THE Marcos regional political clout, buttressed by ill-gotten wealth, has been a specter hovering over every administration these past 30 years, threatening havoc on the electoral process, extracting political concessions from each major national candidate every sexennial on one hand, and applying carrot and stick tactics to advance family agenda on the other. All in the overarching drive to rehabilitate their name. They obviously have succeeded as they now have the audacity to offer through the Deegong, no less, to return a portion of this wealth.

This wealth, “…the riches (gold bars and part of their alleged hidden wealth) were taken only to secure the Philippine economy at that time”(Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News, August 31, 2017).With this return, the Marcos family can help erase the country’s deficits, and fund the social programs of the country. How nice of the Marcoses! Now, Ferdinand can truly be regarded as a Philippine Hero – one whose “tadhana ay naiguhit din”.

The insinuation is that this wealth was not plundered from the Filipino people. The family simply “borrowed” the country’s wealth for safekeeping. As PRRD intimated, “I will accept the explanation whether or not it is true, kasi wala na, e”

There is something wrong with this picture. Especially for those millennials who aren’t familiar with how Ferdinand Marcos plundered the country’s coffers during his two-decade rule. Perhaps a cursory description of the magnitude will help illuminate the fruits of this perversion ending in 1986.

According to the Supreme Court estimate, Marcos had accumulated $10 billion while in office (The Guardian, Nick Davies, May 7, 2016),while his annual pay during those years averaged $13,500. Now, do the math!

Imelda Marcos boasted in 1990, taunting the Filipino, that “…there is more money the government is not yet aware of…we own practically everything in the Philippines”.

In the past 30 years, since the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) was created by the Cory Aquino government, it has retrieved money from five Swiss accounts, half a dozen crony companies, most of the coconut levy funds and proceeds from auctioned paintings, jewelry and real estate properties totaling $3.7 billion. Still far short of the estimated $10 billion loot.

I will not review the extent and methods of the plunder but would direct the reader to several links one of which was written on May 7, 2016 by Nick Davies of The Guardian, who was allowed by the PCGG to do research in its archives.

The focus of this piece is the implication of PRRD’s pronouncements. The President is as much frustrated as the citizenry who have been played by the Marcos family. But more importantly the people need to understand the anomalies and corruption underlining the hunt for the Marcos wealth. The 30-year saga could generate reams and books on the bungling on the part of the government and the dissipation of those sequestered Marcos assets placed under the incompetent hands and thieves in the PCGG, our government trustees. They have reduced the search-for-the-wealth narrative into “thieves stealing from thieves”.

Our culture of government service today is largely influenced by the legacy of the Martial Law years that we have yet to purge ourselves of. This innovative type of impunity can only be described as kleptocracy– the mass thievery by a cabal of political and economic leaders that sucked dry the marrow of the governed. This centralized corruption through “crony capitalism”, was a Marcos attempt to create his brand of oligarchy replacing that of the old. Marcos put in place his cronies not only in individual businesses but in control of whole industries: banking and financial services, coco-oil production refining and exports, sugar and banana plantations, state finance projects, infrastructure construction, etc. The Marcos wealth was dispersed among these few chosen few dummies, who after his exile and demise, compromised with a naïve Cory government to surrender portions and legitimize the rest of the ill-gotten assets still in their possession. Crony capitalism and its effects were so successful that the practice still resonates up to the present. “Businesses thrive not as a result of risk taken for them, but as a return on money amassed through a nexus between a business class and the political class”(Wikipedia). The residue can be glimpsed in the current oligarchy in control of political parties and elected officials thereby capturing key regulatory agencies.

But the Deegong’s pronouncements of late to accept a return of a “portion of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth” will have bigger reverberations on the body politic and especially for our millennials for generations to come. These are very disturbing.

This ill-gotten wealth was never acknowledged publicly by the Marcos family as stolen. A convenient euphemism is substituted. These assets instead were “borrowed for safekeeping” for the Filipino with presumably the intention of returning them at some future date. And this date has arrived. The family has been restored and thriving; Imelda, an elected representative of Ilocos Norte; Imee, provincial governor and Bongbong, who might just win an election protest and the vice presidency and could then move on to become the country’s President.

How about accountability and justice? And what of those who suffered human rights violations, torture and summary executions through those dark years. Should we just leave this to karma – that nebulous justice of the universe at some future date for retribution?

The question at bar is, how will the Deegong finally handle this? Is he as powerless and feeble as to accept this ridiculous euphemism of “borrowed assets for safekeeping” and play along with this mockery?

Mr. President, if you scour through social media, their message is clear, and simple. “Can you not apply your vaunted ‘tokhang’ solution to these high and mighty and just make samples of them too? Get the wealth back to your people and punish the plunderers the way you know how. We have given you 80 percent support despite the daily dead bodies of the dregs of society strewn in the streets nightly. What’s a few more?”

