Marcos: The Great, Tragic Reformer


    Last August 22, as if timed as a counter-event to the August 21 commemoration of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, the darkest point of the 13-year dictatorship – the University of the Philippines’ top officials launched the first extensive pro-Marcos revisionist history of that era.

    Of course, the book’s title wasn’t that above. The author, economist Gerardo Sicat, who had been one of Marcos’ top technocrats, is a clever fellow who knew that the UP Press wouldn’t touch it, much less shoulder its costs, if the title revealed its thesis of Marcos as the misunderstood reformer.

    Sicat’s book, instead, is supposedly a biography of Cesar Virata, Marcos finance minister during the entire martial-law period, and elected Prime Minister by the sham parliament in 1981.

    Virata’s life is just an excuse for Sicat to write a history of the Marcos era in a way that justifies his spending the best years of his professional life, from 1970 to 1984, in the service of the dictatorship. It’s as if Walther Funk, Hitler’s economic minister, suddenly wrote a biography of Lutz Graf Schwerin von Krosig (Hitler’s finance minister and a bit like Virata, the Reich Chancellor) in order really to write a sympathetic history of the Fuhrer.

    I certainly do not subscribe to the Yellow Cult’s fairy-tale fake narrative of Marcos as the Dark Lord overthrown by the Fellowship of the Yellow Ribbon, and I have written about this in the past (See for instance, “Economics of martial law and people power,” Oct 3, 2012, Philippine Daily Inquirer)

    Sicat’s book, though, goes overboard in its very sympathetic and naively optimistic favorable portrayal of the dictatorship.

    Book launching last Aug 22: Sicat the author, the book, the real topic, Marcos. Seated, intently listening: UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan, UP School of Economics Dean Ramon Clarete and UP President Alfredo Pascual.

    Book launching last Aug 22: Sicat the author, the book, the real topic, Marcos. Seated, intently listening: UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan, UP School of Economics Dean Ramon Clarete and UP President Alfredo Pascual.

    The book is now the thickest in my library, thicker even than the width of my iPhone. Yet in all of its 846 pages (370,000 words!), there is not one sentence on a phenomenon that will haunt the nation for decades: The killing, torture, and imprisonment of the best and brightest, the most idealistic of our youth who protested the imposition of a dictatorship, and the thrashing of our democracy. There is no mention at all of detention camps for political prisoners in Fort Bonifacio, Camp Crame, Camp Aguinaldo and throughout the country where the country’s best and brightest were jailed without charges.

    Too busy
    As a reporter covering Virata in the early 1980s, I asked in a press conference why he wasn’t protesting human rights abuses when he was supposedly the Prime Minister, the second most powerful man in the country at that time. His answer floored me: “It’s obvious I’m busy with other duties.”

    For Sicat to write a history of the dictatorship without one word on the human rights abuses under Marcos means that he is dismissing this darkest side of that era and even ethically supporting the abuses. And Sicat can’t make the lame excuse that he is writing solely “economic history.” Using my analogy above, it would be as if the biography of the Nazi finance minister contained not a word about the holocaust that killed 10 million Jews and other European cultural minorities.

    Many of those who lost their lives, or had their lives destroyed, were students of UP, believing in the democratic and patriotic values the institution instilled in them.

    By publishing such a pro-Marcos book, the UP is spitting on these UP heroes’ graves. This is unsurprising with the University, for the first time in its 100 years of existence, having a president who spent all of his professional life as a finance man and as an Asian Development Bank technocrat, obviously oblivious to the social and political upheavals in the country.

    Sicat, of course, has all the right to write a glowing biography of Virata and a sympathetic account of the dictatorship. His book would certainly be valuable for historians as much as the publication of Marcos’ diaries, “Delusions of a Dictator,” were. It would also help for posterity to come up with a more balanced view of that era beyond the black-and-white narratives of the Yellow Cult.

    But for our premiere state university to publish such a book demeans the institution.

    The book wouldn’t stand the requirements of an academic book, as is required by any real University Press, since it is Sicat’s biased apologia for the dictatorship of which he was a part.

    Nearly all of its assertions aren’t backed up by references, but simply stand on the author’s say-so.

