Columns

Offline: We are seeing a repeat of the worst part of Marcos Sr’s regime

Don’t look now, but the Philippines may be seeing a repeat of the worst part of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos’s martial law regime. Not just the human rights violations, which were plentiful. Not the excesses of the then First Lady as well as his cronies. Not even the sheer wastefulness and extravagance of the entire administration.

What is happening now is the Philippines again being neck deep in debt, to the point that every man, woman, and child alive today owes the equivalent of more than P100,000.

For a majority of the people, personally owing the country’s lenders such a huge sum is a difficult concept to accept. The erroneous belief is that it is the government, not the people, who have to pay for the debts.

Ask the typical government or private sector employee if he or she is fully aware that the country’s debts will not go away. They have to be paid, even if it means deferring the payments over several decades. Sooner or later, the lender will tell the borrower to pay up, or else.

During the dictator’s time, the lenders were said to be either the evil World Bank or the demonic International Monetary Fund.

Today, it’s worse. Today it is China which has extended numerous loans to the government, be it directly or indirectly.

There are countries in Africa which willingly and readily borrowed from China some years back, and they are now paying the price. As they are unable to pay even in small amortizations, and they dare not tell mighty China that they simply refuse to pay because those loans were onerous in nature, they are forced to part with their patrimony.

Let’s see, you silly and stupid borrower. You have minerals or metals that China needs? Well how about you give us the title to those mines, good for, say, a century or two.

While we’re at it, hows about we also get your entire dollar reserves and all your gold bars stashed in Swiss banks?

And finally, we can only allow you to have as your president or prime minister our preferred candidate.

By the way, we are not giving you a choice. You do it our way or you cease to exist as a nation.

Comprende?

Now this is a scenario that hasn’t quite happened yet, but there are nations – not just in Africa – where China has the entire government by the balls.

The Philippines was headed in this direction during the time of Rodrigo Duterte. And now the country has Bongbong Marcos, who is only nominally better than the killer named Digong. At least Marcos Junior is steering the Philippines back to the loving arms of the US, while wanting to stay in bed with China.

Like Digong, Bongbong also has no qualms about borrowing more money than the Philippines can ever pay. This he does by submitting an annual budget in the trillions of pesos, a large chunk of which is certain to end up in the foreign bank accounts of the new cronies.

The annual budget is approved by Congress, and our lawmakers are of the same mindset as the president. Just set aside a few billions here and a few billions there, and make sure everybody’s happy.

Thus every administration with one or two exceptions spends more money than the revenues they collect. They leave it up to the next administration to take care of the loans they left behind.

The Marcos regime, Part 2 is following the same script. When a country’s debt runs in the hundreds of billions, it has nowhere to go but up. The country is currently neck deep in debt, to the tune of trillions of pesos.

At least there was one lawmaker who said last week that enough is enough.

For this, we have to thank Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto, who revealed in words most people can understand just how much of a mess the present administration has gotten the country into.

The lawmaker from Batangas said over the weekend that the proposed national budget of PHP5.767 trillion for 2024 translates to average daily spending of PHP15.8 billion.

Here’s the thing. The government will be spending close to PHP16 billion a day but only PHP11.7 will be supported by revenues.

So where does the rest come from?

From borrowings, folks. From borrowings.

Recto said the gap in income vs expenditures has to be translated in figures that Juan dela Cruz understands.

Unless someone knocks some sense into the chief executive’s somewhat thick head and forces him to rationalize government spending, the Republic of the Philippines will have to borrow PHP4,000,000,000 “every 24 hours.” With no means of paying it.

And because the Marcos regime, Part 2 is little more than a repeat of Part 1,  the public debt will continue to rise next year to the point that payment for interest alone will be PHP1.8 billion a day.

Look back at where the Philippines was before the first Edsa revolt. There may have been a political crisis, but it was the economic crisis that spurred the people to take action.

Many of the rich had been forced down to middle class status, the bulk of the middle class were feeling themselves poor, while the poor were so desperate that turning to a life of crime had become acceptable to them, if only to feed their families.

The question now is not, “Will Bongbong ever learn?” The real question is, “Can Bongbong ever learn?”

I submit that the answer is no. He has no comprehension of the most basic economic principle, which is to spend only what you earn. That’s how all households should be run, and it’s how the Philippine government must be run.

Incidentally, by spending only what you earn, the government can end up with what’s called a surplus, or simple savings for ordinary families. And guess what? It did happen in the recent past.

By the time he stepped down as chief executive of Philippines, Inc. Mr. Benigno Aquino III left behind a surplus of around PHP1 trillion.

He wasn’t exactly brilliant, either. Just honest.

He did not fool the people into believing the line used by the likes of Bongbong Marcos, Digong Duterte, and other presidents.

Someday, they said, the country’s income will exceed expenditures. A golden age is coming somewhere down the road. Just trust me and my administration. Me and my Cabinet, we know what we’re doing.

Other BS lines are that the huge expenditures are geared towards growth. Our debt-to-GDP ratio is just fine. Poverty will be eliminated by the end of my term.

The best proof that Marcos Jr is leading the Philippines on the road to ruin was his campaign promise to bring down the price of rice to PHP20 per kilo.

Anyone and everyone who understands agriculture economics knew that he was promising an impossibility.

Last I checked, the price of rice is more than double PHP20 a kilo and still rising.

The only thing I want to ask Ralph Recto is this: WTF are you still allied with Bongbong Marcos??