Third of 5 parts

PRIOR to the arrival of Spain, the islands of the Philippines were composed of settlements and villages called barangay with no central government. The barangay, the autonomous component for basic governance, was headed by a datu with a few hundred kindred individuals composing a stable sociopolitical unit.

The 300 years of Spanish colonization, introduction of a bureaucracy and influx of the Catholic Church hierarchy evolved a semblance of centralized government eroding the preeminence of the datu — the equivalency of rajah, hari or lakan of the ruling class — on top of the social order.

Antecedents

The Spanish colonial regime eventually converted the polity into its instrument for governing the territory, collecting taxes, keeping the peace — now all in the name of the Spanish crown. The bond between social classes maharlika and maginoo (the nobles) to the freemen and slaves were balanced on the padrino or patronage system, primitively feudal but a perfectly working arrangement before its nature was transformed over the centuries by Spanish and later, by American influence.

It was the imposition of another system of governance piggy-backed on this traditional bond that began to alter the character of the rulers and the ruled. The Philippines was America’s first colony ever, and this baby step at colonization was a trial-and-error stage. For instance, America, whose people pride themselves with individual freedoms, injected “Western concepts” of democracy and republicanism, particularly the idea of representative government, bypassing the cultural, political practices and roles of the datu and maharlika.

American tutelage

The concept of a “Filipino aristocracy” never was subscribed to by the Spanish colonialists and nor by the Americans, effectively dismantling the concept. But the cultural imprint of centuries of clan interrelationship was indelible, where the clan heads/patriarchs/patrons were expected to perform their old traditional roles. Thus, they had to provide protection and even livelihood to their clansmen. The patrons therefore had to accumulate the wherewithal, wealth and political power to perform these obligations and tasks. And this, is a clan/family simply driven to preserve its prerogatives — its wealth and power — patronage politics at its barest.

America introduced alien institutions like the three co-equal branches of a government, further complicating traditional governance. Yet, what was structurally imposed was a far cry from the American system itself. Instead of a federal structure, suitable to diverse clans proliferating in the islands, a unitary system of government headed by a president was instituted. But the most glaring defect of the presidential system is that this became the embryo upon which patronage politics was centralized, nurtured and dispensed from.

When we claimed full sovereignty from America after the Commonwealth period, the traditional patronage system was structurally ingrained as a systemic anomaly buttressed by the Constitution of 1935. Thus, was bequeathed to our Philippine presidents the role of the top patron reaching its apex during the Marcos years. Marcos elevated patronage politics, practiced to perfection during the martial law years where “crony capitalism” came into our political lexicon. To hold on to power, patrons and padrino could dip their dirty fingers into the public coffers — thus a new sub-species of the oligarchy appeared in the glossary, “kleptocracy.”

And in our presidential system, where the president, the most powerful position in government is elected at large, is expected to provide the resources for an expensive election campaign. This opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite, which was coming into its own, to influence the outcome. And we can only speculate at the quid pro quo this capture of political power entails.

And this goes down to all levels of elective positions. Today, political patronage has become more pervasive fomenting corruption. Our electoral processes for instance are the overarching environment upon which political patronage incubates. Paradoxically, democracy cannot exist without elections; except that in our culture, we managed to debauch the same.

With the constitutionally mandated term limits of elective officials, the desire for continuity in office easily morphs into a deviant model of “public service as a private business,” becoming a strong impetus toward the perpetuation of this power base — thus the need for the patron/clan head to pass this on to wife, husband, children, or relatives. This assures the family control over its portion of the local government unit, seeding public elective or appointive positions of power with blood kin. Thus, the flowering of “political dynasties” (“Presidential system, patronage politics and political dynasties,” The Manila Times, March 28, 2018).

Oligarchy, political dynasty intertwine

In the Philippine setting, the oligarchy as defined refers to some large private multi-businesses whose wealth could be traced back to the Spanish colonizers. Some sources of wealth are gifted to families from Catholic friar lands for their services to the crown. Growing over time, this wealth is passed on to next generations. Many of these businesses started as monopolies continuing to the present time. But many indubitably grew out of sheer hard work by founders, gifted with talent and the ability to convert opportunities into wealth creation. But to exist, survive and flourish over time, they needed to acquire and possess political power to protect their economic clout. In the present context, political power is acquired through a legitimizing process of elections — handed down by our American mentors under the umbrella of democracy and all its appurtenances. And the political dynasties have this as their singular expertise.

This marriage of interests between the oligarchy and political dynasty blurs the line between economic and political power accumulation, resulting in several phenomena with grievous consequences. First, encroaching directly into the political mainstream, political parties are either created or captured. Cases in point: The Nationalist People’s Coalition, or NPC, founded in 1992 by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr., now under successor Ramon Ang, has three senators and two dozen congressmen and countless local government executives. The National Unity Party, or NUP, chaired and funded by Enrique Razon Jr. has about 50 legislators. Former senator and billionaire Manny Villar has captured the Nacionalista Party, or NP. His wife Cynthia is a sitting senator, son Mark, Public Works secretary under Duterte, and daughter Camille, a member of Congress.

The second phenomenon is the travesty of the party-list system. Originally a political innovation patterned after European party lists to give broader voice to the “non-political” sector of society — the farmers, fisherfolk, labor, peasant, etc. — the purpose of which was to democratize the lower house of Congress which had been co-opted by the oligarchy and the political dynasties. What was meant to allow one-fifth of the lower house greater democratic representation was instead perverted by the oligarchy and the political dynasts by installing family members as party-list representatives. Today, the party list has become an adjunct to the twin evils of Philippine politics — the oligarchy and the political dynasties.

Politics in the Philippines as a family business is thriving. Even the President, catapulted to power under a populist resurgence has created his own. Daughter Sara is mayor, son Sebastian is her vice mayor and another son, Paolo, is a congressman. All come from one city, Davao.

Next: Can the oligarchy and the political dynasty be obliterated?

The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.