The mothballing of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant had tremendous, far-reaching consequences that have yet to be fully accounted for and calculated, or, for that matter, grasped. How, for instance, did it contribute to the economic tribulations and decline of the Philippines? When President Ferdinand Marcos pleaded to President Cory Aquino, his successor, to push for the operation of the plant he built and not waste it, he did so realizing the extremely detrimental repercussions of mothballing the plant. The facility after all was a most-ambitious project bankrolled through an enormous foreign loan which was to be paid back by the government in thirty years. Marcos’ pleadings fell on deaf ears.
By not operating the BNPP, we have actually sacrificed and forfeited all potential benefits, including revenues, direct and indirect, arising from it— revenues which should have paid for the massive monthly installments. Servicing the debt without these revenues, the national treasury was practically leaking dry by as much. By how much, let us attempt at a very rough estimate.
I was googling for some official data but I could not find them, like how much interest rate was paid, terms of payment and other relevant data. All I got is some facts from Wiki: It cost $2.3B payable in 30 years. Using an online loans calculator at default 4.5%, we calculate a monthly payment of $ 11.7M. Assuming our base figures were spot-on, or within reasonable range, it would mean that we were actually paying the creditors that much every month, roughly $ 388,000 a day— for thirty years. So how much did we pay our creditors in nominal (not adjusted to inflation) amount for thirty years? $4.2B!
Meaning, not only did we throw away all potential benefits, we also created a sinkhole through which our financial resources poured out. Thus, the first tragedy of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is that of Filipino taxpayers paying a humongous bill of $4.2B FOR NOTHING! Yes, $4.2B FOR NOTHING! That is practically equivalent to being robbed of $4.2B!
The second tragedy is this: imagine what the $4.2B could have done for the economy if it were utilized instead for, say, upgrading and expanding infrastructure over this long period. As it happened, government spending on vital sectors was severely constrained due to a huge debt service obligation eating up on the national budget, the bulk of which related to the nuke plant. In fact, the present worsening malfunction in government service could well trace much of their origin to inadequate and decrepit infrastructure that was a result of a buildup in backlog in unfunded essentials over the years.
The third tragedy is in having forever lost that one golden opportunity for developing a seamless energy development program that would have established a dependable power supply base, kept power rates at low levels and reduced dependence on imported fuel. Sayang.
What’s more, freezing the plant predictably created an immense gap in energy supply which subsequently engendered a branching chain of adverse effects, short term and long term. It is doubtful if these consequences were ever truly and seriously pondered upon before the decision was arrived at. Because power plants take many years to build, replacing the breach left by it was by no means forthcoming, thus day-long blackouts came rolling in like a scourge, distinguishing the last years of the first Aquino administration. How much damage the blackouts wreaked on the economy, we could never truly measure.
Fidel Ramos came to the rescue upon assuming the presidency in 1992. It was kapit sa patalim as expected, the result being exorbitant contracts with independent power producers by which we are bound until when. Having costly power has its own severe penalties. For example, because investors count cost of power as one of the major factors before pouring investments, we would expectedly be at the losing end in the competition to attract foreign investors. Even local investors are shunning away from power- dependent industries, for obvious reasons. Well, to be sure, practically all productive efforts in all sectors are weighed down by the heavy burden of high power cost. In a globalizing economy where open competition is theoretically the rule, we could well go under because high power rate is such a crippling disadvantage.
The other tragedy pertains to individual opportunities lost which are even more incalculable. To make a simple case, how much could a family have saved from its electric bills over the years, if the plant had been operated? Multiply that by the number of households that have been using electricity and the cost of lost opportunities for each of them.
As it is, today we have the highest power rate in the region. Yet, we may still top that in a few years. Widespread rolling power outages are already certain by next year and no remedy is in sight.
Indeed, the BNPP is a heartbreaking story of a myriad, uncountable lost opportunities and billions of pesos that went down the drain. When you look for reasons why the Filipinos are today mired in poverty, it helps to understand the ill effects of mothballing the plant which could have otherwise been our vehicle for achieving progress.
But then we’d rather blame everything on corruption…
Accomplishments and the verdict of history
Just as time heals all wounds, so too time provides a better perspective from where to view the entire picture. The benefit of hindsight and the advantage of comparison comes at hand. There too are startling revelations that have since emerged piece by piece from the woodwork completing some of the missing fragments. Then there’s the younger generation with its more detached and less involved disposition.
