Why didn’t dictatorship work for us, when it did so well for Asia’s Tiger Economies?

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This time of the year for 29 years now, in a kind of a ritual, government and the Yellow Media ask Filipinos to commemorate their purported day of deliverance from a dictatorship – the dawning, they say, from an era of darkness. The living heroes boast of their bravery during that time of revolution.

The narrative disseminated year after year is that the Philippines became poor because of the Marcos dictatorship, because of the greed of one man and his family, and his small cabal of cronies. Because the media since 1987 has been owned and run mostly by Marcos’ enemies and until the 1990s by journalists he put out of work in 1972, that good-vs-evil narrative has stuck.

But reality has a way of catching up with our illusions, and after nearly three decades, the poor are still poor, Filipinos will die in the class they were born into, workers’ wages have stagnated, tenant farmers are in the depths of poverty. We’ve been economically overtaken by most of our neighbors, all of which do not have celebrations like our annual EDSA I nonworking holiday.  Most Asian countries have become richer than us, and war-ravaged, election-less Vietnam under the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party of Vietnam will almost certainly overtake us in a few years’ time.

What the apologists of the ruling class, especially its current vanguard, the Order of the Yellow Ribbon, have tried to hide from us is this: Dictatorship in the Philippines was not an exception, but more the norm in the region. Nearly all Asian nations in the post-war period were under dictatorships, with many lasting even longer than Marcos’ 13-year authoritarian rule.

This is the reality which should be an eye-opener for those who would be worshipping at the altar of democracy in those “People Power” celebrations this year: All of the Asian Economic Dragons, as well as the Tiger Cubs – yes those countries to which freedom-loving Filipinos are flocking to be workers and domestic helpers – depended a lot on authoritarian rule in order to become industrialized nations.

Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek, and then his son Chiang Ching Kuo, ruled Taiwan with an iron fist from the day they fled to the island in 1947 from China after their Kuomintang forces were defeated by Mao Zedong’s forces, to the time Taiwan embraced democracy in 1988.

Asia’s strongmen: 1st row; Korea’s Park Chung Hee, Taiwan’s Chiang Kaishek and son Chiang Chingkuo; 2nd row: Singapore’s Lee, Thailand’s Kittikachorn, and Indonesia’s Suharto; 3rd row, Marcos and Malaysia’s Mahathir.

Asia’s strongmen: 1st row; Korea’s Park Chung Hee, Taiwan’s Chiang Kaishek and son Chiang Chingkuo; 2nd row: Singapore’s Lee, Thailand’s Kittikachorn, and Indonesia’s Suharto; 3rd row, Marcos and Malaysia’s Mahathir.

Two strongmen ruled South Korea for nearly three decades: Syngman Rhee for 12 years until 1960, and ex-General Park Chung Hee for 17 years (1962-1979).

Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, whom many Filipinos idolize, ruled Singapore for 31 years. After a clever hiatus, during which Go Chok Tong was prime minister, Lee’s son Hsien Long took the reins of government and has since been prime minister for 12 years now. Lee’s People’s Action Party as in the 1950s continues to control the press through Singapore Press Holdings.
 
Suharto and his cronies

Indonesia’s Major General Suharto grabbed power in a bloody coup d’état in 1967, and stayed in power for 31 years. Marcos’ cronies were amateurs compared with those of Suharto, whose closest crony Soedono Salim was given monopolies on cloves, flour, cement and even government bank deposits. While most of Marcos’ cronies are forgotten now, Suharto’s top cronies, the so-called Gang of Four, set up First Pacific Co., Ltd in 1981, now one of the biggest regional conglomerates in Asia, which owns PLDT and Meralco, ironically controlled by Marcos’ cronies during martial law.

Malaysia’s Mahathir was in power for 22 years starting in 1981, and is still a formidable political force in his country, having effectively suppressed the leading opposition figure, Anwar Ibrahim, on charges, of all things, sodomy.

Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn ruled Thailand as military dictator from 1963 to 1973, until violent student protests forced him down from office.

