Cinderella’s invited to the prom
October 26, 1996–A FEW weeks ago, the leaders of the world’s richest countries wanted to feel good about themselves. They also wanted the world to feel good about them. So they announced that thenceforth the foreign debts of the poorest Third World countries—mostly in Black Africa—would be forgiven by them. Oh, how noble, how generous they were. It was hopeless, they said, to expect these blacks to pay the interest, let alone the principal, on their countries’ foreign debts—mostly stolen by black dictators, just like our foreign debt was largely stolen by an Ilocano dictator. Also dark.
That was several weeks ago.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced that the Philippines had been invited to share in paying off the debts of the world’s poorest Third World countries.
What they were saying was, as if it was a great honor, “Welcome to the club.”
Yes, indeed, like the totally tasteless and parvenu couple John and Marsha, Mother Philippines and her beau, our President, have been invited by the nabobs of the IMF to the world debt prom.
The IMF, lest ye have forgotten, was the cruel fiscal stepmother that had our country—poor starry-eyed heroine just recently free of the dictator’s shackles—scrubbing floors and eating dirt to pay the credit card bills of Makiki exiles Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
At a time when we were the world’s inspiration, heroes of democracies, we were told that we would be bereft of honor if we did not pay—and pay, and pay.
That debts were dubious and downright immoral did not matter. You did not argue with the IMF, which had the power of economic life and death over an economy struggling to restore a free market. They had the recipe for success, they said, and we had better follow it. Or else.
The recipe was simple: pay up. Pay the debts of the conjugal dictatorship; never mind that the money was stolen or wasted. And then you would, if not get better, certainly feel better about yourself.
And so when Solita Monsod, then NEDA director general, dared suggest that we repudiate at least some of the debts incurred by Imelda Marcos and her husband, a howl rose from the bankers. And they hastened Monsod’s exit from the public service and the conversation of the NEDA into the Merril Lynch of Philippine officialdom. (Today the NEDA regularly leaks GNP figures to the stockbrokers of the Palace inhabitants.)
One day our country looked up from her drudgery and saw former communist nations such as Poland grandly absolved of their debts—absolved by the same demanding gang of overseers that insisted we pay back every penny stolen by the Marcoses. And our nation sighed, is there no fairness, no justice?
How sad it was to see a nice country finish last. If we’d had missiles and belonged to the Warsaw Pact—the alliance of communist powers aimed at Western Europe—perhaps we would have been treated better. Oh, well.
So we slaved on, until we were finally able to say that, despite the onerous burden of illegitimate debts, we were able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Well, by golly, it seems that the IMF has recognized this fact and invited us to take a seat at the table of lending countries. Well, not the presidential table, perhaps, but a table somewhere near the swinging doors to the kitchen. But who cares? Cinderella Philippines has been invited to the prom: we have arrived. now, the IMF tells us, we are in a position to help countries less fortunate than ourselves. This is better than letting the rich countries do it alone.
We hope the government doesn’t get into its daffy head to accept the IMF proposal. A nation that had the class to stand up for democracy, and that doggedly worked to dig itself out of an unjust economic situation, should not be forced by its lenders to give away the money it has so painfully earned. After all, it still has to pay for its own debt. A debt still due and, oddly, growing monstrously by the month. It has grown to $45 billion and still growing. But the economy has grown strong enough to meet the monthly installments on time.
To the bankers that means the economy has also grown strong enough to help pay off the debts of other countries who have no hope of paying any part of them.
We may be on our feet, but we are in no condition to throw money away. Ours is still a nation of indentured servants abroad and starving workers at home. We must keep what we have for the benefit of ourselves, and by “ourselves” we don’t mean the slick Central Bank types in league with the IMF.
It is true that there is nobility in poverty, in working to satisfy the demands of heartless people. But there is no nobility in allowing yourself to be fooled. The servant invited to dine at his master’s table—but a potluck dinner, where he must also bring his own plate—is not ennobled but further debased by the insult to his intelligence.