    It pretends to be an academic work by listing 25 academic-journal articles in its bibliography. However, 14 of these are by Sicat himself, and he obviously either rejects or is unaware of the numerous academic writings on Marcos history, especially those written by his colleagues at the School of Economics that contradict his assertions.

    For a biography of Virata, he didn’t even list as reference the most extensive academic account of the technocrat, “Virata: The Trials and Tribulations of a ‘Chief Technocrat’” by UP professor Teresa Encarnacion Tadem, published in the Philippine Political Science Journal. That omission alone demonstrates he doesn’t really know or has researched enough on his subject, or is selective about his sources, excluding those that aren’t cheering Virata as he does.

    By having it published, the UP Press—the country’s premiere academic institution—gives it its imprimatur, that it is an academic work, and therefore, is objective and accurate.

    The book contains so many errors that reveal its author’s bias not just for Virata but for Marcos. “When Cesar Virata joined the government, his life became one of self-abnegation,” wrote Sicat.

    How could be it be one of self-abnegation when in a list released by the Commission on Audit in 1983, Virata was chairman or member of the board of directors of 22 government entities? If the list had included two more of his posts representing the Philippines in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, he would have held 24 seats—beating Imelda Marcos who had 23 seats. If he got just P50,000 in salaries and honoraria from each of these government firms, he would have made P1.2 million a month from those positions, a fortune during that time.

    But Sicat’s portrayal of Virata is nothing compared to how he portrays Marcos and his dictatorship. He describes the imposition of martial law in 1983 as follows:

    “Economic reforms suddenly became possible under martial law. The powerful opponents of reform were silenced and the organized opposition was also quilted. In the past, it took enormous wrangling and preliminary stage-managing of political forces before a piece of economic reform legislation could even pass through Congress. Now it was possible to have the needed changes undertaken through presidential decree. Marcos wanted to deliver major changes in an economic policy that the government had tried to propose earlier.”

    And Marcos reforms, Sicat says, were embraced by the nation:

    “The enormous shift in the mood of the nation showed from within the government after martial law was imposed. The testimonies of officials of private chambers of commerce and of private businessmen dictated enormous support for what was happening. At least, the objectives of the development were now being achieved…”

    So why did Marcos fall if he was a great reformer?

    Sicat, of course, won’t point to economic mismanagement that led to an untenable build-up of foreign debts leading to the debt crisis of 1983 or he would incriminate himself: he headed the National Economic and Development Authority from 1973 to 1981.

    Marcos’ fall, of course, for Sicat wasn’t due to the rise in poverty under this regime, and the consequent growth of the New People’s Army and other opposition organizations that made the country so politically volatile.

    Marcos fall, of course, wasn’t due to corruption on a grand scale that allowed Marcos to amass millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. A former Marcos official told me last year: “No one among us had any inkling that Marcos had stashed millions of dollars abroad. For me, its discovery shattered everything I thought Marcos was.”

    Unbothered by Marcos’ corruption
    Sicat is, on the other hand, unbothered by that. He doesn’t even condemn Marcos’ corruption and even claims it is “perfectly understandable.” “His financial coffers … would assure his longevity as the country’s leader. The accumulation of financial wealth for the purpose of advancing political motives was perfectly understandable within the context of such a life.”

    Sicat’s rather simple explanation why Marcos was kicked out by the nation: “Toward the end of his rule, it became apparent that some supporters appeared to have received more benefits than might have been warranted by circumstances. This was aggravated by the onset of an economic crisis that incurred a major adjustment in financial resources. When key business groups that were not close to him began to feel the repercussions of the crisis and recognized that not everyone was suffering to the same extent, it became easier and more logical for them to transfer their support to the opposition.”

    Is this guy talking about the Philippines in the 1980s or some European country?

    Sicat wrote something which I can claim 100 percent is a fallacy.

    What delayed an international rescue package for the Philippines when it defaulted on its debts in October 1983 was the discovery that the central bank fudged its reports on its international reserves by as much as $1 billion earlier in the year to fool the global financial community that it could still pay its debts. The discovery, of course, angered the IMF and the World Bank, which then required a full audit of the country’s reserves and all its data before it supports the rescheduling of our debts and extend a huge loan to tide us over.

