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More Aid for Philippines?

Ferdinand E. Marcos, with the eager help of his rapacious family and friends, spent decades pillaging the Philippines, in the process transforming one of East Asia’s more promising economies into a land haunted by malnutrition, unemployment and social decay. With the accession of President Corazon Aquino, the economic decline of the later Marcos years, which saw the country actually experience negative growth rates, has been halted. But suffering has not abated in the impoverished countryside or in the huge urban slums. All around there is an abundance of evidence that the Philippines urgently and desperately needs help. Is it getting enough?

Until recently, the answer seemed to be no. Foreign aid for development projects aimed at achieving basic economic improvements appeared to be painfully slow in coming. That view was reinforced by government leaders who spoke with increasing sharpness about the insensitivity or parsimoniousness of foreign lenders and donors. In Washington, a bipartisan group in Congress was moved to call for a new five-year international economic rescue program to channel $1 billion a year into the Philippines.

Something like this may in fact be needed, but not yet. For, as testimony before Congress revealed this week, the Philippines has in hand a huge amount of foreign aid--up to $1.5 billion--that it hasn’t so far been able to spend. That includes $271 million from the United States, and considerably more from Japan and the World Bank. What’s the problem? A cabinet official in Manila concedes that inefficiency has held up the dispensing of a good portion of the aid money. So long as that remains the case, the Philippines can hardly complain that its friends are letting it down. As with so many other things, the burden now is on the Aquino government to put its administrative house in order. When that’s done, when it’s clear that existing aid is being used efficiently, it may be time to talk about providing more.


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