The slide of media to mediocrity is clearly taking place on a global scale. How else could you explain the mainstream press’s reportage on the Greek elections? After the victory of Syriza and the defeat of the political parties favored by the European elite, the chorus from the reporting claque enamored of the elite was this: Syriza and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister, belong to the “radical left.” The other description—a milder version—is “left-wing.”
Even the commentaries from people who are supposed to know the real score have failed to debunk the canard that Syriza and Tsipras are far-out radicals and wingnuts. No, they are not. They are as mainstream as mainstream can be. Their economic platform falls under the ambit of conventional economics. Of course, they fired up their rhetoric during the campaign period to win the hearts and minds of the suffering Greek voters. But that was a tactical thing. They have to win an election and a little fire here and there was entirely forgivable.
But scan the entire platform of Syriza and you can’t find anything that says central planning or confiscation of private property.
In fact, there was a time in our political life when a Philippine senator known for his moderate and entirely mainstream political views shared the views of Tsipras and Syriza. And, looking back, the failure of then Senator Alberto Romulo to win the battle for debt forgiveness is one of the saddest chapters in our political history. I covered the first senate after Martial Law and had a rough idea on the individual platforms of the 24 senators elected in the 987 legislative elections.
Bert Romulo assumed a senate seat in 1987 with a full grasp of money and law. He first trained in accounting, then in law. In the course of trying to find out what legislative action could best serve the country, what pioneering legislative action would have a multiplier effect on the economy, he chose the issue of foreign debt.
Then Sen. Romulo knew his figures. ‘Cong Dadong’ (this is the only name of the late President Diosdado Macapagal in our town) left the presidency with a foreign debt of less than a million dollars. I will write the figure for emphasis—less than $1 million.
Mr. Marcos fled the country in 1986 with the economy very sick and with our foreign debt having passed the $25 billion mark. Many saw us as the “Sick Man of Asia.” There was an extremely low point in our life as a nation when we had to pay our imports in cash as our pledges were useless. An economic pariah we truly were. Those who are now trying to rewrite history and venerate Mr. Marcos will first have to explain the difference between less than a million dollars in foreign debt under Cong Dadong and over $25 billion in debt by the end of the Marcos regime. Explaining how we got there is distressing enough so I won’t dwell on that.
With the global euphoria over the fall of Marcos in 1986, the success of a bloodless revolution and the rise of Cory Aquino, Sen. Romulo knew that the Philippine government just needed to ask for help on an official level and the international community would respond positively—even if those borrowings were for the purpose of easing the crippling debt burden of the country.
So he filed a resolution asking for debt forgiveness, (‘condoning’ was the word he used) given the urgency of restarting the broken national economy and the global community’s sympathy to the causes of the Philippines then. He also used the word “debt repudiation“ every now and then. But his real aim was for a coalition of creditor countries to come to the rescue of the new Aquino government through debt forgiveness.
Bert Romulo even had a tally of the urgent national priorities (education, infrastructure, social welfare) that could be funded with a lighter debt burden.
What subverted his efforts? The Executive Branch was cool to his initiatives. He did not get any support from the economic advisers of Mrs. Aquino, who chose the dishonorable option of paying for the foreign obligations that went into the pockets of Mr. Marcos and his cronies.
Now, what are the main policy planks of Syriza? Very similar to those espoused by Bert Romulo.
First, renegotiate with official creditors the crippling debt of Greece, which is about 80 percent of the country’s total debt burden.
Second is the abandonment of the austerity policies which the current leaders have agreed to pursue, in compliance with the dictates of a so-called troika, which means the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the European Central Bank (ECB).
Like Mr. Romulo, the Syriza believes that the government should spend more and end the ruinous budget-cutting to lift the Greek economy from the doldrums.
So what are the “ radical” elements of the Syriza platform? What are the components that are outright wacky and absurd?
Nothing. In fact, the new defense minister, Panos Kammenos, comes from the center-right party.
The fears and the nightmares are largely imaginary, made up by the media that can’t discern good policy from bad. Just like the imaginary nightmares of our economic managers during Mrs. Aquino’s presidency. Looking back, they could have backed Bert Romulo to the hilt and worked feverishly to push foreign creditors into forgiving the bulk of our external obligations.
Looking back, we could have started 1987 unburdened by an unconscionable foreign debt.