    Sicat wrote: “The matter became public knowledge when a staff from [the]IMF openly questioned the number during discussions in Manila. The local press picked up on the incident and sensationalized it, thus making it of interest to the international media. Eventually, the Wall Street Journal blew the lid off the story and made it even bigger.”

    Sicat is lying. It was the other way around, and he knows it.

    It was a reporter for the Business Day newspaper who discovered that the central bank was deliberately tampering with the figures on the country’s capital inflows, which resulted in a fake level of international reserves. While the IMF was investigating the report, the Wall Street Journal a month later wrote a banner story on it. The IMF confirmed its findings. Virata sheepishly admitted the fudging of the country’s economic data.

    Report by a local reporter that led to the unearthing of the falsified report on the central bank’s international reserves.

    I know this to be true since I was that Business Day reporter.

    PNB juggling
    And what government body was principally involved in the tampering? It was the Philippine National Bank, which juggled its foreign funds to make it appear that the country was getting more dollar inflows than it did.

    And who was the PNB chair at that time? Sicat.

    Admittedly, I am not sure if Sicat knew about the scam. I’m sure, though, that the PNB president at the time, Placido Mapa, knew about it as he threatened to ask my publisher Raul Locsin to fire me if I pursued the story, boasting that the newspaper had outstanding loans from the bank for which it could demand repayment immediately. Locsin himself told me about the threat, but merely admonished me to be sure I have my documents and my facts right.

    Because of that episode, the IMF demanded that Sicat, Mapa, central bank governor Jaime Laya – as well as Virata, according to my source at that time — be fired from their posts before the international monetary body could help the country deal with its debt crisis.

    All of them were, indeed, given the boot except for Virata, as the IMF and the World Bank couldn’t recommend a replacement while Marcos said it was non-negotiable. (The next in line in Marcos’ stable of technocrats was Roberto Ongpin, who had been known to be anti-IMF.)

    It would be kind of us to claim that the fault of Sicat and Ongpin was merely along the lines of Irish political philosopher Edmund Burke’s insight: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

    The myth of Marcos’ dictatorship is that it was run by generals with their soldiers at every street corner.

    The reality is, just like Nazi Germany and many of the Latin American dictatorships in the 1960s, it operated and survived for so long because of technocrats like Virata, Sicat, and Ongpin, who not only ran the engines of the dictatorship but deodorized it, thereby concealing its bloody side of tortures and killings.

    Sicat and Virata, of course, have never even apologized for their role in the dictatorship that set the country back a decade, impairing us so much that the country had become the economic laggard in Southeast Asia.

    They’re even proud of it, as is UP. Oh well, like many institutions during this regime, UP is going to the dogs.

    FB: Rigoberto Tiglao


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    1. “So why did Marcos fall if he was a great reformer?”

      Or better yet, why the precipitous economic decline in the early 80s?

      A cold, impartial dissection is long in order. The youth have heard only a few lines to explain it: “Kasi ninakaw ni Marcos ang pera ng bayan.”

      Errors in decision, miscalculation, mismanagement, they all figure out one time or another in even the most developed companies, in all economic histories of nations. But it is one thing to attribute this to human lapses, it is another to connect it to some malignancy in character.

      If Sicat is not explaining sufficiently, you can help by offering your own take of things.

    2. Excellent article and well written. Marcos and his co-horts Estrada and Arroyo-Macapagal were on the top ten list of world’s most corrupt leaders. Funny, that was not mentioned either. Further, the Marcos DNA was well ingrained in his family’s blood cells, just like him they are all afflicted with this incurable disease called greed. Marcos like other dictators I am sure were enjoying their superstar status in the gates of hell. Last, but not least, for UP to published a book with no regards to citizen’s misery during the Marcos regime was not blindsided but rather welcome it with open arms meant only the obvious that they were bribed. What a farce?

    3. Hanna Miel Sanchez on

      Ok ka Tiglao, may kinatandaan ka. Although I might dis agree with U on so many things-like the seemingly idolatry with your Boss Gloria, somehow U have conviction

    4. One of the continuing insults to Filipinos is this — statute of limitation on murder.

      Statute of limitation — if a person gets away for a certain number of years, then the crime is swept under legally. Porgib-porgib, eh mabagal hindi pa malutas, eh.

