vicente T. Paterno was conferred the First Class Order of the Sacred Treasure of Japan

Now taken for granted are infrastructure projects completed during the Marcos years—school buildings, hospitals and health facilities, roads and bridges, harbors and airports, hydroelectric plants, rural electricfiation, public transportation, water supply, and irrigation projects. Culture and the arts and tourism were also priorities. Much of the capital costs were funded by multinational financing institutions such as the World Bank, JICA, and the Asian Development Bank with tight disbursement and accounting procedures.

As we were previously dependent on sugar and coconut export products, measures were taken for export diversification. Overseas worker employment got a start during those years, resulting in remittances that are now a mainstay of the Philippine economy.  

The industrialization program was accelerated with emphasis on micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), ASEAN linkages, and the establishment of trade relations with China. 

A far-reaching energy program was designed under Minister Geronomo Z. Velasco, although a key component, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was discarded by Mrs. Corazon C. Aquino, resulting in severe power shortages during the Ramos Administration and in the adoption of stop-gap measures causing the high electricity rates that we continue to bear today.

The country is now suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic in the same way that Filipinos were suffering from civil unrest 48 years ago today when Martial Law was declared. We can only hope that decisions taken today by the leadership—economic, health, social, and political—are for the best.  

Note:  Cesar E.A. Virata served as minister of finance; Gerardo P. Sicat was director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Placido L. Mapa, Jr. succeeded Sicat as NEDA director-general and later served as president of the Philippine National Bank, and I was minister of the budget and subsequently governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines. 

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