Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy TMT

Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy Featured

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?

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