      Statute of limitation on murder — an invitation since “…puwefdeng puwede talaga to get away with murder”.

      It is unbelievable that the law got passed; and it is more unbelievable that it still remains as law. And the reminder is on that Philippine currency with Ninoy Aquino face on it.

    5. Feliciano M. Bautista on

      Very good analysis, Mr Tiglao, of the Marcos years. This is a rare occasion where I agree with your thoughts.

    6. Eliseo Jun Mercado on

      Ah! This is the best of Rigoberto Tiglao! We want to see more of this type of analysis… GREAT!

    7. these only shows that MR. TIGLAO shows his unfairness on media reportage, the unmasking of the puppet, of the DICTATOR is only a proof of inside job to work underground power for the dark days of MARCOS selecting VIRATA as the mask to hide trade secrets and other private dealings. To those MARCOS gang who make the dictator happy thanks for the disservice done to your country. hoping MR. TIGLAO will unmasked the people who plundered the PHILIPPINES for all those past and recent years.

    8. Roldan Guerrero i wonder if you also think hitler was brilliant for germany. He got the country out of depression. He got people to work. He built roads all over germany & he got the country prosperous. So lets honour him, well you can but i wont. There was no good things done by marcos as after doing what you call good he stole billions of pesos from this country, thats not good & in no way should he be reveered like you have tried to do.

      • Roldan Guerrero on

        Did you know that the government was too poor at that time such that there was nothing to loot? However,despite that situation, he was able to build landmark accomplishments which until now are benefitting the Filipinos. Unlike now that there is so much money but only drained by the people in power. come to think of PDAF,DAP ,BUB etc ?

    9. victor m. hernandez on

      This is a much delayed commentary, but nonetheless provides other facets of Philippine history and development as a nation. Of Dr. Sicat was just talking of Minister Virata’s role in the Marcos regime, and opte d to focus on economic history of the country during martial law. It is therefore good to read other studies assessing the political, and social dimensions of Philippine history, in order to complement the economic history. Thus, an integral and wholistic view of Philippine socio-political and economic history during the Marcos regime. Mr. Tiglao’s rol in uncovering some facts on the forex reserve of the economy, as reported by Central Bank contributed to changes of personages at a critical juncture of Philippine financial crisis. More important than having a wholistic study, which I suppose will b an epiical magnum opus in Philippine history during the Marcos rule era. Another important question to address is whether the reform that Marcos wanted to do contributed to a vision that makes the Philippines a better place to live for Filipinos? Did Marcos attempt to reform Philippines society contribued to a vision of more equality for Filipinos? Or was Philipppine society during Marcos was just a mere change of new oligarchs? I guess the return of the old oligarchs after Marcos , and the easily controlled politicians in Congress, which is strongly influenced by oligarchs and well entrenched big business continue to perpetuate the philosophy or ideology of capaitlistic market orientation. The government (Executive and Legislative) have fallen short of its mandate, or is too slow to institute policy reforms that close the gap of inequality between the few who very rich, and the very many who are poor.

      • Mr. Tiglao”s article was just then the tip of the iceberg on marcos’ martial rule. in reality, the dictators forcefully grabbing of power has the only one reason, to perpetuate himself in power and this action was endorsed by the American government by saying something like, we advocate of your adherence to democratic principle in this part of the world. marcos did not try to lessen the gaps between the super rich and the majority poor. in fact he propagated the red scare among the populace and advertise the wonders of bagong lipunan, created new oligarch like the cojuancos, benidectos, his dummies, his technocrats, his consultants and allied himself with the warlords of the cities and provinces around the country and created barangays his political machine. suppressing freedom and imposed injustice was something like the most hated actions he ever made, making the 50 million Filipinos a coward and making himself son of a bitch. batasang pambansa was a rubber stamp, closing the senate, and invalidate the judiciary system, stashing billions of dollars for himself and he became the handsomest pretty boy next door and he can make relations to any pretty girls he wishes.