The average length of strongman rule in these Asian countries was 23 years, Marcos’ held on to power only for 13 years. Is there a case for claiming that strongman rule didn’t work here, given that Marcos’ strongman rule did not last as long as those in other countries did?

gdp growth 1

The reality stares us in the face: The Asian Economic Tigers grew to industrial status in one generation – that the phenomenon has been called Asian Economic Miracle – all under authoritarian rule, and not under democratic systems, as in the West.

Western academics, of course, with democracy as their quasi-religion, couldn’t believe this. So they tried, instead, to attribute it to “Asian values,” even Confucian culture that valued collective good rather than individualistic rights.

That’s hogwash: strongman rule is strongman rule if there is no democratic elections, in whatever cultural milieu it is operating.

So the tiger economies all grew under strongman rule. But for us it resulted in poverty, which we haven’t been able to overcome after 27 years. Why?

Strongman rule not strong

One answer is that strongman rule in the Philippines, despite all the now prevalent Yellow narrative of a ruthless regime, wasn’t really as strong nor as ruthless as it was in the Tiger Economies and in Southeast Asia.

Among numerous examples, Marcos retreated from his land-reform program, beat back by the landlord class. Why, he couldn’t even dismantle through agrarian reform Hacienda Luisita, owned by his archenemy, the Aquino-led Cojuangco clan. It took 40 years to do that, and by the Supreme Court in 2011 and at the cost of its head, Chief Justice Renato Corona.

More importantly, the main answer to this seeming riddle: The Philippine ruling class did what they have been doing throughout the country’s history, through martial law to the present – that is, to screw the working classes, and to collaborate with  and even exploit whoever controlled the political apparatus.

Except for a few property and retail tycoons who got the chance to exploit the surge in OFW remittances in the 1980s, it has been the same sugar and rice hacienderos; the Spanish-descended elite epitomized by the Ayalas; the Chinese-Filipino compradors such as the Ques, the Sys and the Gokongweis; and fake Filipino nationalists who grew through martial law and took advantage of it, who are still on top of the Philippine economic pyramid. Even Jollibee, set up in 1974, grew during martial law. Ayala Alabang for example became prime property only when Marcos built the “South Superhighway” in the 1970s, along with the “North Diversion Road.”

The tiny faction of the elite Marcos bullied, the haciendero-descended elites —  the clans led by the Lopezes, Osmenas and Aquinos — have obviously recovered their wealth and power.

The debt-crisis – when we couldn’t pay off our foreign loans – from 1983 to 1985 actually explains the deep hole we are in. Because we were practically cut off from global trade at that time, our GDP contracted 14 percent in 1984 and 1985 , really an unimaginable decrease in output that happens only in a war-ravaged economy.

A lot of reasons for this debt-crisis, but one factor had been the fact that our elite from 1970 to 1981 brought out in capital flight $3.1 billion, roughly one-third of the increase in our total external indebtedness.* I believe they still do, regularly.

There is one explanation why our elite has been so rapacious, which becomes clear when you put them in contrast to their counterparts in Southeast Asia. The ruling classes in the Asian Tigers had identified themselves with their nations, that is, they had a strong sense of nationalism.

They had to, as their very physical survival depended on their nations’ economic growth. If South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore hadn’t quickly developed economically, these would have fallen under the Communist forces that threatened them, and their leaders, the elite, would have been executed, or at least their assets confiscated, as indeed happened in South Vietnam.

In short, the elites in these countries were under siege by the communist forces, and had no choice but to be nationalists, and develop their nations’ economies. In the case of Indonesia and Thailand – because of their strong feudal states from centuries back, creating their unique cultures – their elites identify themselves strongly with the nation.

Our ruling class, on the other hand, have had a penchant for identifying themselves with our colonizers. They identify themselves with Spain (where many of them originated) and the US, and in recent decades, with China. For them, this nation is simply a market or a production site with cheap labor, not really their homes. They simply cooperate or even use this market’s political rulers, whether a dictator or elected by deluded masses. This kind of thinking, that nationalism is an unnecessary baggage, has even trickled down to the masses, so that many Filipinos even think somebody like Grace Poe-Llamanzares, who became an American citizen, should be President.

