We didn’t live happily ever after


Every year in September, a fairy tale is told: A Dark Lord imposed his will upon a hapless people, but then a messiah sacrificed his life to embolden Filipinos to topple the evil regime in 1986.

It’s an old storyline reinforced over recent years by movies such as the Lord of the Rings and the Star Wars series. But reality is always, and in all ways, complex. And after all, you never read in fairy tales things like class structures and exploited peasants.

And reality very seldom ends with that fairy tale line, “And they lived happily ever after. “

To artificially create a revolutionary flow, and provoke the ruling class to internecine strife, the fledgling Communist Party bombed the Liberal Party’s miting de avance in August 1971— quite amazingly just before its superstar Ninoy Aquino arrived. The communists blamed it on Ferdinand Marcos.

Talk of the law of unintended consequences. The bombing only gave Marcos the justification to impose martial law, after a year of meticulous preparation.

The communists had not foreseen, though, that a surging economy would allow Marcos to crush his enemies, and rule for so many years.

Most Filipinos acquiesced to martial law since the economy surged from 1972 to 1980 at an average annual growth rate of 6 percent. The growth rate for 1973, the first full year of martial law, as well as for 1976, was 9 percent, an astounding pace never since posted. We, those jailed for fighting to overthrow the dictator by force of arms, and those who were killed or tortured for that, became unpersons.

Ethnic Chinese businessmen loved Marcos, among other things because he decreed their mass naturalization, allowing the rise of a new generation of Filipino taipans such as William Gatchalian and Andrew Tan. So did the Spanish elite, with the Ayalas and Sorianos happy with what then was their beer-monopoly San Miguel Corp.

The South Luzon Expressway transformed rice fields, like Alabang near the metropolis, into prime properties. It was during martial law that the Ayalas’ Makati became the country’s premier business district. A shoe merchant, Henry Sy, built his first department stores in the 1970s, the prototype for his huge malls, the first of which, SM North was opened in 1985. Even the Araneta Center, owned by the Roxas family that was supposed to be a Marcos enemy, was given a boost in 1975 when it staged the world famous Ali-Frazier fight dubbed “Thrilla In Manila.”

Green Revolution
Whether it was because of Marcos’ “Green Revolution” or simply because the International Rice Research Institute was luckily located in the country, production of the high-yielding Masagana 99 rice boomed during martial law that prices of the staple fell, the most important factor for an acquiescent populace.

Marcos’ regime unraveled because of a conjuncture of factors, the economy being the most important.

After the Arabs took back the oil fields from the Western “imperialists” in the early 1970s, they found themselves awash in what would be dubbed “petrodollars.” Western bankers recycled these as loans lent quickly and cheaply to Third World countries. For the first time, poor countries such as those in Latin America and in Asia (us) were deluged with cheap loans purportedly needed to finance their development.

But then, the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. These triggered an oil crisis that pushed up global interest rates. The local enterprises that were funded by the petrodollar loans were white elephants, or were cronies’ milking cows. Marcos’ Swiss accounts were probably mostly payoffs from members of the elite who got the state-guaranteed foreign loans. Countries including ours had to take out new loans just to pay interest on their old loans, thus falling deeper and deeper into debt. In 1982, Mexico and several other Latin American countries defaulted on their loans, creating the global debt crisis.

Aquino’s return in August 1983 to the Philippines couldn’t have been made at a worse time. Interest rates were going through the roof, eating at our dollar reserves so fast that the central bank falsified data on its level.

The political instability in the wake of Aquino’s assassination accelerated the economy’s collapse. In October 1983 the country ran out of dollars to service its loans, and defaulted on its debts, financially isolating it from the world. The GDP collapsed by an unprecedented 7 percent in 1984, and in 1985, the peso’s value crumbled from P9 to P20 to the dollar, and inflation surged by a riot-in-the-streets rate of 50 percent in 1984. No president could have survived such an economic catastrophe.

The elite suddenly became freedom-lovers, donning yellow Armani shirts and joining street protests, to demand that Marcos step down. People power was based on a bad economy’s power to make people want to overthrow their government.

The unhappy reality
After 42 years, the drama of dictatorship and democratization, told again and again this time of the year, does not excite people anymore. We are even often depressed at an unhappy reality we face:

We see the same oligarchs, or their children or grandchildren, ruling the land, even as a fourth of the nation’s citizens live in utter poverty and abject misery, while those just above their station in life are killed in broad daylight or in their homes in a country run by incompetent buffoons.