    10. Edwardo Gatbonton on

      finishing university in 1969, I was able to get and even change jobs a umber of times just thru the want ads of the newspapers. This is proof what the state of the economy is then. Companies like the integrated steel mills in iligan, picop in surigao and so many others were thriving. The Butuan telephone company that hired nine of us newly graduated engineers to get the system running were amazed when we arrived with the state of the art equipment still in crates. After just three months, I was transferred to a sister company involved in raw rubber processing, again to get the plant with all the brand new machineries running. Martial law came in 1972 and I left the country in 1974.

      By the later part of 1970’s, I started to hear of companies being sequestered,,,meralco,San Miguel corp. to name a few. It seems by then,,,the only way to land a job is to have a padrino. It was a downward spiral since then and people starting going out of the country to be able to get a job.

      I think this is a clear indication what martial law did to the country. Thanks

      • tiglao never offered any figures or facts to counter what sicat wanted to convey to the public he just dwell on martial law years which is very crucial in the development of this country, martial law years had achieved a lot which until today was not surpassed by anyone even we will combine all the accomplishments of his successors. heroes? or traitors? how could a democratic country wanted to be overthrown by communist be called heroes that’s a disrespect to million of Filipinos who fought for our freedom from the colonial masters. martial law was a necessity that can not be ignore because of the anarchy, and the sudden surge of communist elements in our society. look of what happened to us now we are descending to the same path as when marcos declared martial law. these so called victims they can not even account their own list so to speak that’s the reason why the lose their case in our own court. if before the criteria of poverty was 3 meals a day with fish and milk and eggs and vegetable, and one snack , now people are eating scraps from restaurant . so shame that we can’t see the truth and wanted to hide forever to the lies and deceit of the yellow media . by the way Hitler was a great leader same with marcos he was despised because of the lies that’s was propagated against him . during htiler short lived as a leader Germany becomes so powerful and erased the debts of the people.

      • meralco was not forced to be taken by the government, they beg for a recue marcos did not get it for himself it was given to the people kaya tinawag na meralco foundation yan , and was given back to the lopezes without a single centavo being return to the government . also san mig . tsismis kasi basihan ninyo why nobody has sued marcos when he was forced out, kaya minsan mainam din na gamitin ang utak

    11. at least matino tino ngayon ang sinulat mo mr. tiglao, hands up to you, kala ko wala ka nang matinong maisulat.

      • Yeh right, Mr. Tiglao is now matino because he attacks Marcos and his allies. If Tiglao attacks PNoy with facts, he is not matino, right?

    12. If my recollection of history serves, Cesar E. A. Virata is a descendant of the former Philippine President who was supported by the Magdalo faction of the KKK.

      As is a military school product who is now a Cabinet member handling one of the poorest performing departments.

      As to the other military school products, their
      having chosen “MAGDALO” as a rallying cry and naming their group as such must have been a result of a broad historical research.

      Dapat ba tayong magdiwang ?

    13. The downfall of marcos is that he stashed abroad billions of dollars. If he allows those billion of dollars fuel the economy of the Philippines at that time may be we will be well ahead compared to other Asian countries.

    14. Your column on Sicat’s book presumably for Virata but actually to,praise Marcos
      Sounds true especially your reckoning of the $1billion supposed case flow to Central Bank to augment foreign exchange reserves, which I think Laya did the doctoring of the records, as then the Central Bank Governor in 1983.
      The so called economic technocrats, Virata, Sicat, Ongpin, Laya, Mapa, were used by and wholeheartedly cooperated with, Dictator Marcos as facade for the torture and salvaging of the student activists and political oppositions and the ruthlessness of the military like Ver. Virata, Sicat, Ongpin, Laya and Mapa were never apologetic to the nation after Marcos was overthrown but remained quiet and silent on Marcos and Imelda’s plunder of country’s wealth. They must be aware of the widespread corruption by Marcos and his cronies that led to debt crises in 1983 and disappearance of foreign exchange for imports of materials for exports, which led to the blackmarketing of dollars by Ongpin’s Binondo Central Bank. These technocrats were unpatriotic cowards just like the military who propped up Marcos martial rule, and became subservient to Marcos to save their skin and also get the juicy titles and perks of their offices.
      What enduring economic policies had these coward technocrats left as legacy to the country to build on? Nothing! They just propelled Marcos martial law as benign dictator to high international financial institutions whose economic policies are supposedly back up by these technocrats. Laya was even instrumental to have shipped via PAL gold bars reserves of Central Bank to Swiss Bank allegedly to shore up the Central Ban foreign exchange reserves. These gold were never recovered by the government as of today and Laya went on exile too.

