Business and Cory:
An Affair To Remember
A BRIGHT September 1983 afternoon, Business Executive looked out his window along Ayala Avenue. He knew something strange was happening. What was causing all the racket? It was only 3 p.m. People were still trying to work. And those scraggly lines of men and women with placards, where wer they headed? The placards said Resign! Some had drawings of an octopus clutching coconuts, sugar canes, banks. The jeepney alongside blared its announcement loud enough to hear through the thick tinted glass the invitation to join the rally at Ugarte Football Field at 5:30. Time enough to close the books, finish up meetings and lock up for the day.
August 23, 1986–After the Airport Assassination, Business Executive knew that politics would be invading his air-conditioned office. He would have to make some kind of decision, surely.
At a business club meeting, Business /executive noted that the topic was on repression of media. A panel of publishers was introduced and when it was the turn of the publisher of a leading daily, there was lusty booing from the audience. Was this the ordinarily sedate business group? It was. In overflow numbers, some bringing along their spouses and their spouses’ coffee group. The questions from the floor were hostile: why was the Aquino funeral not given any coverage? (Applause punctuated the speakers’ denunciations – no answers were expected to the rhetorical questions.) Why did we have to get our news on our country from xeroxed periodicals? Why did our cousins abroad know more than we did about what was going on here?
Even the usually dry and statistics laden setting of the economic briefing by the establishment think-tank CRC flamed with passion. The presentors talked about a forecasted negative growth rate for 1984 – a peculiar euphemism for the expected decline in economic activity. They ticked off the causes: Crony capitalism which favored the Malacañang-connected few who were allocated loanable funds on the basis not of project viability and importance but hand-written notes on the margin. Graft and corruption which raised the cost of doing business. Take-over of healthy companies by the powerful after these were pummeled with debilitating legislation. Capital flight which indicated a lack of confidence in the business future and caused a succession of devaluations of the local currency.
The economy was being mauled.
Inflation threatened to be triple-digit. The peso-to-dollar exchange rate shot up 200%. The flourishing Binondo black market was being tolerated and “controlled” by Government as an alternative gray Central Bank, making a lot of money for its masters and, the Government claimed, contributing to the stabilization of the currency. Even the official unemployment figures were rising. Income distribution had worsened. Businesses were folding up. Multinationals like Ford, General Motors, Baxter were phasing out Philippine operations. Representative offices of international banks wee relocating out of the country.
The economic sky was falling. And there were many Henny Pennies to confirm the fact.
The economic bullet
The School of Economics of the University of the Philippines, the State University itself, came out with its own white paper analyzing the structural causes of the economic decline – “An Analysis of the Philippine Crisis: A Workshop Report” (June 1984). It made its findings public. The report spread through the xerox grapevine. The UP findings: Government was too involved in the economy through its own corporations and banks. If government influence was extended to the crony links, its hold on the economy was almost total. Prices of agricultural goods were regulated by fiat rather than by the marketplace. Because regulation favored keeping down prices, the effect was to starve the purchasing power of the countryside to keep the urban centers quiet. Decision-making was centralized in the national government and regional development was being left out of the priorities. The countryside was being dried out of cash.
There was too much politics in business.
It was not really the gun of August at the airport that shattered the barrier between politics and business. The relationship was there all along. So when one of the Siamese twins was shot, his brother also died. The bullet for politics also killed economics.
But the disaster was not to be so clearly contained. The metaphor of the bullet did not capture the cataclysm that followed. No – the effect was seismic.
The political plates started to move, the earthquake’s epicenter rippled out from the Manila International Airport to the whole country, and along with it the business sector.
Business Executive attended forums which discussed the political-economic situation as a business case. Participants broke up into workshop groups, compared notes, raised their voices in debate and presented to the plenary session their analysis and recommendations.
Again the business analysis reiterated the economic problems. Again they traced the labyrinth to the starting point at the airport. Again they came to the conclusion that the solution was indeed political. The objective was clear – there was a need to change the political leader. But with whom? They did not have the answer yet. Instead the businessmen talked of the process of selection, the criteria, and finally the strategy for unseating the incumbent.
And that’s where they were bogged down.
Meanwhile, Business Executive was getting calls from his associates. Was he joining the rally at 5:30 p.m.? it was getting to be as regular as the afternoon news or the clerks going off for coffee breaks. Every Friday, Business Executive would look out his office window. The yellow confetti would start at 4 p.m. – he could almost set his watch by it. some firecrackers, and then the awelling crowd from all sides. No, Business Executive could not just keep watching them. He subscribed to their cause. It was time to join.
