Paterno: ‘atypical’ Marcos technocrat

Last Nov. 22, the Inquirer reported that former senator Vicente Paterno had passed away at 89. The report quoted Malacanang as citing “Paterno’s show of independence and integrity during the Marcos regime,” which he served as chair of the Board of Investments from 1970 to 1979, and as minister of industry from 1974 to 1979. His last position during martial law was as minister of public highways until 1980.

Because of these key economic positions that he held during the Marcos years, Paterno was the subject of an Aug. 15, 2008, interview conducted by a project research team (of which I was part) on “Economic Policymaking and the Philippine Development Experience, 1960-1985: An Oral History Project.”


Before the interview, my impression of Paterno was that he was both a “typical” and an “atypical” technocrat. He was “typical” in the sense that in terms of the classical definition of technocracy, he fit very well into how Jean Meynaud in his book “Technocracy” (New York, Evans, 1980) defines it as “a system of governance in which technically trained experts rule by virtue of their specialized knowledge and position in dominant political and economic institutions.” Emphasis is thus placed on their “technical expertise” gained from their academic training, which is generally in the sciences—e.g., physics, math, engineering—as well as in finance and business administration. He shared an engineering and business management background with a number of other technocrats who served the Marcos regime, a background gained from elite schools here and abroad (i.e., a mechanical engineering degree from the University of the Philippines and an MBA from Harvard University).

Yet Paterno was also “atypical,” as he was known as the Marcos technocrat who left the government in 1980. Unlike Gerardo Sicat, Marcos’ director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority (1973-1981), who also left the Cabinet but went to work in the World Bank from 1985 to 1997, Paterno stayed on in the country and joined the antidictatorship movement—the only Marcos technocrat who took this option.


The Inquirer’s Nov. 22 report on Paterno also noted that, in the period following the assassination of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino in 1983, “when people were taking capital out of the country as it descended into political turmoil, Paterno put up a business that has since become a market leader”—the 7-Eleven store chain.

Sicat, on the other hand, worked for an institution that was reviled during the martial law period as propagating economic policies through the Marcos technocracy which brought about the countryís economic demise. It was not surprising, therefore, that the slogan “Ibagsak ang diktadurang Marcos/IMF/WB (Down with the Marcos/IMF/WB dictatorship)” was the chant of the opposition movement.

In resigning from Ferdinand Marcos’ Cabinet, Paterno urged Cesar Virata, who became prime minister, to do the same, saying: “Cesar, it’s time to leave.” But like the other technocrats, Virata stayed on.

Days after Ninoy’s assassination, Paterno announced in a privilege speech at the Batasang Pambansa that he was severing his ties with Marcos’ ruling party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan. Referring to the administration’s silence on Ninoy’s killing, Paterno lamented: “What are we doing here? We are not even taking cognizance of a very important national event. We are not discussing what the nation should do.” Marcos’ minions in the Batasan grilled him for two days and he stayed on the floor to reply to their questions.

Our interview with Paterno also revealed his other “atypical” traits. For one, he did not subscribe to the economic policy generally associated with the Marcos technocrats, particularly Sicat—an export-oriented industrialization policy and the rule of free market forces. For him, “market forces are fine for countries that are already established but not for countries which still have to build up their industrial capabilities.” For another, he supported small and medium enterprises. He argued that “…there should be a place for small-medium industries beside big industries.” This was in contrast with other technocrats such as Roberto Ongpin, Marcos’ minister of trade and industry (1979-1986), who pushed for the Asean 11 major industrial projects that never took off.

“When you have a dictator with friends and you want big projects to be undertaken by the government, you are laying yourself open to corruption,” Paterno said.

But the most admirable “atypical” trait of Paterno was his courage to break away from Marcos, prompting the dictator to taunt him, “Do you know that after you have been a member of the Marcos Cabinet, you’re too big to take the presidency of any corporation in the Philippines?” He and his family must have suffered not only financially but also emotionally after parting ways with a powerful and vindictive strongman. But, in the end, it was certainly a small price to pay for choosing what he believed to be the right path.


Teresa S. Encarnacion Tadem, PhD, is a professor of political science at the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman.

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TAGS: Cesar Virata, Ferdinand Marcos, Gerardo Sicat, Vicente Paterno
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