Economy
Republika g Pilipinas


Political Economy
Data as of June 1991
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Political Economy of Development


Economic Development Until 1970

In the mid-nineteenth century, a Filipino landowning elite developed on the basis of the export of abaca (Manila hemp), sugar, and other agricultural products. At the onset of the United States power in the Philippines in 1898-99, this planter group was cultivated as part of the United States military and political pacification program. The democratic process imposed on the Philippines during the American colonial period remained under the control of this elite. Access to political power required an economic basis, and in turn provided the means for enhancing economic power. The landowning class was able to use its privileged position directly to further its economic interests as well as to secure a flow of resources to garner political support and ensure its position as the political elite. Otherwise, the state played a minimal role in the economy, so that no powerful bureaucratic group arose that could pursue a development program independent of the wishes of the landowning class. This situation remained basically unchanged in the early 1990s.

At the time of independence in 1946, and in the aftermath of a destructive wartime occupation by Japan, Philippine reliance on the United States was even more apparent. To gain access to reconstruction assistance from the United States, the Philippines agreed to maintain its prewar exchange rate with the United States dollar and not to restrict imports from the United States. For a while the aid inflow from the United States offset the negative balance of trade, but by 1949, the economy had entered a crisis. The Philippine government responded by instituting import and foreign-exchange controls that lasted until the early 1960s.

Import restrictions stimulated the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing net domestic product (NDP at first grew rapidly, averaging 12 percent growth per annum in real terms during the first half of the 1950s, contributing to an average 7.7 percent growth in the GNP, a higher rate than in any subsequent five-year period. The Philippines had entered an import-substitution stage of industrialization, largely as the unintended consequence of a policy response to balance-of-payments pressures. In the second half of the 1950s, the growth rate of manufacturing fell by about a third to an average of 7.7 percent, and real GNP growth was down to 4.9 percent. Import demand outpaced exports, and the allocation of foreign exchange was subject to corruption. Pressure mounted for a change of policy.

In 1962 the government devalued the peso and abolished import controls and exchange licensing. The peso fell by half to P3.90 to the dollar. Traditional exports of agricultural and mineral products increased; however, the growth rate of manufacturing declined even further. Substantial tariffs had been put in place in the late 1950s, but they apparently provided insufficient protection. Pressure from industrialists, combined with renewed balance of payments problems, resulted in the reimposition of exchange controls in 1968. Manufacturing recovered slightly, growing an average of 6.1 percent per year in the second half of the decade. However, the sector was no longer the engine of development that it had been in the early 1950s. Overall real GNP growth was mediocre, averaging somewhat under 5 percent in the second half of decade; growth of agriculture was more than a percentage point lower. The limited impact of manufacturing also affected employment. The sector's share of the employed labor force, which had risen rapidly during the 1950s to over 12 percent, plateaued. Import substitution had run its course.

To stimulate industrialization, technocrats within the government worked to rationalize and improve incentive structures, to move the country away from import substitution, and to reduce tariffs. Movements to reduce tariffs, however, met stiff resistance from industrialists, and government efforts to liberalize the economy and emphasize export-led industrialization were largely unsuccessful.


Martial Law and its Aftermath, (1972-86)

The Philippines found itself in an economic crisis in early 1970, in large part the consequence of the profligate spending of government funds by President Marcos in his reelection bid. The government, unable to meet payments on its US$2.3 billion international debt, worked out a US$27.5 million standby credit arrangement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that involved renegotiating the country's external debt and devaluing the Philippine currency to P6.40 to the United States dollar. The government, unwilling and unable to take the necessary steps to deal with economic difficulties on its own, submitted to the external dictates of the IMF. It was a pattern that would be repeated with increasing frequency in the next twenty years.

In September 1972, Marcos declared martial law, claiming that the country was faced with revolutions from both the left and the right. He gathered around him a group of businessmen, used presidential decrees and letters of instruction to provide them with monopoly positions within the economy, and began channeling resources to himself and his associates, instituting what came to be called "crony capitalism." By the time Marcos fled the Philippines in February 1986, monopolization and corruption had severely crippled the economy.

In the beginning, this tendency was not so obvious. Marcos's efforts to create a "New Society" were supported widely by the business community, both Filipino and foreign, by Washington, and, de facto, by the multilateral institutions. Foreign investment was encouraged: an export-processing zone was opened; a range of additional investment incentives was created, and the Philippines projected itself onto the world economy as a country of low wages and industrial peace. The inflow of international capital increased dramatically.