Business Executive would wind up his meeting promptly at 5 p.m. He did not want to give the self-appointed guardians of the company’s “political neutrality” grounds for saying he was politicking during office hours. He went down to the basement car park, deposited his briefcase, shucked off his barong and put on his yellow shirt.
Clark Kent transformed to Superman!
It was his first time at a rally and he took his cues on what to do from the three month veterans. He sat down on the grass, crossed his legs in semi-lotus, and listened to the speeches. He mwt incredulous secretaries from his office, and the friends who kept calling him up. They flashed the L-sign and he flashed back. No, it wasn’t bad.
The business groups meantime had subdivided into cause-oriented splinters with acronyms that came out of the heroes’ gallery or synonyms for struggle. It did not matter that the memberships overlapped and the platforms all had phrases like restorian of democracy and freedom, and struggle for human rights. One thing was clear – they all wanted the tenant at the Palace out of there. Somehow.
The businessmen were using MBA methods to attack the problem. They came up with a list of potential standard bearers and a convenors’ group to manage the selection process. The fast track route asssumed a snap election and a process of self-selection among the short-listed cnadidates. The slow-track, which nobody bothered too mush about, was intended to elicit wider participation and more democratic procedures.
Again, the business analysts broke up into discussion groups. The selection process itself was wearing everybody out in marathon meetings. The more militant groups were already giving up on the electoral process altogether, although there was some gain made by the opposition in the 1984 parliamentary elections.
The economy was deteriorating fast. Business started asking different questions, businessmen were getting tired of the political games the politicians were playing. It was clear what the rules would be. There would have to be only one candidate which business would support. The candidate would have to be credible and morally beyond question. Once the rules were couched in those terms, only one name was left in the field.
And she was reluctant to run.
After the first reaction of – why not, the businessmen started convincing themselves of Cory Aquino’s attributes. They mobilized to get the one million signatures to draft her to become the lone opposition candidate. When she announced her candidacy and linked up with Laurel for unified ticket, businessmen put their managerial, financial, and logistical resources behind her.
Business Executive attended the campaign rallies. He read all the periodicals covering the candidates. He dropped money into the ubiquitous Cory boxes at the restaurants. He joined the citizens’ volunteer group to guard the election and keep it honest. He squeezed into the business group meetings where Coty spoke, standing the whole time by the side since there were no more tables to be had, and suprising himself by cheering his lungs out. And shedding tears. The last time he cheered that hard was at the collegiate ballgame and that was championship. But the stakes then were small – a trophy and a holiday.
When Business Executive travelled abroad he presented the case for a Cory presidency. Whenever he was asked whether the housewife really had it in her to win against such odds and with such “pitiful” qualifications, Business Executive argued, sometimes too heatedly, that business supported Cory because only she, a non-traditional politician with unquestioned integrity, could provide the moral leadership in which business confidence would again be possible. Business Executive said this so many times to so many people that his conviction almost became dogma.
Incredibly, she picked up at the rallies, won in the pre-election polls, won in the Namfrel tally, lost at the Batasan, then won at EDSA again. She was finally President.
Business – What now?
But six months into her presidency, what happened to the cheering squad that was business?
The only candidate business reformists said they would support became President. Her actions as President were those promised to carry out in her campaign speeches which the businessmen invariably interrupted with cheers. Wild cheers and stomping!
Have things changed?
Maybe Business’s honeymoon with the President is over. Honeymoons are not supposed to last. All the stages have been passed. The courtship and the chase to get her to accept the draft. The exchange of vows when Business went full tilt to support her candidacy. And then the euphoria and victory. The honeymoon may have ended with the Luneta mass of thanksgiving. After that – making the cabinet appointments, dissolving the parliament, replacing the local government heads, sequestering businesses, strengthening labor, reaching out to the radical left, and the thousand Government actions along the way. Accompanied by the thousand opinions on how problems should have been handled. The bride is no longer in her white gown. In this case, yellow. She is in her working clothes. The poetry of the campaign is over, the prose of Government follows.
The relationship of Business and Cory has gone on too long to be considered just a fling, an affair – only to remember.
Maybe now that the romance of the honeymoon has ended, the reality of marriage can begin.