Head of Government: Ferdinand Marcos
Country/Term of Office: President of Philippines, 1972-86
Allegedly Embezzled: $5 billion to $10 billion
GDP Per Capita: $912
Source: Transparency International, Global Corruption Report 2004
Ferdinand Marcos : "He might have started as a hero
but ended up as a crook.”
Singapore's Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew
“Ver, Marcos and the rest of the official family plunged the country into two decades of lies, torture, and plunder.
"From former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First”
"Over the next decade, Marcos’s cronies and immediate family would tiptoe back into the country, one by one – always to the public’s revulsion and disgust, though they showed that there was nothing that hidden money and thick hides could not withstand." From Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First”
"Imelda had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore…they came in style in two DC8’s, his and hers."
From Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First”
"The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial."
From Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First”
The Philippines was a world apart from us, running a different style of politics and government under an American military umbrella. It was not until January 1974 that I visited President Marcos in Manila. When my Singapore Airlines plane flew into Philippine airspace, a small squadron of Philippine Air Force jet fighters escorted it to Manila Airport. There Marcos received me in great style – the Filipino way. I was put up at the guest wing of Malacañang Palace in lavishly furnished rooms, valuable objects of art bought in Europe strewn all over. Our hosts were gracious, extravagant in hospitality, flamboyant. Over a thousand miles of water separated us. There was no friction and little trade. We played golf, talked about the future of ASEAN, and promised to keep in touch.
In Bali in 1976, at the first ASEAN summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in ASEAN. But we could not go faster than the others. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore across-the-board 10 percent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-ASEAN trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippines-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.
We met every two to three years. He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacañang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for elections. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore before the Bali summit they came in stye in two DC8’s, his and hers.
Marcos, ruling under martial law, had detained opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, reputed to be as charismatic and powerful a campaigner as he was. He freed Aquino and allowed him to go to the United States. As the economic situation in the Philippines deteriorated, Aquino announced his decision to return. Mrs. Marcos issued several veiled warnings. When the plane arrived at Manila Airport from Taipei in August 1983, he was shot as he descended from the aircraft. A whole posse of foreign correspondents with television camera crews accompanying him on the aircraft was not enough protection.
International outrage over the killing resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines, which owed over US$25 billion and could not pay the interest due. This brought Marcos to the crunch. He sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of US$300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We will never see that money back.” Moreover, I added, everyone knew that Marcos was seriously ill and under constant medication for a wasting disease. What was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.
Shortly afterward, in February 1984, Marcos met me in Brunei at the sultanate’s independence celebrations. He had undergone a dramatic physical change. Although less puffy than he had appeared on television, his complexion was dark as if he had been out in the sun. He was breathing hard as he spoke, his voice was soft, eyes bleary, and hair thinning. He looked most unhealthy. An ambulance with all the necessary equipment and a team of Filipino doctors were on standby outside his guest bungalow. Marcos spent much of the time giving me a most improbable story of how Aquino had been shot.
As soon as all our aides left, I went straight to the point, that no bank was going to lend him any money. They wanted to know who was going to succeed him if anything were to happen to him; all the bankers could see that he no longer looked healthy. Singapore banks had lent US$8 billion of the US$25 billion owing. The hard fact was they were not likely to get repayment for some 20 years. He countered that it would be only eight years. I said the bankers wanted to see a strong leader in the Philippines who could restore stability, and the Americans hoped the election in May would throw up someone who could be such a leader. I asked whom he would nominate for the election. He said Prime Minister Cesar Virata. I was blunt. Virata was a nonstarter, a first-class administrator but no political leader; further, his most politically astute colleague, defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, was out of favour. Marcos was silent, then he admitted that succession was the nub of the problem. If he could find a successor, there would be a solution. As I left, he said, “You are a true friend.” I did not understand him. It was a strange meeting.
“Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (1959-90) and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines (1965-86) coexisted under similar geo-political pressures and were known to share similar political and social philosophies. Yet Lee Kuan Yew established a political party that derived its credibility from a reputation for corruption-free governance, sobriety and growth while Ferdinand Marcos became famous for larceny on a grand scale, stealing the people’s foreign aid and putting it into private bank accounts and property throughout the world.”
“Reflecting upon his success in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew often boasted that he would have been able to create immense wealth for his citizens if he had only had a larger, more resource-rich country to manage. Few believed that Singapore, an island of 214 square miles and 1.8 million inhabitants, could be a viable country after separating from Malaya in 1964. Lee himself worked tirelessly from 1959 to 1964 to keep Singapore and Malaya together, writing in his memoirs, “We had said that an independent Singapore was simply not viable.” Lee argued, “It is the hinterland that produces the rubber and tin that keep our shop-window economy going. It is the base that made Singapore the capital city. Without this economic base, Singapore would not survive. Without merger, without a reunification of our two governments and an integration of our two economies, our economic position will slowly and steadily get worse.”
“By contrast, the nearby Philippines, with a population of 26.6 million, was considered to be a much more promising developing country. The world’s second largest producer of gold, the Philippines was endowed with a relatively well-educated population, a large resource base and, by the standards of the time, a well-developed infrastructure. With a potentially large resource base to pay back loans and extremely articulate leader it became one of the largest recipients of World Bank assistance during the tenure of Ferdinand Marcos. Yet the Philippines became the sick man of Asia, while Singaporeans now enjoy the second highest per capita income in the region after Japan.”