Most of our elites, in fact, have their biggest mansions in London, Barcelona, Los Angeles and New York, and in recent years, in Shenzhen and Hong Kong. All their children study abroad, and have little cultural ties now to the country. Why, even their children no longer speak Pilipino, but English, and more recently, Mandarin. Pilipino is just the language they use to talk to their servants.

This is the reason why the Lopezes, Osmenas and the Aquino-led Cojuangcos have been propagating the Yellow Myth of Good-vs-Evil, with the elites supporting it, and even the Left believing it: It conceals the reality that through dictatorship and democracy, the elites continue to screw the masses.

*(Figure from Dohner, Rober and Intal, Ponciano, “Debt Crisis and Adjustment in the Philippines,’ in Developing Country Debt and the World Economy, National Bureau of Economic Research, 1989.)

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

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39 Comments

  1. I don’t think the Left believes the Yellow Myth purely. They see it as a real people’s struggle, though with very little to gain. They believe that the real revolution haven’t even taken place yet, but they believe that it was the masses, not the elites, that brought People Power to some few gains.

  2. Rigoberto, thank you for reminding (awakening for most) the people of the Philippines,

    “Our ruling class, on the other hand, have had a penchant for identifying themselves with our colonizers. They identify themselves with Spain (where many of them originated) and the US, and in recent decades, with China. For them, this nation is simply a market or a production site with cheap labor, not really their homes. They simply cooperate or even use this market’s political rulers, whether a dictator or elected by deluded masses.”

  3. You did not mention the factor of unbridled corruption. Is it not possible this is one cause of Mr. Marcos failure to raise our economy to industrial status, assuming it was his intention for being a dictator in the first place?

  4. This is one hell of a forum to miss. All of your respondents have valid observations that were borne out of your masterful dissertation of our inauspicious past. I am glad that you have included the popular though misguided attention on Poe-Llamanzares. Clearly this lady is riding on the crest of popularity of her late actor/father, her ambitions propelled by an entertainment industry that have managed to blur and veil the real and rightful concerns of the masses.

    • Ninoy Aquino was a double agent … he was both CIA and KGB, that was according to his good friend, the late historian Manoling Yap who said he himself (Yap) was also a CIA operative. So if you’re wondering why strongman rule did not make us prosper, read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”

  5. Excellent article with very keen analysis. The people (read: the majority poor) must be educated on the anatomy of social classes on a layman’s term so that they are empowered and unite to grab the leadership in this country. Over and over, the elite have betrayed this nation and prove nothing but corruption and greediness. It is about time to vote for a middle class presidential candidate like Miriam or Duterte.

  6. Mr. Tiglao, didnt Marcos stop his Presidential Decree 27(land reforming rice & corn lands) because it was an utter failure?

    – His aim was to address a growing communist insurgency then (in 1972 – 2,000 armed rebels) – after being deposed in 1986, it ballooned to 26,000 armed rebels.

    – it did not solve poverty. It did not increase production. On the contrary, production fell, and the farmers were mired in debt. IN fact we infamously became the top importing nation of rice in the world by the mid 90’s and importing half our agricultural needs. His socialist experiment was extended by Cory to include all other crops and today not only has the average age of our farmers risen to a near retirable 57 years old, our agricultural sector is highly vulnerable to free trade with our labor-intensive, uneconomical sized plots.

    And speaking of the landowning class, if they were so powerful why were most of their lands unpaid till this day?. Where’s the power there?.

    Marcos was bright enough to realize that confiscating hda luisita from Cojuangco-Aquino branch would make him look very oppressive against his no. 1 political threat and frat brother. After all, did Marcos and Imelda create the illusion that they were kind to Noynoy et al?. The lesson was in Ninoy’s death that resulted in his ouster.

