Filipinos nearly fit $630 million puzzle

The Philippine economic rescue package has moved closer to completion. But it is not yet finished. ''All parts of the jigsaw have to fit together,'' noted an official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is expecting to make a $630 million loan to the island nation.

President Ferdinand Marcos announced Saturday the IMF's acceptance of his country's ''letter of intent,'' which spelled out austerity measures aimed at restoring balance in the Philippines' international payments. (The letter was actually signed some two weeks earlier.)

The IMF loan, however, depends on agreement with some 483 commercial creditor banks on rescheduling some $15 billion of the country's $25.6 billion in foreign debts.

Philippine Prime Minister Cesar Virata and Central Bank Governor Jose Fernandez have been negotiating with the banks for about two weeks now. Mr. Virata has said he hopes to conclude the talks this week.

Beside rescheduling old debt, the Philippines expects to obtain $1.65 billion in new money from the banks and some $3 billion to $4 billion in trade credits.

Once the deal with the banks is signed, the United States, Japan, and South Korea will provide $80 million in stopgap loans until the first IMF credit comes through, which could take a few weeks.

In a national radio and television broadcast from his office, Mr. Marcos warned that the economic program required by the IMF would mean sacrifices for Filipinos. ''This program must mean nothing less than our resolve to live as a nation within our means,'' he said.

As part of the austerity plan, President Marcos announced removal of the strict foreign-exchange regulations that have hampered the economy for a year. These include a requirement that banks turn over 80 percent of their foreign exchange to the Central Bank to ensure imports of essential food, fuel, and other items, and for making interest payments on its foreign debt. The change will enable some manufacturers to acquire imported parts needed to expand or restart production.

Marcos also said the Philippine currency would be allowed to weaken to about 20 pesos to the US dollar. It was quoted last week at 18.45 to the dollar.

Philippine consumers will also face higher taxes on some luxury items and removal of price controls on certain foodstuffs - perhaps sparking public protests and further weakening political stability.

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