The following essay – in English or Pilipino – express the Filipino youth’s hopes for the 2010 elections where all of the writers are first-time voters. The essays strip bare the oligarchic character of the Philippines which is only democratic in form but not in substance.
Karen Mae D. Honrade
The Philippine Oligarchy and the 2010 elections
The stunted growth of our semi-feudal, semi-colonial state is rooted to our prevailing system, grossly manipulated by the ruling few, or the oligarchy. Apparently, their permeable and vague existence, non-exclusively belonging to political, economic or military elite has made it even more possible for them to use one to their advantage. They complement each other, exhausting and enjoying at the same time all that they have intentionally, strategically, and carefully worked hard for, to the expense of the greater, toiling masses.
Oligarchy is a political system governed by a few people, the oligarchs. It is omnipresent. It is as though seemingly widely accepted by the local masses, as if they are part of the natural state of affairs. They expend all means to control our economy, which is the foremost vital determinant of our nationhood. Unlike the ordinary people, they know when and for whom to use their own money and when and from whom to take it back.
Elections and Oligarchy: The Philippine Setting
In our study of the power elite, we have seen how the several varieties of elite dominate the United States, the Philippines and other nation-states. With this, a pattern was revealed – given the nature of Philippine politics, elite dominated, under a party politics which is grounded on the basis of convenience and opportunities rather than ideologies, among many others the economic elite has all the chances to penetrate the political scene. They could invest on elections, while positively hoping to recover their losses when their bet or they themselves get elected. However, this phenomenon was not simply circumstantial; rather, it was crafted cunningly alongside our historic cooperation with the benevolent Americans and honed to this very moment of neocolonial era.
Even the beginnings of American colonial rule were marred with oligarchic tendencies. The native ruling class, “the prinicipalia” (Simbulan, D.) enjoyed rewards from American colonizers and in turn, perform certain obligations to preserve their colonial rule. In the 1900s, Federalista Party, which was made up of both Filipinos and Americans influenced Philippine politics tremendously. Even as early as these years, Filipinos were already subjugated under a few willing to sell their motherland to foreign invaders.
Furthermore, the strategic entry of Philippine oligarchs in politics intensified the bond between the landlords, bourgeois compradors and politicians. Sometimes, one can be a member of both classes. Presently, we can enumerate a number of such politicians. Manny Villar for example is both a bourgeois comprador and a politician with a net worth of no less than P750 million, acquired through real estate and banking. Richard Gordon’s family owns more than 1,000 ha of lands in Zambales, making him one of the biggest landlords in senate. We also have the recently popular Noynoy Aquino, whose family owns more than 6,000 ha of land in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac.
Elections are hopeless in the Philippines- this is the very notion I still conceive to the time being. It is make-believe, over-rated and merely creates an illusion that democracy exists in the country. It is a time in every six years wherein we hear blatant lies and false promises luring the naïve minds to support ones candidacy. It is a time when bribery is commonplace; when ballots are sold, not signed; when voters are hired not moved by the urging desires to help the country; when broadcasting networks earn millions from a 1-minute cheesy advertisement; and when bullets sell like pancakes.
It instills in our minds that the power lies in each of us. I agree with Amartya Sen, a well-renowned economist that the election is a fairly empty concept of democracy. How could this be possible when we are left with no choices at hand? The ones competing for power are those who have ‘the dough’ to campaign. The very nature of our elections, more often than not, heavily funded in order to secure votes limits our choices to aspiring politicians with baffling net worth. How can a poor aspirant with genuine desire to fulfill his or her obligation to our nation be elected if he or she does not become familiar among voters? Despite his cries for social reforms and such, there is no doubt that popular vote counts, and more often the chief ingredient in winning the Philippine elections.
According to bulatlat.com, a candidate for mayor or representative to the Lower House has to spend around P73, 060,000 ($1,537,781). Why will they be willing to spend that much when the accumulated salaries of a mayor for a three-year term amounts to P 2 million ($42, 096) and P3 million ($63, 144) for a representative of the Lower House? How will they be able to recover their losses? If funded, to whom will they be beholden? Needless to say, corruption will eventually surface. Philippine government runs like a family business: a business of the oligarchs.
2010 Elections: Another Sequel to Oligarchy
Even decades ago was already characterized by oligarchy. President Magsaysay who posed to be a man for the masses based on credible historical accounts owned vast land areas in Zambales. More distinctly, the Lopezes who also opted to draw a bridge to politics for their rent-seeking behavior are well-known owners of Manila Electric Co., Maynilad Water Services, ABSCBN, et.al. starting on 19th century. They also had strong affiliations with the Marcoses during the Martial rule, abling them to protect their economic interests. Today, Oscar Lopez and Eugenio Lopez II are listed 15th and 34th among the richest people in the Philippines.
This is because to describe an oligarchy in the context of politics in probably the most superficial method, there are certain particularly identifiable names that could be easily distinguished by the masses as elitists, powerful and nonetheless of monetary wealth and/or resources. That is why it is only of wisdom that the voters, may they be first-timers or not, would scrutinize candidates before they decide on whom they want to reign over the country. In our nation, voting is almost as dubious and bogus as it could get – especially nowadays where defeatism is evident on 2 out of every 3 Filipinos. Most commonly they would claim that politicians are all the same, that every single one is corrupt; which in turn, is true in nature, admittedly or not, whatever the image of a candidate is. To top this off, when connections within the government administration and the locally specified plutocracy of the economy create secret connections, there is not a doubt that hegemony, even though we are aware of its existence as of now, would evolve into a plutorchy, making sure that not only would power and wealth remain by those whom we would elect into position, but also having to share the cycle of it to the elitists in the capitalist construct of our country. As if having approximately 70% of the population lie below the poverty line is not enough fact to raise consciousness on how much help and support the masses need from our leaders of today and of tomorrow, it is a sad truth to be accepted that defeatism, as mentioned earlier, would really be evident if oligarchs continue to quench their own thirst to remain in powerful thrones, socially speaking.
Oligarchs in Party Politics
According to Alfred McCoy, alongside the introduction of electoral system by the Americans both in the local and national level is the creation of political environment conducive to rent seeking. One specific instance is the accounts on the Nacionalista Party. The NP used the prevailing system in order to reward its allies through the founding of Philippine National Bank (PNB). The Manila oligarchs with the provincial elites flatter the government officials through funding their campaigns even way back. Another trend has been the solicitation of government officials for the help of the local elites, warlords and other influential personalities with economic interests.
Danding Cojuangco is one classic example of both a political and economic elite. With vast land holdings, one of the largest in the Philippines, chairman of the San Miguel Corporation, he is also a member of the Nacionalista Party or NPC. He made various attempts on testing political waters but eventually withdrew. Nonetheless, he is considered one of the biggest funder of NPC, former ally of the Marcoses and with close ties with prominent politicians. No wonder he was able to get away with the coco levy funds scandal.
A People-oriented Vote towards a New Republic
In 2010, there is an estimated 9 million virgin voters who will participate in the upcoming elections. There will be 9 million more who will witness the ugly truth behind the appealing promises of social change and responsible leadership- 9 million who will attest my claims. Some among the 9 million will accept the invoking opportunities of being a flying, bogus or paid voter. Some will prostitute their votes that they may get some money to fill in their stomachs. Some will be easily lured to false promises without careful analysis and examination of the many faces lying just beneath masks. And, some will opt not to vote at all. One vote may not make a difference at all – nevertheless, a well-thought, deliberately analyzed vote, bearing in mind the values of nationalism and genuine concern for the greater Filipino masses will definitely count. Change is a protracted struggle that will never happen unless we act to make it possible.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2010