Sonny Coloma

From the tumultuous presidency of Corazon Aquino following the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986, successive administrations – without exception – tackled and surmounted major crises.  Lessons learned from those crises could provide pointers and pathways for the next president.

In 1986 and 1987, there were six coup attempts mounted against the new government, the most serious of which occurred in 1987 and resulted in 53 dead. In December 1989, just when the economy was on a full recovery trajectory, another serious coup attempt took place culminating in the takeover of several luxury hotels in the Makati business district. This dealt heavy blows against investor confidence and once more diminished investor confidence.

Despite all of the foregoing, the country achieved respectable GDP growth: 3.42 percent in 1986; 4.31 percent in 1987; 6.75 percent in 1988; 6.21 percent in 1989; 3.04 percent in 1990; and -0.58 in 1991, its last full year.  According to a study made by former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, “trade reforms improved export growth and foreign trade through the abolishing of export taxes, the gradual liberalization of imports, and the imposition of an anti-export bias ideal.” Other reforms “involved the reduction in trade barriers by removing restrictions on imports and reforming the import-licensing system; tariff rates were also eventually reduced to encourage more foreign trade.” The administration also played a big part in the realization of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA).

Clearly, these foregoing achievements could not be erased by biased and unfounded criticism that the President Cory’s administration did not do its job of keeping the country’s economic house in order. The members of her economic management team included Jaime Ongpin, Jesus Estanislao, Jose Concepcion, Jr., Cayetano Paderanga, Jr., Solita Monsod, Vicente Jayme, Alberto Romulo and Guillermo Carague and Jose L. Cuisia, Jr.

President Fidel Ramos’ administration is credited with having solved the power crisis through the enactment of the Electric Power Crisis Act and the inception of the Build-Operate-Transfer Law. This facilitated the building of at least 20 new power generation plants, thereby ending the power shortage crisis by December 1993.  Promising growth rates were achieved in 1994 to 1997 until the country began to be affected by the Asian crisis contagion that began in Thailand and Korea. Negative fallout from this contagion included property busts from risky ventures, “but these were eventually overcome by vital economic reforms, including economic liberalization, stronger institutional foundations for development, redistribution, and political reform.”

Major institutional reforms undertaken included the following: establishment of a new Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to replace the debt-burdened Central Bank; the privatization of Petron, Philippine National Bank, and the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage Systems (MWSS); and the conversion of Fort Bonifacio and Clark Field into major economic zones following the Senate rejection of the renewal of the military bases agreement in 1991.

Enter the administration of Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 1998 that had a short-lived tenure of 31 months, as it ended in his ouster as president in the aftermath of a disrupted impeachment trial. This was followed by another People Power demonstration at EDSA during which the major service commanders of the Armed Forces of the Philippines announced the withdrawal of their support to him as their Commander-in-Chief. He had been elected with the largest margin of victory in a presidential election.

To this day, former President Estrada’s abbreviated tenure presents vital lessons on the importance of focusing on good governance at the highest levels. It was bruited about that he had a “midnight cabinet” composed of close friends who could influence decision-making in the same manner as the official “daytime cabinet” functions. This is ironic, considering that he had formed an impressive team of economic managers, including Jose Pardo as finance secretary, Benjamin Diokno as budget secretary and Felipe Medalla as socioeconomic planning secretary. Parenthetically, Diokno and Medalla are currently serving as Bangko Sentral Governor and Monetary Board members, respectively.

Here is Britannica’s account of Estrada’s downfall:

“Estrada’s tenure as president was short-lived, however, as a corruption scandal erupted in October 2000 when a fellow politician claimed that Estrada had accepted millions of dollars worth of bribes. In November the Philippine Senate began an impeachment trial, but it was abandoned after some senators blocked the admission of evidence. On January 20, 2001, Estrada was ousted amid mass protests, and his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, ascended to the presidency.

“Later that year Estrada was brought to trial on charges of plunder (large-scale corruption) and accused of having procured more than $80 million through bribes and corrupt dealings. Estrada denied the accusations, calling them politically motivated, and he remained relatively popular in the Philippines despite the charges. In September 2007, he was convicted of plundering and sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison. The following month, however, Estrada was pardoned by Arroyo.”

Next week, we will write about crisis management during the administrations of Presidents Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno S. Aquino III, and Rodrigo R. Duterte.