Why the Marcos dictatorship failed

By Jobers R. Bersales |September 21,2016 - 10:38 PM

Yesterday was 44th anniversary of the start of dictatorial rule by late president Ferdinand Marcos, a one-man rule that would last until he was hurriedly whisked off Malacañang by forces of the United States in 1986.

As I keep repeating in this column every anniversary of the start of that dark period in the nation’s history, Marcos was not alone in Asia on the path to one-man authoritarian rule at the time. Park Chung Hee of South Korea, Col. Soeharto of Indonesia, Gen. Chiang Ching-kuo of Taiwan, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore — they had all exercised varied ways and styles of authoritarianism in its raw form.

They either imprisoned their rivals or political enemies or were extremely intolerant of opposition, regardless of whether you were a youth leader or an aging senator or congressman. They censored all forms of information and mass media while controlling the entire government bureaucracy, giving preference to men in uniform to hold offices of power. Then they created a semblance of democracy through a rubber-stamp parliament or congress.

Of these, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea today are economically developed powerhouses. What happened to Indonesia and the Philippines and why they are today the most populated of these group of authoritarian-ruled countries with economies that have not trickled down to the poor is a lesson everyone should take to heart, especially in the midst of historical revisionism.

Taiwan’s and South Korea’s rapid rise to economic progress, with their own manufacturing sectors churning out high tech products that can compete with those of China, Japan and the United States, are important to note, especially since these countries rose amidst actual threats from a larger enemy: the People’s Republic of China for Taiwan and North Korea on the part of South Korea.

I am no political economist, but I would venture to say that these two countries’ strategic importance to the United States in midst of a saber-rattling North Korea or a China hell-bent on dominating this part of the world provided preferential treatment of manufactured goods from these countries, which entered the world market with little or no barriers, helped propel their economies forward.

And yet the Philippines and Indonesia were also important strategic or long-term allies of the United States and the so-called free world (read, not under the influence of the Soviet Union or the People’s Republic of China).

So why did Soeharto and Marcos leave their countries in near-bankrupt state while tiny little Singapore, for example, who often derided the United States at this time, emerged as an economic miracle by the time these two dictators were booted out of power?
The secret lies with the leader and his motivations. While all these countries embarked on massive economic plans to industrialize and become economically independent powerhouses by the 1980s, three of them — South Korea, and Singapore and, to a certain extent, Taiwan — were ruled not by self-fixated personalities (in fact, Park Chung Hee was later assassinated and was quickly replaced, with no massive economic impact to his country) but by personal convictions to succeed and prepare for a succession. Their leaders were, in short, not blinded by self-interest and self-enrichment.

Enter Soeharto and Marcos and we find a record of self-aggrandizement in gargantuan proportions. These two were, to jokingly point out, mining companies: This is mine. That is mine. Those are mine! And not only that, they brought in their wives, families and extended families as well as former classmates and high school buddies into the picture to help ruin their countries.

And instead of preparing for a transition, they looked no further than their wives or their sons to take over so as to preserve the integrity of their “mining” operations.

The lesson is very clear that even the Soehartos and Marcoses cannot revise this historical fact: Those two nincompoops bankrupted their countries, quickly brushing aside any paeans to lofty goals of making the so-called nation great again.

The worst part for the Philippines is, 44 years later, many of you still think that those were the golden years of this country.

Perhaps that is true only of the fact that for every penny that the Marcoses stole, his wife and children always say that he literally found gold bars buried by retreating Japanese officers in 1945.

The sad irony is that if this indeed true, under the law, even those gold bars should have been surrendered to the State. But then again, under Martial Law, who would dare question Marcos and live another day?

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