Marcos: more 'show' than progress

When Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law 7 1/2 years ago and unveiled his "New Society," he told his nation that it would trade its political rights for economic ones.

His ambitious development schemes reveal not only the problems endemic to developing countries, but also pitfalls of the government's own making.

For all his planning and effort to improve management, the Philippines' economic problems are growing.

The country's $9 billion foreign debt is heading upward and the economy is falling increasingly under World Bank and International Monetary Fund strictures. The military, which has almost doubled in size in the last 10 years , has created a big drain on the economy. Oil costs -- the government's suggested cause for all its troubles -- continue to rise, and copra, its main export, faces an unsteady world market.

What President Marcos has proved is that an American- style technostructure -- which he has transposed to the Philippines and combined with "palabas" (a Philippine proclivity toward ostentatious show) and a measure of corruption -- does not make the New Society any different from the old.

The Marcos agenda focuses on economic and social development. And it should be noted that his programs have resulted in some progress:

The Luzon rice area has undergone a modicum of land reform, rice production has increased, and the country is moving ahead with rural electrification. This year Mindanao, the large southern Philippine island, will receive $52 million for hydroelectric power from the Asian Development Bank.

But there are serious problems in almost all of the Marcos plans.

Raul de Guzman, dean of the School of Public Administration at the University of the Philippines, writes that previously independent private and public organizations, in addition to local governments, have been absorbed by the rigidly hierarchical federal government and now function as extensions of that government.

The Manila-based bureaucracy -- top-heavy with technocrats and development czars -- often misunderstanding national needs and popular will, he says.

One of the planning mistakes is the Sahaya housing project in Zamboanga City. Muslim fisherman have torn out the flush toilets the government installed, preferring to use the ocean tides beneath their stilt-supported houses for waste disposal. The government had spent 13 percent of its housing funds on the unwanted sewerage system.

Another obvious problem is the President's wife's marked penchant for palabas. As minister of Human Ecology and Settlements, Imelda Marcos has sponsored expensive, smallscale "pilot projects" and used them chiefly to impress foreign visitors and World Bank loan officers.

For example, a model fishing village for 50 families under construction near Davao City will have paved roads -- even though none of the residents owns an car and many of the city's main thoroughfares are in serious disrepair.

Her Ministry of Human Settlements has nearly swallowed up the country's development funds. Many bureaucrats speculate it will absorb five existing ministries and resemble the former US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

But probably the most serious potholes in the road to Philippine development are corruption and manipulation of the economy to benefit government leaders.

A report by an anonymous group of businessmen now circulating in Manila documents how President Marcos and a few family members and friends have seized control of large segments of the economy and cenmtralized corruption. Contractors and petty bureaucrats willingly go along. Davao City residents joke that you can measure the profit in a road by the gaps in the asphalt.

The diversity of projects under government agencies, as well as their size, is confusing.

The southern Philippines Development Administration, the country's main development agency in Mindanao, simply cannot cope with all its operations, which range from tractor leasing to ice houses.

Lack of effective control has led to serious exploitation of the agricultural resources. One former plantation manager estimates that in less than 10 years Japanese and American multinationals will have exhausted huge tracts of leased land and moved on to other nations. Lumber interests are still denuding the forests and destroying the area's watersheds.

The most efficient programs seem to be those under the Ministry of Social Services and Development. Its socialwork-style programs do not invite the political interference that housing and construction projects do. But they also have a low priority in the federal budget.

In this nation government agencies use phrases popular among development planners: "local initiative," "organizational management," and "indigenous resources." But under President Marcos, it is clear they are mostly rhetoric.

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