  7. Excellent article and analysis… CONGRATULATIONS!
    Just to add, the low cost (cheap) labor strategy is one of the country’s biggest mistake… and it is not surprising that the oligarchs are sponsoring this idea…
    The shortfall in industrializing the country is also a major problem… the country is only seen as a market with 100 million consumers… The oligarchs are all in the retail business…
    Laws are well established but implementation becomes a problem… regulatory capture is everywhere… all controlled by the oligarchs…

  8. These same elites are now pulling out billions of their capital and investing it in other countries such as Spain, China, US, etc. They have no sense of nationalism but opportunists who are only after profits for their personal gain. They do not care about the plight of millions of poor Filipinos. Imagine how many Filipinos would have been employed had they invested the billions that they pulled out in our country instead.

  9. Have you asked yourself who the powers are behind the success of Lee Kuan Yew or any of the present leaders in the other emerging Asian Tiger economies? Be glad you live in a country where you can exercise your freedom of expression.

    • Not really. Freedom of expression isn’t that good here either – sometimes it’s the government who will try to shut you up to death when you’ve stated a dissenting opinion (this is pretty obvious, the govt. using PNP/AFP to scare you into silence with their abusive threats and then denying that they actually did it) and heck, even the opposition wants to do the same to you if you dissented them (try pointing out the flaws of Makabayan bloc and you will receive abusive threats from their supporters who at one minute want the youth to join NPA but the next minute will deny that they had anything to do with NPA). We live in a country where there is no healthy competition between the government and opposition – where both sides pretend to be for the people but use the people to get the power they want – that’s why I’m not going to put my vote on either the Daang Matuwid coalition or the Makabayan bloc – both may be on different sides of the political spectrum but they are one in their aim – to enter the government for their self-interests.

      Indeed, we’re nothing like Singapore. Try being in the opposition in Singapore and their government will not repress you with their Army in most cases, try being pro-government in Singapore and you won’t see the opposition repress you with their insurgent armies/private police/etc. that they deny to have any association with.

  10. Clear and explicitly described. Fm our strongman could have done it given 3 more years which could had launched our asian dollar which americans defied that brought this present scenario.

  11. For one thing our westernized culture (we do not think Asian) and mind set-love it or hate it-(Hispanic, Brits to American) will make it difficult for a dictator to thrive here. Burma or Myanmar is an exception-long time under dictatorship but still impoverished. Key is in the people, not on the leader or type of government. Filipinos are reselFor one thing our westernized culture (we do not think Asian) and mind set-love it or hate it-(Hispanic, Brits to American) will make it difficult for a dictator to thrive here. Burma or Myanmar is an exception-long time under dictatorship but still impoverished. Key is in people, not on the leader or type of govt. Filipinos are resilient anyways.

  12. I hope Bobi’s column of today can be read by those presumptuous writers and pseudo journalists and bloggers who continue to demonize Mr. Marcos and martial law in their writings forgetting the fact that our version of martial law was indeed tame and lame compare to what Lew Kwan Yew did to the Opposition when he was building Singapore or what Suharto did with those Communists in his country. When most of these pseudo journalists can not even know the difference between market prices and appraised value in their writings of the Corona trial nor know our country’s geography when mentioning Vigan as the location of that wax, how can they be expected to write incisively and academically sane? I guess, the columnist’s training in dialectical analysis of objective conditions is being put to good use in his writings.

    By the way, thank you for the info that it was Mr. Joy and his IMF-WB cohorts who resisted the Marcos plan of copying the Zaibatsu Model for the country’s development. He may have been the same guy referred to by this banker who told me once in London: Do you know who is the guy sitting in the chair you are sitting now? He is your finance minister asking for his commission from the loan we are giving to your country.