A general rise in world raw material prices in the early 1970s helped boost the performance of the economy; real GNP grew at an average of almost 7 percent per year in the five years after the declaration of martial law, as compared with approximately 5 percent annually in the five preceding years. Agriculture performed better that it did in the 1960s. New rice technologies introduced in the late 1960s were widely adopted. Manufacturing was able to maintain the 6 percent growth rate it achieved in the late 1960s, a rate, however, that was below that of the economy as a whole. Manufactured exports, on the other hand, did quite well, growing at a rate twice that of the country's traditional agricultural exports. The public sector played a much larger role in the 1970s, with the extent of government expenditures in GNP rising by 40 percent in the decade after 1972. To finance the boom, the government extensively resorted to international debt, hence the characterization of the economy of the Marcos era as "debt driven."

In the latter half of the 1970s, heavy borrowing from transnational commercial banks, multilateral organizations, and the United States and other countries masked problems that had begun to appear on the economic horizon with the slowdown of the world economy. By 1976 the Philippines was among the top 100 recipients of loans from the World Bank and was considered a "country of concentration." Its balance of payments problem was solved and growth facilitated, at least temporarily, but at the cost of having to service an external debt that rose from US$2.3 billion in 1970 to more than US$17.2 billion in 1980.

There were internal problems as well, particularly in respect of the increasingly visible mismanagement of crony enterprises. A financial scandal in January 1981 in which a businessman fled the country with debts of an estimated P700 million required massive amounts of emergency loans from the Central Bank of the Philippines and other government-owned financial institutions to some eighty firms. The growth rate of GNP fell dramatically, and from then the economic ills of the Philippines proliferated. In 1980 there was an abrupt change in economic policy, related to the changing world economy and deteriorating internal conditions, with the Philippine government agreeing to reduce the average level and dispersion of tariff rates and to eliminate most quantitative restrictions on trade, in exchange for a US$200 million structural adjustment loan from the World Bank. Whatever the merits of the policy shift, the timing was miserable. Exports did not increase substantially, while imports increased dramatically. The result was growing debt-service payments; emergency loans were forthcoming, but the hemorrhaging did not cease.

It was in this environment in August 1983 that President Marcos's foremost critic, former Senator Benigno Aquino, returned from exile and was assassinated. The country was thrown into an economic and political crisis that resulted eventually, in February 1986, in the ending of Marcos's twenty-one-year rule and his flight from the Philippines. In the meantime, debt repayment had ceased. Real GNP fell more than 11 percent before turning back up in 1986, and real GNP per capita fell 17 percent from its high point in 1981. In 1990 per capita real GNP was still 7 percent below the 1981 level.


The Aquino Government

In 1986 Corazon Aquino focused her presidential campaign on the misdeeds of Marcos and his cronies. The economic correctives that she proposed emphasized a central role for private enterprise and the moral imperative of reaching out to the poor and meeting their needs. Reducing unemployment, encouraging small-scale enterprise, and developing the neglected rural areas were the themes.

Aquino entered the presidency with a mandate to undertake a new direction in economic policy. Her initial cabinet contained individuals from across the political spectrum. Over time, however, the cabinet became increasingly homogeneous, particularly with respect to economic perspective, reflecting the strong influence of the powerful business community and international creditors. The businesspeople and technocrats who directed the Central Bank and headed the departments of finance and trade and industry became the decisive voices in economic decision making. Foreign policy also reflected this power relationship, focusing on attracting more foreign loans, aid, trade, investment, and tourists.

It soon became clear that the plight of the people had been subordinated largely to the requirements of private enterprise and the world economy. As the president noted in her state-of- the-nation address in June 1989, the poor had not benefited from the economic recovery that had taken place since 1986. The gap between the rich and poor had widened, and the proportion of malnourished preschool children had grown.

The most pressing problem in the Philippine international political economy at the time Aquino took office was the country's US$28 billion external debt. It was also one of the most vexatious issues in her administration. Economists within the economic planning agency, the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), argued that economic recovery would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in a relatively short period if the country did not reduce the size of the resource outflows associated with its external debt. Large debt-service payments and moderate growth (on the order of 6.5 percent per year) were thought to be incompatible. A two-year moratorium on debt servicing and selective repudiation of loans where fraud or corruption could be shown were recommended. Business-oriented groups and their representatives in the president's cabinet vehemently objected to taking unilateral action on the debt, arguing that it was essential that the Philippines not break with its major creditors in the international community. Ultimately, the president rejected repudiation; the Philippines would honor all its debts.