They have even become more powerful. Few among the youth would know that their favorite hangout, Starbucks, is part of a conglomerate owned by an alleged Imelda crony, the Tantocos of Rustan’s. Why, her nephews are in mining, media and politics. For all their political protestations against Marcos the Aranetas never lost their friar lands in Quezon Ciy, which have become booming business districts. The Lopezes’ are more powerful now than before martial law with their dominant ABS-CBN media empire. Marcos corny Eduardo Cojuangco’s San Miguel empire has become so diversified and powerful beyond his wildest dreams.

Just take a look at the latest Forbes’ list of Filipino billionaires. They are the same tycoons you would read in the business pages of newspapers during the Marcos era:

Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, Enrique Razon (at least his father), John Gokongwei, the Consunjis, George Ty, the Aboitizes, the Ayalas and Zobels, Robert Coyiuto, Andrew Gotianun, Vivian Que (Mercury Drug), the Jose Yao Campos clan, the Lopezes, Roberto Ongpin, Manuel Zamora, the Concepcion Family, Alfredo Ramos, the Uytengus.

Yes, there are entirely new faces, even dwarfing in power these pre-martial law tycoons, the most prominent of which is Manuel V. Pangilinan, who controls the country’s strategic utility firms in power, communications, water, and infrastructure.

But the core capital of what many admire as the ”MVP” group was accumulated not in the era of our strongman Marcos — and not even here. Brilliant as he may be, Pangilinan is not a brown taipan, but an executive of the regional conglomerate built by Indonesian strongman Suharto’s crony Liem and his son Anthoni Salim when they had to flee their country as it was going through its own version of people power in 1997.

Before martial law, we had the oligarch clan, the Lopezes, controlling Meralco. During martial law it was Marcos who controlled it. The People Power Revolution handed it back to the Lopezes, who gave it up to a group controlled by the Indonesian Salim, who has had no qualms remitting its huge profits first to Hong Kong and then probably to his British Virgin Islands and Liberia holding companies.

This is the glory of People Power?

The story gets more depressing.

While percentages show a rosy picture of poverty incidence declining since 1985, population growth—thanks to the power of that body ruling our minds since the 17th century, the Catholic Church—meant that the number of dirt-poor Filipinos (those living on $1.25 or P55 per day) presently stands at 17 million, or about the Netherlands’ population, with only 2 million pulled out of abject poverty since 1985—and most probably just a notch higher.

In this tale of Dictatorship and People Power, they certainly have had no chance to live happily ever after.

FB: Rigoberto Tiglao


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  1. Isa ako sa mga mahihirap na mamayan pero pro-Marcos ang mga magulang ko. Mahirap kami pero pro-Marcos. So ano yung sinasabi ng iba na naghirap lalo kami nuong panahon ni Marcos? Kung totoo yun ay gali na galit sana magulang ko kay Marcos.

  2. well said, Mr. Tiglao..

    but i’m sorry, i wanna ask this… why some people here cry when Mr. Tiglao mentioned about the RC church? totoo naman yun ah.. problema kasi natin, nag-aaral tayo ng history pero nakatakip ang isang mata….. kaya nga rin akala ko nung kabataan ko ay masama talaga si marcos.. di naman pala…

    go back to religion…sorry to you… proudly say “atheist” po ako… kasi naman simpli lng… — A good God wouldn’t send people to Hell — kaya tama na ang paniniwalang may Diyos tapos ibabagsak lng din naman pala nya ang ibang tao sa impyerno.. syempre alam na nya yun, kung omnipotent, omniscient and wholly benevolent nga siya ayon sa inyo… kaya tma na ang pagsagot ng “it’s a mystery” — kung di na kayang sagutin ang mga punto ko..

    jegz@ #datingCatholicFaithDefender

  3. Andres R. Samson on

    Saw it coming even as I put my life on the line several times in ’86 to give “peace a chance” and later, during the ’87 Coup to topple down Cory where I captured the designated LZ of the coup plotters at VAB and enabled Gen Sotelo to make good his escape and capture. It is the same “civil society” and their masterful strangle-hold on all three branches of government. The same old big time crooks are still operating and have effectively transferred the “purchasing power and function” to the new holders of wealth, the OFWs remitting some $23 billion last year. All the oligarchs had to do was provide a shell and devise schemes where the multitudes can and will spend 58 % of their monthly receipts and more to corner about 39% of all income generated during the GDP year. Now that you have brought this to the fore Bobi, maybe you can play on the Cantillon Effect in your forthcoming columns.