As it is, the younger set must be profoundly baffled that the President its elders call evil has to his name a long, long list of sterling achievements unmatched even by his successors put together. It is an incongruous picture. He can’t be evil who was into building schools, bridges and highways, dams and irrigation systems, hospitals and medical centers, science and technology research centers, power plants, culture and arts hubs and many more, on such a massive scale at such a rapid, resolute pace. He can’t be malevolent who was working hard presiding over the implementation of wide-ranging strategic programs formulated by some of the best minds in their particular fields. Indeed, one with some knowledge in economics and government would readily see a leader endeavoring to set down the groundwork and the basic building blocks of development. Any which way you look now, these could not be the handiwork of one with a depraved mind out to destroy a country.
The anti-Marcos forces love to recount just how Marcos allegedly wreaked havoc on the nation by declaring Martial Law and assuming dictatorial powers in 1972 and thereafter leading the massive pillage of the economy. In fact, all our failings they attribute to that point in history. But they probably need to work harder to sell this assertion to the younger set now, by offering more particulars and details on, say, how pillage and ruin were carried out, and how such other crimes were pulled off. Sweeping, across-the-board allegations often bordering on hate mongering do not cut it anymore. The young have grown bored over constant declarations that Marcos is a crook but would not offer ironclad evidence to back it up.
What’s more, how does the present compare with those times to impress the young minds? A dysfunctional government of happy incompetents and moral hypocrites. Poverty and hunger getting worse and spreading. Infrastructure crumbling. Basic commodities so expensive. Massive unemployment. Decreasing productivity. Dismal investments. Decrepit armed forces. Endemic corruption. High cost of power (one of the highest in the world) and soon, rotating blackouts. Rising criminality. And more, all indicative of deterioration.
Hey, if Marcos should indeed be blamed for anything, it goes without saying that after his departure, which was nearly thirty years ago, things should have become much better now— but no. The more perceptive ones among the younger set likely understands that if not for the foreign remittances of Filipinos working abroad, among them their parents and relatives, we would be long bankrupt, a failed state. The most compelling repudiation being, how have we fallen so far behind our neighbors in the region where even Vietnam is posing to overtake us– after Marcos. The ‘plunderer’ is long gone, for Gods sake, what happened?
In the end, Marcos will be judged by his accomplishments and by how he compares with the other Presidents. The younger set of historians has yet to peruse mountains of documents, aside from those that have since become public, to make an objective and rational judgment. But I believe he would be vindicated. Facts will eventually win over overused propaganda. Rational, well thought out argument will triumph over the screeching noisiness of the intellectually and morally conceited.
Marcos certainly had his failings and mistakes, as a President and as an individual. But it is one thing to accuse a President of wrong policies, bad judgment, mistaken strategies or errors in implementation which resulted in devastating consequences. It is another to attribute a chronic malignancy of the mind and character, to think him as constantly in the act of devising evil schemes to destroy and gain riches for himself, and to accuse him of all sorts of grievous crimes, altogether implying that the man is one the baddest man who ever lived.
Hidden wealth, plundered wealth
It is a story of a shrinking loot. In 1986, it was estimated at a mind-boggling $30B. Ten years later, it was down to $20B. In another decade, $10B. (Lately, it has been $5B- $10B, perhaps preparing to reduce it further to $5B?) Still, a gargantuan amount by any measure.
The assertion that Marcos plundered the National Treasury proceeds crudely from these premises: Marcos owns only X pesos based on income according to his Income Tax Returns. Yet he has X dollars hid in various bank accounts around the world plus other countless expensive properties massively disproportionate to his means. Therefore, he plundered the Treasury.
Logic 101 though would demand that to make that conclusion, at least one more premise should be present: Marcos has/had no other source. Yet on the issue of Marcos wealth, this seems like an acceptable omission, a given, thus it need not even be stated. Should you counter, “but there could be other sources?” you are likely to be jeered: “… you too believe that yarn that he got it from Yamashita, idiot?!”
Whatever it is, a yarn or a true story, real or imagined, logic is logic. The premise that Marcos has had no other source should be verified as true, along with the other premises, before the conclusion assumes validity and correctness. Else, it is just that: a wealth unexplained. To assert unexplained therefore plunder— is an illogic.
