A celebration of failure
The renaming by the University of the Philippines of its College of Business Administration as the Cesar E.A. Virata School of Business is a celebration of failure. It gives the wrong lesson to our people and especially to our youth.
Virata served as finance minister of the Marcos regime, in full charge of the economy in 1972-1986—a 16-year period of unmitigated economic and political decline for the Philippines. This period covered the entire 14-year dictatorship that was indelibly marked by crony corruption and human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, tortures and disappearances.
As “prime minister” in 1981-1986, Virata was just a figurehead with no real power because governmental power was concentrated for all practical and legal purposes in the hands of President Ferdinand Marcos. Under the 1973 Constitution instituting a semi-parliamentary government, Marcos was both president and prime minister, authorized to issue decrees with the “force of law.” The interim national assembly was a mere rubber stamp.
In 1981 Marcos had himself “reelected” in a presidential election that was boycotted by the real opposition. He then appointed Virata as the prime minister, but kept the power to make laws to himself. Virata was “head of government” only in name and not even in ceremony, for Marcos kept even that for himself, knowing that the trappings of power are as important as its exercise. That Virata lent his name to such a farce is by itself questionable as to motivation.
Virata was simultaneously the finance minister; thus, he had virtual complete control over the management and direction of the national economy. Marcos kept a tight rein on the military and the political bureaucracy as the main props of power, but practically left economic management to the technocrats led by Virata, a former dean of the UP School of Business.
This was a smart move. Marcos knew that the economy was the main interest of his foreign backers (the United States, International Monetary Fund, World Bank), and that so long as they had full sway over the economic program and the distribution of profits and resources, they would back him politically and financially.
Virata recruited the “technocrats” from the academe, especially UP, most of them grantees of economics and government scholarships from US learning institutions. They were as a rule pliant agents of the America-led international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, of which Virata was a member of the board of governors. So how did they perform?
“The technocrats who formulated the Philippine development strategy under … Marcos did not challenge the country’s [unequal] economic and political order. On the contrary, that order provided the fulcrum for their pursuit of development ‘from above,’” said James K. Boyce, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, in his book “The Political Economy of Growth and Impoverishment in the Marcos Era.”
What was the result of this development strategy formulated by the technocrats whose high priest was Virata? Boyce declared: “Grafted to the rootstock of the unjust social order, the technocratic development of strategy in the Philippines bore the bitter fruit of impoverishment.”
Since the aim of all economic development is to substantially reduce, if not eliminate, poverty, then the economic strategy or program adopted by Virata and his technocrats can only be considered a dismal and utter failure.
In an effort to cover up UP’s direct violation of the law in naming a building after a living person, UP vice president for public affairs Prospero de Vera deceptively told the Inquirer (6/13/13) that it was an “educational component” or program, and not the college, that was named after Virata. But this economic program is an absolute failure insofar as our people, its supposed intended beneficiaries, are concerned.
The Boyce study was commissioned by the Development Centre of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as a component of its Research Program on Economic Choices before the Developing Countries. Dr. Keith Griffin, editor of the research program series, writes in the foreword to Boyce’s book:
“The development policies pursued in the Philippines resulted in the impoverishment of the already poor, the plunder of the economy’s natural resources, massive foreign indebtedness by the state to finance private capital flight and an enormous enrichment of a tiny minority.” (“External debt rose from $360 million in 1962 to $28.3 billion in 1986, making the Philippines one of the most heavily indebted countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America,” said Boyce.)
The illustrious UP economists and officials may disagree with these findings of the OECD study, but it cannot be denied that the vast majority of the Filipino people, in ousting Marcos, Virata and their technocrats from power in 1986, agreed with those findings and conclusions. They voted against the regime with their mouths, feet and fists.
As finance minister and figurehead prime minister, Virata almost yearly received commendations as “Best Finance Minister” of Asia and the world from the IMF, World Bank, ADB and Western financial publications. Yet the outcome proved them wrong.
The Inquirer in an editorial (6/15/13) correctly branded as “historical revisionism” the UP decision to honor Virata, because it went against the expressed judgment of our people, and blatantly ignored the courage and sacrifices of UP students and faculty who had opposed the dictatorship at the risk of life and career.
It also gave the wrong lesson to our people and our youth—that long service in a high government position is merit enough to be honored, no matter if that service is rank with incompetence and loyal support of a corrupt and brutal authoritarianism. This is unworthy of the highest institution of learning supported by the people’s money and which had stood for decades as the nation’s repository of wisdom, idealism and patriotism.
Manuel F. Almario (email@example.com) is a veteran journalist, semi-retired. He is spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in History (Rizal’s Moth).