  13. Ambassador Tiglao: I laud the accuracy of your facts and the soundness of your analyses with a minor refinement on the latter: corruption of the Marcos cronies who salted away to foreign lands capitals owed to lending countries or international financial institutions thereby thwarting the emergence of new domestic industries or preventing the expansion of already existing ones in contrast to the cronies of of the other East or Southeast Asian strongmen who kept the loaned capitals within their country to serve as seed money for the growth of domestic industries, hence the emergence of Japan’s zaibatsus – Toyota, Hitachi, etc. or Korea’s chaibols – Samsung, Hyundai, Hanjin etc – and the conglomerates of our neighbors Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia , Malaysia etc. Obviously, this variance in development approaches – salting away to foreign lands in case of the Philippines and keeping – in country the capital and proceeds in case of the other East and Southeast Asian countries was undertaken by the dictators’ cronies with the blessings , if not the initiative of the dictators themselves .
    In his memoirs, From Third to First World , Lee Kuan Yew narrated how he declined the request of Marcos for a $300 million bailout at the height of the 1983 debt crisis stressing that if he loaned the amount he would not see it back again. This stresses the point that even at that time, Marcos’ corruption was already well-known. Well, its not surprising knowing that as early as 1968 , Marcos and Imelda already opened a fictitious foreign account on the name of ” Jane Ryan”.
    What I find surprising is why in an otherwise sound analyses, you failed to cite corruption of the dictator and his cronies as another plausible reason for our country’s failure to take off economically. Could this omission have something to do with the candidacy of someone – reputedly close to you – whose campaign has been plagued by
    corruption charges?

  14. The problem with our country is unity. Everybody want a share of the pie, and they don’t care about anybody, that they will bulldoze their way to acquire wealth and power… it’s a shame but that’s who we are and it would take an exceptional leader to make these people toe the line

  15. Excellent.
    It would be good to have a full length history reflecting this analysis to counteract the myths and propaganda currently circulating as fact.
    The comment above about the role of Catholicism is relevant as none of the comparison countries suffered from this superstitious conservatism which defends the elites and their hold on wealth and power.
    What can lead to change is a hard question. Strong honest nationalistic government backed by the people, but where do we find that? Not via a military coup I hope!

  16. This article could have been believable if Tiglao gave us the breakdown of the capital flight of $ 3.1 billion from 1970-1981. How much of that was accounted for by Marcos and his cronies? Tiglao, for absence of proof, just generalized it to be the elite in the vain attempt to obfuscate the fact that Marcos and his cronies were largely responsible for this capital flight.

  17. It is the main objective which is the love for our country that is missing. A person will have to sacrifice their future and their lives for the betterment of the majority. That is the reason some country succeeded with dictators and some failed like our country.

  18. Excellent article, Mr. Tiglao!! Could you please also write and enlighten us about the failed (or sabotaged) 11 Industrial Projects of President Marcos that, if they had succeeded, would have propelled us to an Asian economic power? Thank you and more power!

    • I’ve been planning to. I remember that specifically as I was with BusinessDay during that time. Ongpin wanted to replicate what the Japanese and Koreans did. Virata and the IMF-World Bank group lobbied against the program, on grounds that it would incur a bigger foreign debt. Again, the elites blocked the plan, for instance, why would they want a petrochemical plant when they were simply importing the products. A lot of “history” need to be rewritten.

  19. Mr. Tiglao this is convincing.

    So democracy does not work for us, or probably any other borrowed ideology, with treasonous elites and conniving politicians in control.

    Then what will work? – obviously some kind of a strongman rule, based on your data. Considering the prospect of improvement in efficiency in running the government, if done right, and avoiding the cost of elections and removing the thieves in congress, senate, judiciary, etc. – billions of savings that can put to better use, these should have very significant positive impact to the country, the majority.

    If we go for a strongman rule, how do we do it – bloodless revolution? but hopefully not from leftist with their archaic ideology that does not work, nor from the incompetent and lazy military who will only pursue their corrupt interests and vices. What type will it be – perhaps some kind of a responsible, selfless, pragmatic, but unifying with the international/global community, paternal dictatorship?

    In the interests of the majority, the real Pilipinos, for the sake of the nation, maybe you could devote some serious effort to explore this or any other possible solution.
    Define any specific solution, and describe the character that can and will selflessly implement it.

    Thanks for this serious article, very relevant to the our country’s needs.

  20. Sana nga mag martial law n lng ulit para lahat ng mayayaman ay maranasan din ang mga problema ng mga mahihirap.

    • Depende yan kung sino ang mamumuno ng martial law. Isang magandang halimbawa ay si Lee Kuan Yew na ang pamamahala niya ay martial law pero pag-asenso ng kanilang bansa ang nasa isip niya at hindi ang pagnanakaw sa bayan. Si LKY nga ang nagsabi na masyadong malilimutin ang mga Pilipino na alam na nila ang ginawa ng mga Marcos sa ating bayan ay patuloy pa rin nating inihahalal ang mga taong ito at nasa kapangyarihan pa rin kaya lugmok pa rin ang Pilipinas.

