In 2019, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, promising progress, stability, and security, was elected president of Sri Lanka. In his third year in office his mishandling of the sharp increase in food and fuel costs drove hundreds of thousands of people to stage protests, many virulent and violent. On July 14, 2021, demonstrators stormed the presidential palace, demanding his resignation. Rajapaksa fled the country via a military aircraft.

In 2022, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., promising unity, wind-power energy, and rice at P20 per kilo, was elected Philippine president. He is now on his second year as president and his promises have yet to be fulfilled. Not only that, the price of rice, the staple of millions of Filipino families, has been rising from the P39.43 for regular-milled rice and P43.77 for well-milled rice, the prices in 2022 according to the Philippine Rice Research Institute.

The global price of rice soared after India, in July this year, banned the export of white rice. India accounts for over 40% of global trade of rice. Rice inflation in the Philippines surged from 4.2% in July to 8.7% in August. As part of government efforts to address the increasing price of rice, President Marcos Jr. issued Executive Order No. 39, imposing a temporary price ceiling of P41 per kilo for regular-milled rice and P45 per kilo for well-milled rice.

To make up for the retailers’ loss in revenue, each retailer will be given a subsidy of P15,000. The retailers said that the P15,000 subsidy is equivalent to a few sacks of rice. A 25-kilo sack of rice costs between P2,000 and P2,500. The subsidy of P15,000 can buy only seven sacks at P2,000, only six sacks at P2,500. They say the subsidy would run out before the temporary price cap expires.

To arrest the surge in the price of rice, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno proposed a temporary slash of the tariff rates for rice imports. Federation of Free Farmers National Manager Raul Montemayor said that a slash in tariff rates would induce rice traders to collude to pay lower farmgate (what the traders pay farmers) prices for their harvest in response to competition from cheaper imported rice.

If tariff rates are slashed, Mr. Montemayor said the retail price of rice may go down by P7 per kilo. If that happens, the price of palay (unmilled rice) would drop by P4.44 per kilo. Based on the 2022 palay production of 17.75 million metric tons, that would be equivalent to a loss of about P88 billion for the farmers. That could push the farmers to abandon rice production altogether. As we are not rice self-sufficient, that development would bring about a food crisis beyond the government’s capacity to resolve.

Ironically, Secretary Diokno objects adamantly to the proposal of the transport sector to suspend both the value-added tax and excise tax on fuel to moderate inflation. Transport inflation quickened from -4.7% in July to 0.2% in August. Fuel prices have gone up by a total of P71.85 per liter for gasoline and P17.30 for diesel since the second week of July. As of yesterday, gasoline in the neighborhood station sells for P70.35 a liter, diesel for P70.20 a liter.

There is supposed to be a rollback of P0.14 on the price of gasoline and P0.69 on diesel effective today. That is so picayune a price adjustment that it would not have any effect on the transport sector’s dire situation.

While jeepney operators have petitioned the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board for a fare hike to help them cope with the rising cost of fuel, they are not optimistic about the agency granting them the increase. They know that the agency officials know that the majority of Metro Manila commuters cannot afford another fare hike. That is the finding of the survey conducted by The Passenger Forum, a network and mobility advocacy group.

Random interviews of jeepney drivers by broadcast reporters, also reveal that many jeepney drivers are seriously considering looking for less demanding and less stressful livelihood. A drastic reduction in transport service in Metro Manila would slow down economic activity as blue-collar workers and rank-and-file office employees would have difficulty getting to their workplace on time, if they get there at all. The capital region is the heart of the Philippine economy.

Are queues for rice rations forthcoming? Are protests like those staged against Sri Lanka’s president just two years ago about to explode and possibly pressure the President to flee?

That brings to mind the stories of authoritarian heads of state whose rules were cut short by people power or by extermination but whose scions rose to become heads of the same states. Other than the Ferdinand Marcoses, senior and junior, there were the Parks of South Korea, Chung Hee and his daughter Geun-hye; the Bhuttos of Pakistan, Zulfikar and his daughter Benazir; and the Gandhis of India, Indira and her son Rajiv.

Park Chung Hee was general and president of South Korea from 1963 to 1979. His rule brought about rapid economic growth, but at the cost of human rights and political freedom. He imposed restrictions on personal freedoms, suppressed the press and political dissent. He organized the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) for the purpose of monitoring closely the activities of the political opposition.

On Oct. 17, 1972, Park declared martial law. When, in 1979, he dismissed the leader of the opposition party from the National Assembly, the Koreans erupted in violent protests. On Oct. 26, 1979, Park was assassinated by the head of the intelligence agency he himself formed, the KCIA.

Twenty-eight years later, his daughter Geun-Hye ran for president, promising the right to pursue happiness, a democratic economy, and customized welfare services for the Korean people. She was elected. But in December 2016, she was impeached by the National Assembly on charges related to influence peddling. She was removed from office and put in jail.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto became president and army commander-in-chief on Dec. 20, 1970. He served as prime minister from 1973 to 1977. In January 1972, Bhutto nationalized all major industries. He adopted a labor policy that increased workers’ rights and the power of trade unions. The government took over a million acres of land for distribution to landless peasants. He convened the National Assembly and prodded the legislators to write a new constitution.

Bhutto deployed 100,000 troops to suppress protests. He was accused of masterminding the murder of political opponents. In July 1977, Bhutto was arrested by troops under the order of General Zia. On April 4, 1979, Bhutto was hanged.

In August 1988, Zia died in a mysterious plane crash, resulting in a power vacuum in all of Pakistan. In the elections of that year, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s old party, taken over by his daughter Benazir, won the biggest number of seats in the National Assembly. On Dec. 1, 1988, just nine years after her father was ousted, Benazir Bhutto was elected prime minister.

She served two terms, in 1988-90 and 1993-96. She drew foreign investment in the country and introduced social programs. But Pakistan continued to experience an unstable economy and a decline in law and order. She was forced to step down in 1996. She was assassinated in December while campaigning for a seat in parliament.

Indira Gandhi served as prime minister of India for three consecutive terms, 1966-1977. and a fourth term from 1980 to 1984. During the early 1980s, Sikh separatists vehemently demanded autonomy. In June 1984, Gandhi ordered the Indian army to attack and oust the separatists who occupied and fortified the Sikhs’ holiest shrine. At least 450 Sikhs were killed in the incident. Five months later Gandhi herself was killed by her own Sikh bodyguards.

Her son Rajiv was sworn in as prime minister on the same day. As prime minister of India from 1984-89, Rajiv Gandhi reformed the government bureaucracy and liberalized the country’s economy. But his attempts to discourage separatist movements worked against him. When his government got involved in a number of financial scandals, he resigned as prime minister in November 1989. In May 1991 Rajiv was assassinated while campaigning for the next round of parliamentary elections.

Park Geun-hye, Benazir Bhutto, and Rajiv Gandhi met the same fate as their famous parents. They fell from grace. Will Bongbong Marcos meet the same fate as his father?


Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant, management professor and an avid sports fan.