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Four similarities between Marcos and Duterte

Having lived through the Marcos dictatorship, and now living through the Duterte administration 35 five years later, I clearly see the similarities between the two presidents. The observations that have crossed my mind would have remained undivulged, except that there is a Marcos scion who is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps (although refusing to take any responsibility for them), almost certainly with the blessings, private so far, of the current President Duterte, who has never made a secret of his admiration for the dictator Marcos.

I shudder to think, but it is entirely possible, that the Duterte admiration for Marcos père has transformed into a desire for Marcos fils to take over his position so that the glory can be continued. That’s why I shudder. And in case anyone is titillated at the thought, let me bring out four similarities between the two regimes, so we can nip any hope for “bringing back the glory days of Marcos” right in the bud.

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The first similarity is that both Marcos and Mr. Duterte brought the Philippine economy to its knees. With Marcos, it was the international foreign debt crisis that hit mostly Latin America and Africa, with the Philippines the only country in Asia to fall. With Mr. Duterte, it was a pandemic that hit the whole world.

What was the difference between the two? Well, the responsibility for the debt crisis lies squarely on Marcos, helped in no small way by some greedy international commercial banks. Mr. Duterte, on the other hand, is not responsible for the pandemic—but he is responsible for the poor management of it, both from the health and fiscal sides.

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But can we make a distinction between the effects of the pandemic and the effects of government mismanagement in the country’s economic collapse? I have made a stab at it, using the average growth rates for 2020 of the Asean-5 (-3.4 percent) and comparing it with the Philippine growth rate (-9.6 percent). Suffice it to say that of the P1.9 trillion loss of gross domestic product between 2019 and 2020, P1.2 trillion can be attributed to the underperformance of the government, and P0.7 trillion to the pandemic itself. Any better estimates are welcome.

The second major similarity between the Marcos and Duterte administrations is that they were both obsessed with infrastructure. There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with infrastructure—but it has to be of the right quality, not only the right quantity. A lesson unlearned. Both presidents had the same number—75—of flagship projects. And both had favored cronies to undertake or finance these projects. Unfortunately for the country, it was the overpricing of these projects that contributed to our debt crisis. And their underperformance. Marcos and his wife were thought to have an “edifice complex.”

Mr. Duterte’s projects, on the other hand, have suffered enormous delays, and when the pandemic struck, there was no change in the infrastructure projects, such as the retooling of schools so they could be safely reopened. The learning losses that the Philippines has suffered because of this are enormous.

A third major similarity between Marcos and Mr. Duterte is the desire to stay in power. Marcos did it with the declaration of martial law, and he got the military to agree with him. Mr. Duterte wanted to do it with a revolutionary government, but the military (having learned their lessons painfully) refused to go along. Undaunted, he seriously considered running for vice president, but the people have seen through that.

This similarity highlights one of the major differences between the two: Marcos has it over Mr. Duterte when it comes to brains. But if Mr. Duterte thinks that Marcos fils is like his father in that regard, he has another thing coming.

There is a fourth, though minor, similarity. One got sick while in office. The other was sick before he got into office. The similarity: They lied to the Filipinos about the true state of their health. The difference: Marcos had no mental health problems.

The point is, Reader: Do you want a repeat of either the Duterte or the Marcos administration? God forbid.

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TAGS: economy, governance, marcos, martial law, politics, Rodrigo Duterte
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