  21. What then should have been done by Marcos to these landlords? Mao simply cut off their heads when the communists take over China. Pol Pot exterminated the ruling class to start his calendar of workers paradise at day zero making Cambodia the killing fields of extermination. Gen.Douglas Mac Arthur , the last shogun of Japan imposed land reform that made the country an economic power in a single generation.He should have done that when Quezon appointed him as Field Marshall of his commonwealth govt.Instead he became a barkada of the landed elite. Marcos declared martial law to defang the oligarchs that stands on his way to absolute power but in your own reckoning doesnt have the will to exterminate them once and for all.Instead he created mini-oligarchs of his own and maintains family dynasties sympathetic to his rule that today ferments in every sector of our society. Bongbong Marcos and his surrogates, the loyalists might die laughing as they watch the yellow brigades celebrate this coming EDSA revolt celebration!

  22. One thing I can say is that what you have said are all true. Lets put it this way Marcos laid all the ground work for our country’s industrialization, he put up Bataan Nuclear Power Plant which was a prelude to being our country’s being a nuclear power which in early 1974 we have been experimenting our Missiles Defense System, he put up the biggest in South East Asia the Iligan Integrated Steel Mills, he put up Car Body Stamping Plant, he put up car transmission plant, etc but what the Evil Dictator Cory did was to mothball our gains.

    The Adolf Hitler Pnoy what he did was very similar to the late Evil Dictator Cory both of them prostituted our governmental instrumentalities. he will be out of office sooner but what he did is to mothball the gains of PGMA put into our country, left and right cancelled all PPP projects and now people are paying for the cancelled projects.

    Both Mother and Son made the Oligarchs richer and dollar billionaires. They are all into it with government sovereign guaranteed financial loans.

    What is worst is that they are in the power sectors with tax perks amounting to almost Php 200 billion pesos and yet Adolf Hitler Pnoy praising them as good people.

    • Iboto pa ninyo ang mga anointed at secret candidates ni Adolf Hitler Pnoy sila ay si Mar, Grace, Duterte and Binay.

      Kay Mar open si Abnormal President all out ang support, kay Grace pinatakbo niya ilang beses pinatawag sa Malacañang, Kay Digong member siya ng PDP Laban ka partido niya si Evil Dictator Cory at ang PDP Laban ay pinalakas ni Adolf Hitler Pnoy dahil noong congressman pa siya ang tinatag niyang partido sounding like Laban ng Bayan isinama niya sa PDP Laban. Kay Binay naman Duda ako bakit kanyo dahil alam naman natin na Loyalist siya kay Evil Dictator Cory at Pnoy.

      Ngayon saan kayo pipili kay Miriam o kay Binay

  23. It is about time to re-write our corrupted history , preferably before the election. Let everyone know who bombed Plaza Miranda and who is the brain behind the murder of Ninoy Aquino. These are key events that led us to where we are now. Both of these were blamed on Marcos.

    • Yes, Sen. Ninoy Aquino was one of the personalities present when CCP/NPA was established in 1969 in Hacienda Luisita. It was then said Ninoy who one of the personalities instrumental in eventual surrender of HUKBALAP. Ngayon sino ang hindi na Plaza Miranda bombing edi si Ninoy

  24. I don’t totally agree. Our failures on this has something to do with our cultural background from Spain. Comparable to most Latin american countries where up to now they are embeded with poverty with their laid back attitudes relying on catholicism contribute to its backwardness and conservatism lacking in pragmatism and hard work ethics shown by our neihbors who are overtaking us one by one. Lastly the leftists destroyed the marcos regime and mo one is to be blamed but ourselves and if we want to succeed as a nation then we to change within ourselves first.

  25. Mr. Tiglao, you are absolutely correct! The elite and the ruling class are more foreign than Filipinos. Mr. Duterte should rise to the occasion other than fighting drugs and criminality. He has the character.