  4. noon, sa panahon ni macoy, the evil, mahirap kang matatawag kapag ang ulam mo palagi ay sardinas at galunggong. ngayun, halos tatlong dekada na, sa panahon ng mga bayani, santa at santito ng edsa 1, ay “pagpag” na…

    i wish all of us pinoy could read the Executive Intelligence Review, written by Mike Billington, dated Dec. 14, 2004. it’s an eye opener….The time to be curious about the yellow antics and the shadows behind, has long been overdue..time to wake up folks!

    • Buti pa kayong mahirap daw sa panahon ni Marcos dahil naka sardinas at galungong. Kami toyo at bagoong, pila pa kami sa bigas at mais noon. Pero ngayon pwede na sa tuna at paminsan mnsan ay sugpo o alimango. Kumakain pa rin ako ng sardinas at gg dahil masarap naman yon. Yong mga thai food nga sa Singapore, nasa mall eh sardinas din lang pala, iba lang tawag para exotic.
      Ang pagiging mahirap ay nasa tao, wala sa gobyerno.

  5. victor m. hernandez on

    this is a very bad fairly tale. As an incoming president says right after her reciting her oath of office: I just want to be a good president. Though buffeted with many a controversy, she did very well indeed. If one were to grade according to overhead rail transport system, the one she had built is the best. The LRT 1 is still realible; and the worst of them all is the MRT3.
    Marcos legacy to the workingman is his policy on labor exports, the OFWs, which has been giving the economy a floater of up to USD 20 Billion yearly. Local economy cannot provide enough jobs with reasonable wages, so OFWs surge. God bless the OFWs. We have Marcos and Blas Ople to thank for that.

    • victor m. hernandez on

      And talking of job generation, we also thank former pres GMA for the growing BPO and call centers. Our young graduates can readily get jobs in these centers, in Manila and in major cities out of Manila. These bring more dollars for the country without our youth going out of the country.
      She admonished her successor to build on the accomplishment of past administrations.

    • The reason for the surge of OFW is not because of Marcos goodwill but the collapse of Peso against USD. If the exchange rate now is P9 / USD, a lot of OFW will stay good in the Phils. Why would OFW work overseas for P18,000 / month salary?

  6. Im always annoyed whenever I see Gabby Lopez’ stupid face on TV during ABS-CBN celebrations and their tagline “In the service of the filipino people” makes me think how the lopezes were able to fooled the filipino masses after all these years.

    • This is the reason why I never patronize ABS-CBN. But unfortunately for me, I cannot do the same for all companies of oligarchs because the products and services they are offering are basic and there are just no other options, just like electricity. So, in a way, I am an unwilling victim of these companies and a silent contributor to the growing wealth of their oligarch owners.

      In the end, I believe history will judge Pres. Marcos fairly well.

  7. Ika nga ng linya sa kanta “habang may tatsulok, at sila ang nasa tuktok, di matatapos itong gulo”.

  8. The continued Yellow MEDIA against MARCOS will continue,it proves the failure of those mendicants and scalawags that topple Marcos,WHAT HAVE THEY DONE AFTER MARCOS? NOTHING!! ,our country is in a dismal array, no appropriate electricity,no mass transportation,no concrete infrastructure,peace and stability is a dream,corrupt politician,corrupt law enforcement, mendicants TONGRESSMEN AND SYCOPHANT SENATORS,
    Too many indigents,whose hope is the Church,sad to say,they are the STUPID ELECTORATE,whose dictum is RELIGION IS THE OPIATE OF THE MASSES.
    MR .TIGLAO,believe me,even after 2 generation,our country will not improve,WHY?
    The damage cause by the TRAPOS after MARCOS is so devastating and huge, the continued brainwashing of the masses is So Successfull, the continued enrichment of the ELITE,the continued pilferage by the scums of the government offiicials.the absence of PATRIOTISM,this are all factors that are a reality.
    God have MERCY ON US

  9. There is no solution to happily ever after as thats nirvana, or utopia. it doesnt exist, its just a word. What happens is people lives can be improved but it means government running the country properly. Take america under obama, he is ruining it. It was much better in the hands of the republicans but the people wanted better, thought obama would give them that but didnt. They are almost 18 trillion dollars in debt. Think of that figure $18,000,000,000. Thats mostly down to obama. What your government do is steal lots of money, do stupid things with the rest of it. They dont have a clue how to improve any part of society. If you can try to research how other countries do things & then look how this country does things. Hopefully you will see the difference.