God forbid, that I may have to re-teach my grandchildren – crime does indeed pay! But don’t steal…just borrow for safekeeping, and return the same when able!

WILL it be easier, especially for the micro, small and medium (less than P100 million assets) enterprises to do business under a federal set-up? Since Federalism essentially means a smaller sovereign state (the region) within a larger sovereign state (the federal government) wouldn’t it make it harder for this economic sector, a sector that accounts for over 60 percent of our employment and makes up 99.5 percent of total enterprises, to do business? (These figures are a dead giveaway that MSMEs suffer from low productivity and that economic opportunities are concentrated in a few regions and a few (.5 percent) of the total number of enterprises.

 

Last week, the Center for Philippine Futuristics Studies and Management, Inc. held a conference with this theme where the keynote address was given by retired Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno. Speakers from Germany and Canada gave excellent inputs on their respective countries’ experience with federalism and business operations. Both have robust MSME sectors.
For the Philippines, since I too am an entrepreneur within this category and a strong advocate for federalism to equalize development opportunities to spread benefits and reduce poverty where it is raging (areas further from Metro Manila), I certainly desire that doing business be made simpler. Because the reality now, under a unitary government set-up is, it is clearly disadvantageous to the MSMEs, particularly those that are in the regions further from Manila. Why?

 

The first thing to note is that because NCR, Calabarzon and Central Luzon regions, just three regions out of 17 (PRRD nixed Negros Island Region last month), captured almost one-half of total government expenditure in 2016 and having the remaining 14 regions share in the remaining 50 percent, it is but a certainty that MSMEs in those 14 regions will struggle. For government itself is an important market for this sector and having smaller regional budgets deprives them of a more vigorous market for products and services that they can offer. Well, even in the NCR and its two neighboring regions in the north and south, because of the overly large expenditures, it makes it also difficult for MSMEs to muscle in on the big boys who are obviously well-connected and have easy access to government officials and natural resources.
Federalism assures a much better distribution of government expenditures and that alone will encourage MSMEs in other regions to sprout up and meet new demand for goods and services.

 

But what about business permits? Wouldn’t it be more difficult since now you would have local, regional and national offices to register with? Mr. Julian H. Payne, the president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said that in Canada a business registers with the appropriate set of government offices that is matched with its scope of operations. Meaning, if an enterprise will do business all over Canada, then it gets a federal registration and permits, while if it’s business is limited to one province (their term for a region) then the permits are only applied in that province.

 

If the Philippines had a federal government structure, then the bulk of the MSMEs would only need to register and be permitted mostly at the municipal and probably regional levels but not anymore at the national level. Even businesses that were only limited, say, to a barangay would only need to register and be permitted at that level. Can you imagine the explosion of new and creative enterprises when both expenditures are increased in faraway regions and it is much easier to register and get permits? Maybe this alone will be a big boost to stop our country’s shameful slide in its economic standing among comparable members of Asean where we are at the bottom of similar countries that did not have a wrenching war and its impacts to overcome. Not only do we have a low per capita GDP but according to the ADB, in 2016 only Myanmar and Laos had slightly higher poverty rates than the Philippines. So, we have low GDP and on top of that, it’s concentrated, leaving behind mostly crumbs or trickles for the majority, thus high poverty rates.

 

In Canada as in the US, states can make up their own sales tax and other income tax rates and a federal Philippines would be no different. A regional government, say, Region 8 which had a poverty rate of 37 percent in 2014, could determine a more attractive mix of taxes for the business sector and provide incentives for particular industries that make use of the local skills and resources in the area. They will be free to do that at the regional level which gives a sizable enough population (about 6 million people, or 1.2 million households) and combined with a heftier government budget will be an attractive enough market for regional and local enterprises to go after.

 

When surveyed, MSMEs in developed federal countries spend their energy dealing with the internal dynamics of the enterprises like labor productivity, R&D and innovation, making it more efficient and good enough to go global. Witness the great products from Thailand, etc. Here, because of a very centralized government, MSMEs report that most of their time is spent with external factors like business permits, corruption and taxes. Many transactions are handled by “facilitators and fixers” as red tape and delays can be legendary. This sucks away energy that could have been used to run a better MSME.
Yes, federalism bodes well for the MSME sector. Much more than our present unitary system where the data on their economic performance is very disappointing. Since we encourage our returning OFWs to venture into this sector, we must prepare for the ground to be more fertile that what it presently is.

 

A co-convenor of Subsidiarity Movement International, and Federalist Forum of the Philippines, the advocates for the bottom-up development model as well as proper decentralization; and the strengthening of regional governance. He served for 12 years in the Regional Development Council of Central Luzon as chair of the economic committee. He is a member of the board of advisors of CDPI.