The Philippine oligarchy – The Manila Times


Second of 3 parts
President Rodrigo “Deegong” Duterte’s claim that he had “…dismantled the oligarchy that controlled the economy and the Filipino people” was more hyperbolic than factual. But we may grant the Deegong this expansive boast as his performance has been remarkable, substantially impairing ABS-CBN Corp.’s propensity to distort information to advance the Lopez family’s interests.

The President has had a lot of practice locking horns with oligarchs as in a similar fight with the Rufino-Prieto family, which owned the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) and who for years he accused of “swindling” the government of billions of pesos for the “illegal” use of the “Mile Long” complex, a 6.2-hectare Makati City property. Past administrations were unable to dislodge this family as they used their newspaper “to shield their shenanigans.” It was slightly different with Roberto Ongpin whom he vowed to destroy. It was the President’s first attempt against the oligarchy and Ongpin’s role as President Ferdinand Marcos’ henchman and a President Fidel Ramos hanger-on made him a logical choice. The fact that his online gambling empire was not exactly a huge contribution to the Philippine economy made things easier for President Duterte. There is, however, a nasty side story to this as Ongpin’s flagship PhilWeb was forcibly sold for a song to Gregorio Araneta, a Duterte supporter. PhilWeb’s electronic gaming outlets are now profitable.

These acts by the Deegong are unprecedented in the annals of Philippine political history. No Philippine President had the guts to do what he did. He did indeed dismantle some of the important vehicles for political-economic debauchery by these oligarchs, but nowhere was he close to dismantling their control of the Philippine economy and the Filipino. The Philippine oligarchy will continue to be a feature of this government and many administrations to come unless our basic laws and fundamental mindset of our system of governance is altered. The Deegong rode to the presidency with these explicit promises — or so we thought. But he dropped the ball mid-play. But still, he has time to effect these changes in his last remaining years; or at least nurture the seeds of change (pagbabago) applying his vaunted political will. I am reprinting portions of my column on the oligarchy in the Philippines (“DU30 vs the oligarchy,” The Manila Times, Dec. 25, 2019).

The multifaced oligarchy
The oligarchy, a small group of families that hold economic power, perforce wield political influence, has been a feature of this country for more than a hundred years. Some wear different faces at different times with different regimes. But, above all, they are the inevitable results of a free market economy imposed by our American colonials, which in some ways we adopted, but with a twist. We married it to our traditional political practices. But the President needs to understand the nature and character of the oligarchy. Not all are his enemies; nor are all enemies of the people. What he should be after are the leeches that suck the lifeblood and marrow out of our people, yet they prosper in all administrations because their allies are ensconced in all levels of government and the bureaucracy. We have senators and congressmen who need the oligarchy and the elites to win elections and win power. Many are Duterte allies, too. The people appointed in the regulatory agencies overseeing their monopolies are simply their “living quid pro quo,” and they will be there long after the Deegong is gone. Because of this unholy alliance their network permeates vital institutions of this country — the courts, the military, police, both houses of Congress, the very bedrock of our cherished values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law which they have perverted to their ends.

This symbiotic relationship between the oligarchy and the political elite has to be dismantled; provided the Deegong understands that the rule of law be applied equally well — without he himself or his administration becoming the transgressors. Now a cursory lesson on what he is faced with.

The nouveau riche
”These people are more often than not bred in the petri dish of incoming regimes like his own using their nascent clout to expand their political connections. They are a ubiquitous lot, prone to conspicuous consumption showing off their wealth whose sources could very well be illegitimate. Their fealty is pledged to the regime that allows them upward mobility on the social ladder. These are the emerging cronies, toddler steps to the elite class, new to the game of wealth accumulation, nevertheless ravenous in their acquisitions. Most originally come from modest economic and social ranks. If they can parlay their embryonic network and sustain their influence towards the next regimes in the next generations, they may undergo gentrification and perhaps a patina and nomenclature of ‘old money.’”

Old money oligarchs
The leading ones are of Spanish pedigree “…the Zobel de Ayala Family is one of the prominent names in Philippine business. Forbes magazine listed them as the Philippines’ wealthiest at an aggregate wealth of almost $6.5 billion; but in reality, their wealth can be aggregated to almost $100 billion. All the local business taipans are but their princelings, like the Sys, Gokongweis, Tans, Ongpins, Cos and other Chinese-sounding names.” (“Zobel de Ayala Empire — The Rothchild Empire of the Philippines, Makers of Philippine Presidents,” Delmar Topinio Taclibon, MBA, PhD, DA.)

Since perhaps the Spanish and American eras, these people truly began to believe that they do important service to the nation. And indeed, they do; and in some perverted way, they are patriots. Their motivations may be seemingly altruistic but heavily weighted towards their survival, expanding their wealth, preserving their political prerogatives but, more importantly, a sterling legacy they must leave behind. These people are the risk-takers, with long-term views, pioneers in industries that need big capital and managerial talents — where government is incompetent to tread into. Having invested their family’s fortunes in the country, they will not jeopardize these and therefore must work in partnership with any transitory government. The big proviso is that they have to adhere to the rule of law. And this, the Deegong must internalize in his negotiations.

Over the decades they begin to undertake the responsibility for steering the course of events the country must pursue by stage-managing the political environment. And they indeed set the trajectory of the political arc without the transparency, accountability, and consent of we, the governed. And there’s the rub!

They exist upon the sufferance of our perverted political-economic system. And this faulty structure allowed the elite and the oligarchy to survive, flourish and manipulate the transitory elected officials who govern us. And like magnets, they attract the dregs of society — from the rent-seeking “movers and shakers” up to the highest circles of the mighty and powerful.

Thus, this malevolent compact began to take shape feeding off each other’s greed — a symbiosis. In time this unholy partnership, the oligarchy and the political dynasty will be the template for the type of systemic rot eating into our body politic and practice of governance for decades to come. And this is buttressed by our basic law — the Constitution.

Next week: Political dynasty — handmaiden to the oligarchy


For comments: lito.lorenzana@cdpi.asia



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