    15. Leodegardo Pruna on

      The writer may be correct but definitely not entirely correct of his position as readers know of his biases and predispositions. UP stands for truth no matter whether that truth will hurt the institution. It cannot always stand in the negative if what is brought up is positive. But, definitely UP upholds critical thinking in searching for the truth. The best thing that the writer could do is to articulate and debunk paragraph by paragraph Sicat’s book. God bless the Philippines.

    16. mauricio palao on

      Thank you Mr. Tiglao for setting the record straight. Indeed, Ponce Enrile and Fabian Ver with their generals wouldn’t have had a clue on how to run the economy, especially with the tutelage of the conjugal dictatorship. My take from your piece is that; in an attempt to deodorize the dictator and his cabal of technocrats..by using Cesar Virata as a red herring..Gerardo Sicat is trying to rationalize and embellish his role as an economist then. He, and perhaps others like him, now seem to worry about their relevance today and their ‘legacy’ tomorrow.

    17. Roldan Guerrero on

      Mr. Tiglao, let me ask you one thing which one is better? Marcos administration or Aquino administration? Time and and again criticisms rise against past and present regimes. Until now Marcos is a subject of malice and considering the fluck of people against him he will never be given any kind of credit. To me, be it fair or not to anybody, nobody among or even all the presidents elected into office, could match Marcos` accomplishments. It may be true he was a corrupt president but the good thing he did and I`m certain it is, progress was felt in his regime specially in the first years of his presidency. I am not sure if the good columnist agree with me if I say that Marcos` grave mistake is his too long stay in power, which is a common desire to all incumbents. Aquino also showed his intent but was rejected by the majority because of his point blank incompetence. Who would like to prolong the agony we are now experiencing? If the Marcos` haters would look at the good side of his governance, the late dictator deserves an applause. Was it a lesson or a trauma to avoid electing a genius like Marcos int he top position? Just like what happened to his successors, empowering not a single competent one, specially the incumbent, who all turned to be plunderers. Nobody could be considered good after Marcos, but to me he is the best among these bad ones.

      • Marcos is the best among the bad ones! What a paradox! That means Marcos was the baddest! I agree if that is the conclusion you want to imply. Coz Marcos was really the “baddest” of them all. Marcos achievements like building infrastructures are innumerable true coz that made him so obsessed of building roads, bridges, govt. Buildings and centers since those were his initial main source of commissions and kickbacks, just like Binay though in a small scale. Then Marcos graduated to “kleptocracy” and grabbed all the wealth of govt, financial institutions like GSIS, SSS, PNB, DBP and the Base rents (Clark and Subic) , private companies like Benguet, Marcopper, Meralco, ABS-CBN. On the other side of the Conjugal partnership, Imelda was busy creating her own projects, Cultural Center, PICC, Manila Film Festival Center, Philippine Heart Center, Lung Center, Kidney Center, Children’s Hospital, all missions for commissions! Imelda got busy with grabbing jewelriies from Mrs. Panlilio, a local jeweler, hobnobbing with the Fords and Duke and George Hamilton whose mother was gifted by Imelda 25 Carats diamond. On the side Imelda was buying original paintings of Picasso, Van Gough, Matesse, and other known painters. By the time Marcos was overthrown, Marcos family had looted $10 billions of the people’s wealth that made Marcos the Greatest Plunderer of all time!

      • victor m. hernandez on

        Now, I can think of a new slogan for the 2016 election: Vote for the brightest, most competent and least evil. The problem here is where to get the candidates who will qualify according to those criteria, and more importantly, that they will be elected into office.

      • If we are to compare the first 4 years of the administrations of Macoy and PNoy, Macoy wins hands down as very much better than the mischievous one, Benigno III.