The Philippine revolution has smiled on coconut vendor Reynaldo Lavarias.
Lavarias and his wooden pushcart can be found among the throngs at Malacanang presidential palace, turning a brisk business in a place that was barred to ordinary people for 20 years.
On top of that, the police have stopped squeezing him for protection money. "It's getting better," he said of his business. Cleaver in hand, he whacked away deftly at a green coconut to make a hole for the straw. "I voted for Cory -- my whole family voted for Cory."
Cory is President Corazon Aquino. Her ascent to power last week has elated the Philippine business world, from street vendor to corporate chieftain, and started them talking for the first time in years of growth and prosperity.
They point to political will in the government, popular support from the people and promises of substantial aid from the United States and other foreign sources.
"People are behind this government," said an import-export firm vice president. "Everyone wants to work now."
But there is no guarantee of success. The Philippines is gripped today by an economic crisis that in 2 1/2 years has idled countless factories and shops, driven waves of badly needed dollars to havens abroad and forced the country to reschedule its foreign debt. It has rendered the average Filipino close to 15 percent poorer. The slide continues.
Ferdinand Marcos, Malacanang's occupant until a U.S. helicopter flew him away last Tuesday, ruled for 20 years with a combination of neglect and an eye for personal enrichment, according to U.S. and Philippine analysts. It helped push his country toward bankruptcy while most of its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region thrived.
Growth stagnated in the 1970s during a world recession and serious mismanagement by Marcos' associates who prospered because of their friendship with Marcos. In 1983, full-scale crisis set in with the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., the president's husband.
Born into one of the country's most prosperous land-owning families, Aquino is in essence a free-market conservative. Although she came to power through revolutionary means -- mass street demonstrations and a military rebellion -- bankers and company executives rank among her closest friends.
She filled key Cabinet economic posts with businessmen who were active in her campaign. She ordered the dismantling of the regulations, monopolies and special privileges that were set up for Marcos' close associates.
Finance Minister Jaime Ongpin, former president of the Benguet Corp., a major mining concern, contended that if equal rules are enforced for everyone, no special incentives will be needed to get business going.
"The government should get out of business completely -- privatize," said Ongpin. There is talk of selling government-owned corporations and letting market forces lead the way.
The goal is to restore business confidence. Net investment and new loans have all but dried up. Any Filipino with money to save in recent years has tried to put it overseas in a bank account or condominium, officials and business leaders say. "There's an enormous fund out there just waiting to be tapped," said Ongpin.
Short-term signs so far have been good. The Philippine peso is gaining against the dollar on exchange markets. The Manila Stock Exchange has been booming, with such a surge when Aquino took over last week that rules limiting a rise in price to 40 percent per day were called into play.
For the long term, Ongpin said, the government's focus will be on developing rural areas, where most of the country's 55 million people live, and improving food production. Tax and land reform will be pursued, he said. In industry, small- and medium-scale enterprises will receive priority, in contrast to the Marcos approach.
The United States, which helped Aquino come to power, has promised increased economic aid. The administrator for the Agency for International Development, Peter McPherson, is due in Manila in a few weeks. Today, Filipino and U.S. officials discussed the restoration of school and water projects suspended last year. Talks on increasing aid are expected with Japan as well.
A delegation from the International Monetary Fund is also due by next week to assess the country's progress in meeting fund requirements for further support. In late 1983, the Philippines suspended payment on its estimated $25 billion foreign debt and has been limping along since on a bail-out package put together under fund auspices. In return, it has to implement unpopular austerity measures to help level the balance of payments and curb inflation.
Ongpin said the government wants to renegotiate the debt to get "some room to breathe." Currently, 50 percent of export proceeds are going to service interest alone, and Ongpin complained this does not allow for any growth. He did not elaborate on what type of changes the Philippines wants.
His language bore some resemblance to that heard in debt-burdened Latin American countries that are asserting their rights against the fund. "The primary obligation is to make sure we can feed our people," Ongpin said. "I worry about that far more than I worry about paying foreign debt."
Ongpin has suggested, as a private citizen, that the country might refuse to honor Marcos-era loans that are proven to have been siphoned off for personal spending by Marcos' close associates.
The IMF is known to welcome the change of leadership, but it is unclear how it will react to requests for loosened credit terms. This week it gave a positive sign of cooperation by agreeing to the new government's request to postpone for 60 days an import liberalization program.
Some analysts are concerned that the tasks ahead might overwhelm the new team. They point out that corruption and the crony system have become deeply ingrained in Philippine society and cannot be banished with removal of one leader.
They argue that customs officials who have built houses with back-door fees collected for clearing shipments will have a hard time going back to meager salaries. So will bank officers accustomed to taking a percentage of each loan they arrange.
In addition, some of the current problems are not related to Marcos but to the world economy, in particular, the fall of prices for agricultural commodities on which the Philippines depends so much for its export earnings.
Furthermore, not everyone is convinced of Aquino's good will. Some believe that her election could simply mark the transition of power and wealth from one set of oligarchic, land-owning families to another.
Still, few would turn back the clock. Business leaders fought too hard for that. As Aquino's main source of campaign funds, many company heads stayed by her, risking financial well-being and even their lives in last week's revolt.