Domestically, land reform was a highly contentious issue, involving economics as well as equity. NEDA economists argued that broad-based spending increases were necessary to get the economy going again; more purchasing power had to be put in the hands of the masses. Achieving this objective required a redistribution of wealth downward, primarily through land reform. Given Aquino's campaign promises, there were high expectations that a meaningful program would be implemented. Prior to the opening session of the first Congress under the country's 1987 constitution, the president had the power and the opportunity to proclaim a substantive land reform program. Waiting until the last moment before making an announcement, she chose to provide only a broad framework. Specifics were left to the new Congress, which she knew was heavily represented by landowning interests. The result - a foregone conclusion - was the enactment of a weak, loophole-ridden piece of legislation.

The most immediate task for Aquino's economic advisers was to get the economy moving, and a turn around was achieved in 1986. Economic growth was low (1.9 percent), but it was positive. For the next two years, growth was more respectable - 5.9 and 6.7 percent, respectively. In 1986 and 1987, consumption led the growth process, but then investment began to increase. In 1985 industrial capacity utilization had been as low as 40 percent, but by mid-1988 industries were working at near full capacity. Investment in durable goods grew almost 30 percent in both 1988 and 1989, reflecting the buoyant atmosphere. The international community was supportive. Like domestic investment, foreign investment did not respond immediately after Aquino took office, but in 1987 it began to pick up. The economy also was helped by foreign aid. The 1989 and 1991 meetings of the aid plan called the Multilateral Aid Initiative, also known as the Philippine Assistance Plan, a multinational initiative to provide assistance to the Philippines, pledged a total of US$6.7 billion.

Economic successes, however, generated their own problems. The trade deficit rose rapidly, as both consumers and investors attempted to regain what had been lost in the depressed atmosphere of the 1983-85 period. Although debt-service payments on external debt were declining as a proportion of the country's exports, they remained above 25 percent. And the government budget deficit ballooned, hitting 5.2 percent of GNP in 1990.

The 1988 GNP grew 6.7 percent, slightly more than the government plan target. Growth fell off to 5.7 percent in 1989, then plummeted in 1990 to just over 3 percent. Many factors contributed to the 1990 decline. The country was subjected to a prolonged drought, which resulted in the increased need to import rice. In July a major earthquake hit Northern Luzon, causing extensive destruction, and in November a typhoon did considerable damage in the Visayas. There were other, more human, troubles also. The country was attempting to regain a semblance of order in the aftermath of the December 1989 coup attempt. Brownouts became a daily occurrence, as the government struggled to overcome the deficient power-generating capacity in the Luzon grid, a deficiency that in the worst period was below peak demand by more than 300 megawatts and resulted in outages of four hours and more. Residents of Manila suffered both from a lack of public transportation and clogged and overcrowded roadways; garbage removal was woefully inadequate; and, in general, the city's infrastructure was in decline. Industrial growth fell from 6.9 percent in 1989 to 1.9 percent in 1990; growth investment in 1990 in both fixed capital and durable equipment declined by half when compared with the previous year. Government construction, which grew at 10 percent in 1989, declined by 1 percent in 1990.

The Aquino administration appeared to be unable to work with the Congress to enact an economic package to overcome the country's economic difficulties. In July, as the government deficit soared Secretary of Finance Jesus Estanislao introduced a package of new tax measures. Then in October, stalemated with Congress, Aquino agreed to seek a reduction in the budget gap without new taxes. The agreement met with resistance from the Congress for being an onorous imposition on an economy in crisis, growth would be stifled and the poor would be impacted negatively. The willingness of the Congress to pass the tax package called for in the IMF agreement was in doubt. In 1990 Congress placed a 9 percent levy on all imports to provide revenues until an agreement could be reached with the administration on a tax package. In February 1991, however, it was learned that in its agreement with the IMF for new standby credits, the government had promised that it would indeed implement new taxes.

Accusations were widespread in Manila's press about the 1990-91 impasse. On the one hand, it was claimed that Aquino and her advisers had no economic plan; on the other hand, the Congress was said to be unwilling to work with the president. Traditional political patterns appeared to be reasserting themselves, and the technocrats had little ultimate influence. One study of the first Congress elected under the 1987 constitution showed that only 31 out of 200 members of the House of Representatives, were not previously elected officials or directly related to the leader of a traditional political clan. Business interests directly influenced the president to overrule already established policies, as in the 1990 program to simplify the tariff structure. Business and politics have always been deeply interwoven in the Philippines; crony capitalism was not a deviant model, but rather the logical extreme of a traditional pattern. As the Philippines entered the 1990s, the crucial question for the economy was whether the elite would limit its political activities to jockeying for economic advantage or would forge its economic and political interests in a fashion that would create a dynamic economy.

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