In the spirit of truth and justice, one would be asked to explain: okay, if this was not plundered from the treasury, how in heaven’s name did you get this wealthy? Unfortunately, the one who should do the explaining is dead, long dead and refrigerated. Is it correct to assume that the wife or children should know everything? To his credit, soon after his ouster and when fuzzy details about his colossal wealth were starting to be exposed, he offered to explain: let me come home and I will respond to your accusations, he implored. Sadly, in vain.
It would be interesting to know how the post 86 generation think of this case.
I suggested not just once in online forums that to make a clear case of plunder, an exhaustive audit of the big transactions during the regime should be done for it would inevitably show how plunder was committed if plunder really occurred. Stolen funds show up as overprice or as ghost projects/purchases or as some grafting innovation which any competent and keen accountant could easily spot. Since we are talking here of an estimated 10 billion dollars, roughly equivalent to a few hundred billions of pesos, plunder of this magnitude should be leaving its trail as wide as a ten lane superhighway. That would be useful to affirm the claim that Marcos looted the Treasury in billions of dollars and the young would be more believing instead of buying into anecdotes they come across from time to time on the Internet about wartime gold bars finding their way into the underground rooms of Marcos ancestral home.
At a time when any comparable project has not seen realization for so long, the young are certainly mystified and fascinated at how such a supposedly ultra-rapacious President while virtually scooping out the entire contents of the Treasury like the bandit of old could yet build a stupendous array of ambitious, strategic infrastructure projects all at once.
TO BE CONTINUED
Human rights violations
The anti-Marcos forces never miss a beat in portraying Marcos as a ruthless, bloodthirsty ogre when it comes to human rights. To drive home this Marcosian malevolence, they recount, with standard tearful sympathies and indignant spiels, horror stories of poor, pitiful folks at some far-away, impoverished village or nearby slum areas having had gruesome encounters with abusive and corrupt men in uniform during the time. A young maiden raped, a factory worker tortured, a village burned, a farmer missing… In emotional times, this propaganda strategy could work wonders to fan the flames, but for today’s young far removed from the time and scene of the crime, this looks kinda foolish. The badness and wrongs of the men on the field could not be the badness and wrongs of a President.
Not to mention, there are muddling matters to consider. When it came to fighting the forces of government, the insurgents certainly understood warfare strategies, played it hard and dirty too, with cunning and ferocity. Human rights was used on occasion as an ingenious shield and a propaganda ploy to win the mind of the public. Indeed, a missing student could well have been a combatant who died in a battle. A razed community could have been a rebel base. A social worker assisting a poor community could be a rebel recruiter. A labor organizer an urban commando leader. So, on this issue, it is necessary to be mindful that propaganda and the authentic could have gotten mixed up.
In any case, the question really is not whether there were human rights violations or not because even Marcos acknowledged it then. In fact, he created independent bodies to investigate allegations of this nature and several were accordingly served punishment. The question should be as regards the extent of his responsibility. How much or how far should he— or any President for that matter—- be held answerable to the individual offenses and crimes of the men in the field — beyond command responsibility? I guess the other issue perplexing the young today is, why the inconsistency? If human rights violations is the true issue, and we go by the principle of command responsibility, why the distinctive rage and retribution being directed on Marcos and Marcos alone? Certainly, the problem on human rights violations dogged every President after him, at some point even grew worse. There’s got to be some reason why human rights advocates could be so fitfully indignant as to be calling on godly furies to fall on one President yet silent, tolerant and forgiving, even unmindful on the same issue with Cory, FVR, Erap, GMA, and Noynoy. I think that one needs some explaining especially to the youth.
Just recently, a law was passed to provide a P10B compensation package for alleged Marcos victims. In a program that celebrated the historic signing of the bill into law, President Aquino sure enough went to town declaiming about justice being finally served the victims of Marcos atrocities. If unwittingly, however, the reparation initiative succeeded too in unmasking the identities of the supposed “ten thousand victims of Martial Law”, a catch-all label that lumped them all into one for effect and also hid individual identities. As it turns out, with a little sleuthing, about 95% of the recognized claimants are members of a Communist allied organization, SELDA. Incidentally, the list also included the former Communist Party Chair, Prof. Joma Sison, now safely ensconced in Netherlands since his release from jail where occasionally he tries to rally his communist confederates. The bewildered youth must be saying, “and we thought you were telling us these Communists were pests, why then are we giving them money in billions yet! Marcos gave them hell and you dishonor him for it!”
