Was martial law good for the Philippine economy?

July 14, 2021

Essential Truth

Today some people think and believe that President Marcos’s regime was good for the economy. They even say it was the “golden age”. In a 2016 New York Times article a number of people said that during that time “the Philippines was the leader of Asia,” “life was easier under Marcos,” and “the economy was booming.” 

The early years of the Marcos regime indeed saw respectable economic growth. Gross domestic product or GDP—which roughly measures a country’s total income—grew at an average of almost 6% per year from 1972 to 1980. This is good insofar as high economic growth is typically (or at least in principle) a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for achieving higher incomes and more jobs for the people. 

However, in the early eighties, the Philippines dramatically—but expectedly—plunged into its worst postwar recession or economic downturn. GDP shrank by 7.3% for two consecutive years, 1984 and 1985; the last time an economic downturn of this magnitude happened was in World War II. Meanwhile, GDP per person, which can be interpreted as the average income of the Filipino, also fell by a whopping 9.4% in those two years.

So large was this downturn that it took the country more than two decades to recover the level of GDP per person in 1982. GDP per person back in 1982 was more than P48,000. This dropped sharply because of the economic crisis during the Marcos regime’s waning years and did not recover until 2003 (Figure 1). These so-called “lost decades of development” singularly demonstrate the pernicious impacts of the Marcos regime on the economic lives of Filipinos.

Figure 1 GDP per capita

During the Marcos years we also lost our standing as one of the economic leaders in Asia. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, barring small nations like Brunei and Singapore, we had in fact the largest per-person income among ASEAN countries. But one by one our neighbors overtook us: Malaysia in the mid-sixties, Thailand in the early eighties, and Indonesia in the late eighties. Today, the average Malaysian, Thai, and Indonesian are much richer than the average Filipino. Even in times of growth during the Martial Law years, our economy was not outstanding in performance in comparison with our neighbors: Philippine GDP grew by an average of 6%, while Malaysia grew by 8.1%, Indonesia by 7.5%, and Thailand by 7.1%. If you include the crisis years of 1984 and 1985—which fall squarely within the Marcos regime—our performance was even worse.

Finally, the economic crisis due to the Marcos regime pulled down our country’s long-term economic trajectory. Filipinos today would have been richer had we not deviated from the growth performance of our ASEAN neighbors. Based on estimates by J.C. Punongbayan and Prof. Manuel Albis of the University of the Philippines, and based on various assumptions, per-person incomes in the Philippines would have been 3 to 4 times larger than present. This would have catapulted us to the top of the ASEAN region in terms of average incomes.

All in all, the Philippine economy suffered its worst during the Marcos regime. Marcos brought the economy to its knees, pulled down our country’s trajectory, and effectively “stole” our future incomes.

30 Years After Revolution, Some Filipinos Yearn for ‘Golden Age’ of Marcos – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

The text above is an excerpt from the second book of the “Essential Truths About 1972-1986 Martial Law Era – The Economy During the Martial Law Era.” If you want to read more, you may access it here: https://thefreedommemorial.ph/educators/