The Marcos era corresponded with the zenith of the Cold War in south east Asia. It was the age of the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation and internal racial/political strife in Indonesia, it was the age of the American war in Vietnam, the US bombing of Cambodia and Laos and later Vietnamese vs. Chinese conflicts in mainland south east Asia. It was likewise the age of perpetual civil war in socialist Burma (as Myanmar was then known) and an age in which Thailand fought and eventually beat a Communist insurgency. Against this background, Ferdinand Marcos and The Philippines was on the front-line of the US camp during the Cold War.
By the late 1980s however, the Cold War was dying down and it was at that same time when a domestic provocation led to the removal of President Ferdinand Marcos. The fact that Marcos’s American friends did nothing to help him was symptomatic of the fact that from the US perspective, the Cold War was nearing an end and they no longer needed a reliable friend in Manila – not least because Marcos was ultimately replaced by pro-American Yellows who were so openly incompetent that unlike Marcos, they never dared to think of themselves as equals to their superpower ally.
The Cold War formally ended in the midst of Cory Aquino’s presidency but in keeping with liberal Filipino mythology, while the Cold War ended for America, Russia, China, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Indonesia and all of Europe, the Cold War remains alive and well in the minds of anti-reformist politicians in The Philippines – most of whom happen to be diehard Yellows.
While the world has moved on from a bipolar order to a multilateral order and while rival economic systems have given way to a rules based international trading framework in which all major nations have adopted some variety of a market economy, The Philippines is stuck in its own version of the past and until the arrival of President Duterte, it showed as much desire to move into the future as did 1990s North Korea.
For The Philippines, the lingering Cold War mentality has led to a reticence to open avenues of new economic opportunity with countries like China. It has also meant a general aversion to the kind of foreign direct investment that helped Singapore, Malaysia and later Vietnam to economically transform the fortunes of ordinary people. Even during the Marcos era, the 1973 Constitution had far fewer restrictions on foreign direct investment than does the 1987 Constitution. The very notion that one needs to be an “economic fortress” in order to protect one’s nation against hostile forces is very much a throwback to a Cold War era in which ‘fighting communism’ was done at a commercial level as much as anywhere else.
Today, the world is a very different place and for those outside of formal war zones, it is generally a far better place. China and the US form the world’s biggest trading partnership, the former nations of the Warsaw pact are market economies, India and Myanmar have both abandoned (quasi) command economic models and even Laos and Cambodia are implementing modern economic reforms. In Africa, Ethiopia’s once impoverished command economy is now among the fastest growing in the world, while elsewhere in Africa, centrist/pragmatic economic policies are replacing the extremes of a post-colonial era that was once shaped by the dynamics of the Cold War.
It is therefore not surprising that those arguing for restrictions on trade and foreign direct investment still believe that The Philippines has traditional military enemies. The fact is that The Philippines is fortunate that not a single foreign power threatens its security. Not a single ASEAN partner, not China, not Russia, not the United States and not any other country has any desire to destroy The Philippines. While it is true that the US still views its partnerships with a zero-sum mentality that tends to encourage latent Cold War thinking in The Philippines, under Donald Trump, Washington has ultimately taken a mostly pragmatic line with its traditional partners in ASEAN – this in spite of a continued US desire to play counter-productive games of cat and mouse with China in the region.
Instead of facing threats from foreign states, the three evils facing The Philippines are poverty, narcotics and terrorism (which itself is deeply intertwined with the narcotics trade). In each instance, fighting these evils can be best accomplished by diversifying and strengthening foreign partnerships. This is true in respect of reforming the outdated 1987 Constitution in order to allow for ever more poverty fighting foreign direct investment and it is also true in respect of building foreign partnerships to curtail the flow of drugs, narco-cash and weapons into the country.
The key to modernising and reforming The Philippines is to cease with a Cold War fortress mentality and to instead develop a political and economic mindset that looks abroad for opportunity rather than one that seeks to cut the country off from an outside world that is falsely perceived as hostile. While the position of wealthy oligarchs and failed politicians becomes ever more entrenched due to this Cold War mentality, the people continue to suffer decades after The Philippines should have exited the Cold War along with the rest of the world.