  10. At least we will populate heaven 17 million souls and those that you mentioned rich and powerful? They’ll be grinding their teeth in hell.

  11. Dominador D. Canastra on

    I liked everything you wrote in this column but you ruined it by making your last paagraph an attack against the “power of that body ruling our minds since the 17th century, the Catholic Church.” The Church have ceased ruling the minds of the Filipinos for a long time, sir. Even your mind, sir, is not ruled by the Catholic Church.
    What rules the minds of most Filipinos now is the glitter of the entertainment world, dreams of amassing wealth contrary to the teachings of the Roman Church and of the other Christian churches and the natural, the liberal-anti-religion thinking espoused by the American and European political and business leaders, and the effort to survive in the case of the 60% of the population who are dirt-poor and below the poverty line.
    If the the Catholic Church controlled the minds of the Filipinos–including our president, legislators and Supreme Court justices–would the Reproductive Health Law have passed Congress and the SC justices? The RH Law even after the High Court declared some of its blatantly bad provisions unconstitutional still constains provisions that are unconstitutional, specially the law’s launching and funding of a population control program and its acquiescence to the use of abortifacients.

  12. Edsa I as it turned out, is becoming an anomaly which should not be repeated. The Aquino-Cojuangcos as we learned jut lately are products of what we can the yellow propaganda machine which , instead of ending the misery of the people, made misery more and more unbearable. This is the story of Nnoy, Cory and PNoy.

  13. Marcos or no Marcos, but where’s the change? Though, I was one of those that escaped this tyrant and his followers, I see nothing new, family and friends are still somehow in control. Cory’s constitution was fathered by Eugenio (Gene) Lopez, so his family and friends controls the economy, and that’s why you guys are in trouble. 96% of foreign investments ended in the hands of their Filipino (60%) partners without putting on anything. Puro, manluluko and mga kababayan mo Rigoberto. I heard you were once an ambassador; I don’t understand why you went back. You should have moved to America, or Canada, instead.

  14. we’ve come a full circle…and still circling fully. the master spinners remained the same, with a very few additional… the majority still on a tailspin to nowhere. the triangular societal set up remained unchanged – very few elite controlling the poor majority. it’s been like this ever since… and it seems there is no end in sight unless real change takes place. the real change can happen in our lifetime…sooner…if we only start doing it now! the ruling elite have had it for too long…let the majority have a taste of better life…but better life is not served in silver platter. we’ve got to work for it…and we’ve got to do it now!

    • Bonifacio Claudio on

      Tiglao will continue demonizing the ‘dictator” to accentuate his having been encarcerated & glorify his having been against the establishment of The New Society when the poor Filipinos can afford to eat 3 times a day. He will always put into bad light to the best of his journalistic skills whatever good has been achieved during the time of the ‘dictator’. For us poor who experienced those early times of the martial when Marcos was still not bed-ridden, Marcos had been a ‘benevolent dictator’ who castigated the excesses of the oligarchs and at the same time goaded & helped the poor to be self-reliant & enable them to become active participants and contributors to the welfare of the country. Mr Tiglao’s style of writing the article on the Marcos part left us with a very bad taste in the mouth. We, the poor, after 28 years have been looking for Marcos but we don’t find him anymore nor the likes of him who is “tunay na Pilipino sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa” na tunay na may malasakit sa Inang Bayan… Nagugutom na kami, Mr. Tiglao. Insulto ang bigay mong lunas sa aming kahirapan dahil lamang sa nakulong ka sa sarili mong kagagawan at hindi mo alintana ang kapakanan naming kumain-dili. Ito bang ganitong klaseng pagsusulat ang lunas na alam mo… Diktador kontra Pekeng People’s Power? Ibig mong sabihin kagagawan naming kumain-dili ang pagpapatalsik sa ‘benevolent dictator’ O kagagawan ng mga oligarchs at ng mga nakulong na tulad ng sinasabi mo? Di itanong mo kay Enrile at Ramos kung bakit ka ikinulong? Kasi nandiyan pa naman sila, eh bakit si Marcos ang pinupuntirya mo ng kasagutan? Nakakagutom kang pakinggan… Good night !!!