TO BE CONTINUED
The remnants of the anti-Marcos forces which remain a multitude are astir these days, gritting their teeth and pulling their hair. Ever since Imelda stated her wish that her son, Bongbong, would run for the Presidency in 2016, and with any luck wins, something came alive and they don’t like it. Pro-Marcos groups, earlier taking shape mostly below the radar, seemed to have mushroomed fast in the social media. Most surprisingly they turned up through the initiative—not by the usual loyalist suspects—but of a grouping least expected: the current youth and the rest of the post 1986 babies. What’s more, it is gaining momentum!
No wonder the old guardians of the faith are up in arms and summoning the devotees to the barricades, invoking as it were the wrath of heavens. Whaddahell happened? How come the youth— of all sectors— be in the frontlines spearheading the renaissance of the one most evil: dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos? Whatever happened to the values of them hope and future of the Motherland? Have they lost their minds? How could they easily discard everything studiously instilled in them since they learned how to read and write? These stupid kids!
The panic is palpable. It must be the Marcoses, with their plundered wealth-funded propaganda blitz in their latest bid to revive the sullied name of the dictator, bewitching the mind of the impressionable youth. But wonder if the Marcoses even need propaganda. If anything, this could very well be but a validation of the old maxim that time heals and revises perspectives.
Murder of Ninoy
The shift in thinking could have come about rather gradually with the fading of the long-held view that Ferdinand Marcos was the real brains behind one of the most dastardly crimes ever committed in current history: the murder of Ninoy Aquino. Who but few still believes to this day that Marcos killed Ninoy?
To be sure, the one issue that truly enraged the people culminating as it did in his ouster from office less than three years later was the persistent and widespread conviction that Marcos using his vast powers as President indeed masterminded the assassination. A barefaced murder, done in broad daylight yet, while Ninoy, escorted by soldiers, was disembarking from a plane full of passengers, in the tarmac of our busy main international airport, where thousand supporters just outside were waiting purposely for him— who could have done that if not one utterly wicked and one with the power to brazen it through with total impunity?
Thirty years since, anger is mostly gone, so do most suspicions about his involvement. How did this come about?
For one, not a shred of evidence has surfaced to this day to point to his involvement. He was in fact on his sickbed gravely ill that fateful day, or so it is said. As it was, the suspicion he was the mastermind hanged on his being Ninoy’s main political foe and that nobody else had a motive and means. Alas, even the most dogged investigation yielded not a hint of any link. Indeed, the most desperate, if comical, attempt to come out to connect him to the murder was an imagined incident. Marcos, must have gotten so mad at Ninoy one time, they speculated, and could have uttered a wish that Ninoy be dead; and a loyal aide overhearing this had set in motion a no-deadline plan on his own to murder Ninoy, to get into the good graces of the President, or so the story goes. Well, anything at all it seems to prop up the legend of villainy of one and the heroism of the other.
Over the years, question marks kept popping out with new clues emerging. Oddly, Cory and Noynoy, wife and son of the victim, who would both later become President, resisted all calls for a reopening of the case to get to the real mastermind. Cory, the President, said, no, it is no longer important, the people already know who he is anyway. Pnoy, the President, said much the same thing. Yet, any which way one looks, something’s not quite right, something’s just so out of place, especially when viewed with the eagerness of the Marcos wife and children to have the case reopened. Many were hoping of course that with the powers of their office, the mysteries behind the murder would be finally solved, but more mysterious still, mother and son would not lift a finger.
Anyhow, how does the post ‘86 generation, given the clues it has picked up from the rubles of the past so far, yet take the line Marcos killed Ninoy? Public opinion is a tricky beast. The suspicion that Marcos was guilty doomed him. The suspicion he is innocent might as yet do the opposite. It is well to remember that all history look kindly and sympathetically to men accused wrongly.
TO BE CONTINUED
A little girl with a magnificent voice.
Talks have it that the Marcoses are about to release a book containing the complete diaries of the late President Ferdinand Marcos written over many years, starting in the late 60s to the end of his life.
My guess is September 11 at the earliest, coinciding with the old man’s birthday, if at all. It should help explain many of the controversies and questions left unanswered up to now.
For some reason though, several pages have long ago landed in private hands like the collection of Manuel L. Quezon III (MLQ3) published in his The Philippine Diary Project,which I have been perusing lately.
This entry dated January 1, 1970 picked my curiosity.
We should be asking about the Ferdinand Marcos Foundation. Was it fiction or real?