"Imelda and the technocrats had an interesting relationship."
As its name suggests, the recently-published “In Dialogue: The Economic Managers of the Marcos Administration” has provided the Filipino people with valuable insider information and insights into the management of the Philippine economy during the period 1972-1983, which began with President Ferdinand Marcos’s placement of this country under martial law and ended with the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.
“In Dialogue” is a collection of the reminiscences – official and personal – of five of the technocrats of the martial law era – Cesar Virata (Prime Minister and Minister of Finance), Vicente Paterno (Chairman, Board of Investments), Jaime Laya (Governor, Central Bank of the Philippines), Gerardo Sicat (Director General, National Economic and Development Authority) and Placido Mapa Jr. (Chairman, Development Bank of the Philippines) – and then-Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza.
Two of my recent columns were mostly made up of excerpts from the book. In this column – the third in a trio – I will feature further excerpts from “In Dialogue.” These excerpts will be about former First Lady Imelda Marcos and the role that she chose to play in the martial-law government. Imelda Marcos, who President Marcos clearly was grooming to succeed him, was a very large presence in the Philippines of the martial law era. That presence progressively grew as martial law proceeded, to the point where – as the following excerpts indicate – the “In Dialogue” technocrats began to speak of a “second government” operating alongside President Marcos’s administrations.
The following are the technocrats’ reminiscences, in their own words, of Imelda Marcos, who President Marcos appointed Minister of Human Settlements:
Virata: “(I)n the case of this Human Settlements, during the discussion as to its creation I was already objecting. I said that, even if there is a UN resolution about human settlements, it is not appropriate that we have a Ministry of Human Settlements because, as mentioned earlier, there would be a second-level government because there are so many basic human needs. There would be confusion; but what happened was that it was enacted so we had to live with it and of course they demanded funding.”
Laya: “(F)unds allocation is a critical decision, and soon after the Ministry of Human Settlements was created President Marcos told me, out of the blue, to be sure to clear with him any requests for the release of unprogrammed and lump-sum funds. I asked for clarification. I still remember our conversation. Suppose the request comes from a Cabinet member, Mr. President, I asked. He replied, oh yes, of course you clear it with me. I hesitated but then went on. Including the Ministry of Human Settlements, I asked. He replied, ah, yes. He paused, looked at me and, after another pause, again said yes, THat solved the problem as far as I was concerned.”
Virata: “Imelda Marcos would request additional funding for some of her projects. When you examined it, it was not part of the Budget. So I would tell her that it could not be done but you may ask the President if it can be included in the Budget. And that was the end of it.”
Paterno: “During the time that I was Minister of Public Highways she wanted us to asphalt a road. Her sister was going to be the hermana mayor in a Santacruzan and the road where they were going to pass needed to be asphalted. So she went to me and requested the asphalting of the road. I told her, Ma’m, sorry, wala po sa budget yan. So I am not allowed to spend money on that. She was so mad. And she got Baltazar Aquino to build the road somehow. That began the end of my career in government. On November 11, 1980 my successor was appointed. Happily I joined the swearing in of Jesus Hipolito.”
That was Imelda Marcos of the martial law era – First Lady, Minister of Human Settlements, Governor of Metro Manila and Assemblywoman. There are more stories about Ferdinand Marcos’s consort in the technocrats’ book, but there unfortunately is not enough space here to reproduce them all.
“In Dialogue: The Economic Managers of the Marcos Administration” is a must-read book for those who want to get a feel of what is was like to make policy in the Marcos administration and to learn about the professional and personal challenges that confronted the technocrats and the good results that they managed to achieve under very problematic political circumstances.