EDITORIAL: Debt-defying

That an ordinary Filipino can live and die without ever seeing even 1% of the staggering ten billion dollars that the Marcoses stole should not be surprising.

But when the Marcoses doubled that amount in debt, they condemned millions of Filipinos to a lifetime of paying off what they can never benefit from, much less imagine.

A billion dollars is a difficult amount to picture for most Filipinos who have likely never even seen a dollar bill. Counting to one million, with one number for every second, would take 11 days. Counting to ten billion would take nearly 317 years. This is how much the Marcoses stole. This is what they call their golden age. 

Now with Philippine debt set to balloon to P13.7 trillion in President Rodrigo Duterte’s final year in office, another generation of Filipinos will be shouldering the government’s borrowed money while the material conditions that keep them poor remain. 

This is the kind of crime spanning multiple lifetimes that only the dictator Ferdinand Marcos – and now President Duterte – can claim. And should they ever converse in the afterlife on the ways they kept the Filipino people gridlocked in poverty, they should only be speaking from prison cell to prison cell in the deepest pits of hell. 

That is a place that they have reserved for their intentional and almost unimaginable acts of corruption and greed, tacking on their names to the long list of ruling elites that have perpetuated the country’s systemic poverty. 

In his mad dash to leave a legacy behind, Marcos took on foreign loans with his deluded fantasy to construct buildings and complexes in his name. In his push to develop infrastructure, the World Bank among other international private banks and foreign investors supplied the Marcoses with the funding for their scheme. Between 1973 to 1981, the dictator borrowed $2.6 billion – a debt never seen before. Marcos used this to fuel his development plans, but most of these sham projects, which a 1986 UP School of Economics reporter deemed “unproductive” and “not viable to begin with,” never saw the light of day.

Marcos pocketed around 33% of these loans during his term. The $2.3 billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), his most expensive project, never produced a single kilowatt of energy after being shut down for standing on a major fault line. 

This edifice complex makes its return with the current administration’s mammoth Build, Build, Build program. The Duterte government, which early on promised “a golden age of infrastructure,” has signed onerous Chinese loan agreements that include the P12.1 billion Kaliwa Dam project

Duterte fell for China’s debt trap – hook, line and sinker, even though it was completely avoidable. Similar to China’s other foreign ventures, the Philippines ended up victim to its scam infrastructure development projects, which the Eastern power is using to fortify its race to become the world’s next new hegemon. In his wanting to be part of this new wave, Duterte allied himself with his northern neighbors, with whom we ‘share one sea with’. 

A 2018 study by the Center for Global Development revealed eight countries at high risk of developing high debt from their Chinese loans. The study also projects the debt they will incur in the upcoming years, a chilling similarity to the debts we still shoulder from Marcos’ crazed borrowing addiction. 

Despite all this money in his hands, Duterte still endangers the lives of millions of Filipinos in his failure to come up with a sound strategy for battling the COVID-19 pandemic. As of writing, the Philippines has nearly 280,000 cases of the coronavirus, surpassing Indonesia whose population is double ours. Unemployment continues to rise as 4.6 million Filipinos are jobless at a time when they need their income the most. 

The government’s decision to focus on ineffective and insensitive solutions have left its constituents to deal with the pandemic solely on their own. That the administration had railroaded the draconian and unconstitutional Anti-Terrorism Law, had shut down the country’s largest media organization and had pardoned a murderer, all while millions appeal for an end to the health crisis show that there is no more recourse left in government if there ever was to begin with.

The Duterte administration has fully turned against the people by violating basic human rights and crushing democracy under its foot.

Just as Duterte and Marcos share the same fascist tactics to keep people in line, it is apparent that Duterte is also shaping up to rival Marcos in being the most criminal overspender in the history of Philippine governance. 

Their summed-up loans will crush any hopes of growth for the Filipino and alleviating these debts is something we probably will not see in our lifetimes.

But to merely count the years for how long we will be paying off debt is not enough. To draw parallels between the Marcos and Duterte regime is not enough.

We should be reimagining a different way to end the current dictatorial rule, one that will not end in celebratory confetti and the same elite-dominated government taking over the old one. 

While multiple lifetimes will be spent paying off Marcos’ and Duterte’s debt, people’s lives should not just be spent grinding ax to stone. These people, while often downplayed to numbers and statistics, have value beyond merely paying taxes.

The masses, too, are keeping their own ledger that tallies all the crimes that the government has committed against the people. 

All sectors have witnessed and travailed Duterte’s compulsive borrowing. We have shouldered the impacts of his dictatorship for too long. We cannot hold on any longer hoping that another branch of government will keep the president in line.

Together, we have marched to the streets, calling for the change that was promised to come. We have raised our fists to overthrow previous corrupt leaders and we have kicked them out of the palace. 

Now, the same tyranny is unfolding before our eyes. The same injustices and crimes against humanity are repeating.

Likewise, we must repeat our battlecry. We cannot wait for the new election to come and prolong this culture of fascism and dictatorship. Duterte has endangered too many of us for us to simply observe. We cannot allow ourselves to be desensitized from this administration’s ruthless despotism and impediment of human rights.

As the Duterte administration continues to kill more lives, he has cemented his place in a figurative prison cell that sits side by side the very dictator he buried as a hero.

In Duterte’s trial in hell, there is only one verdict. The people whose lives they took will give the final judgment.

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