IMF tries to chaperon Philippine government out of its economic turmoil

For the next year or more, the government of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines will be on a short financial leash. Step by step, the Marcos regime will be required to reform the country's economic structure under an agreement announced Dec. 16 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In return, the Washington-based agency promises to provide

The reforms will not be easy for this politically-troubled nation. And Mr. Marcos must still gain the confidence of foreign governments and private foreign and domestic banks in order to obtain some $3.3 billion in new loans.

The IMF credit is just a first step in a long process of restructuring the nation's huge $26 billion foreign debt. In the meantime, the IMF is only promising the first of six installments on its loan, with the other five parts hinged on how well President Marcos implements the reforms.

These reforms consist of belt-tightening measures which will further debilitate the economy: new tax measures, reduced money supply, high interest rates, static wages. These terms were laid down in the letter of intent submitted to the IMF by Prime Minister Cesar Virata and Central Bank Governor Jose Fernandez.

Filipino consumers, already burdened by high prices and wages that barely keep up with basic expenses, will be assaulted by another round of price increases. The increases, coupled with dissent over government policies and anger at abuses, presents a volatile situation.

This may help the growing radical movement earn more sympathizers. It is also considered doubtful that the seal of good housekeeping the IMF gave to the Philippines will bring foreign as well as local investment needed to propel the economic engine.

Banker Ramon del Rosario, president of the medium-sized Asian Bank, said the local business community is adopting a wait-and-see attitude, reluctant to put in more capital. At the root of this is lack of confidence in President Marcos and his government.

''Until that basic issue (of confidence) is resolved, investors will not bring in money,'' Mr. del Rosario said.

Presidential elections are still far off - scheduled for 1987 - and Marcos has seemed to bounce back to health after one of his longest absences from office.

Many businessmen want a change in leadership. Some of them, sympathetic to the opposition, are even helping to evolve a scheme whereby the opposition can field a common candidate should Marcos leave office before 1987.

The opposition, at present, is still unable to unify because of ideological as well as personal differences. They, too, are not elated by the IMF loan approval. In the newly-elected National Assembly, the opposition chides Marcos for not consulting with it on the IMF terms and for not revealing the contents of the letter of intent beforehand.

A visible fault of government, businessmen say, is its wasteful spending of a large part of the borrowed money. While the money should have gone into productive resources, they claim, much of the foreign loan went to ''monuments, '' such as luxury hotels, a nuclear power plant, and a massive film center, among others.

Another complaint is that Marcos has not been required to dismantled state monopolies over prime commodities, especially sugar and coconut, and which are owned or controlled by close associates of Marcos.

With current lending rates for short-term funds at a high of more than 50 percent, many businesses are slackening off operations. Eventually, many foresee that even the few remaining stable companies will have to take drastic cost-cutting measures. This will mean increased layoffs early next year and a higher rate of joblessness.

The IMF arrangement makes sure the Philippine government undertakes swift and harsh moves to generate enough foreign exchange to pay its foreign debt. The program the IMF has imposed, many claim, suits more the convenience of the lenders than the promotion of the economy of the borrowing nation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Arturo Tolentino hit at the IMF impositions for ''impoverishing nations. We are getting further into indebtedness.''

The targets set by the IMF are ''ambitious,'' some point out. For example, export earnings have been projected to increase in 1985 while imports are to be allowed to decline.

The IMF approval of the loan came after more than a year of difficult negotiations. The Philippine government was unable to negotiate from a position of strength due to its lack of popular support, inept economic performance, and a gross miscalculation of its foreign reserves.

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