Apr 142013


    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.


The Filipino Oligarchy, the People and the 2010 Election


Yfur Porsche P. Fernandez



                In a supposed democratic country like the Philippines, it is traditionally held that the fate of aspiring leaders to occupy public offices depends upon voter’s significant decisions, but our history tells us the disappointing reveal –- various administrations were once celebrated, were then  installed and were later criticized and abhorred, thus a sort of failure sentiment for the electorate.  Amidst the long familiarity of our country practicing democratic forms like election, the faculty of political maturity remains in the gray area, while the assumption of deliberating  honest and well-processed election is still a make believe.

Today’s Macapagal – Arroyo administration which, “as it claims,” is elected by the public, cannot deny citizens’ endless call for its upheaval, however, the political survival of this governance has been really highly irrevocable taking the unsuccessful coup attempts and numerous efforts to overthrow the government. In this context, the upcoming 2010 national election is now taken as the ultimate lifesaver especially in this present political system beset with an awful performance and a never-ending betrayal to the public. The electorate rages for an immediate change of government, alongside is the common failure of the populace to vigilantly examine the background and the roots of political aspirants – as to either they will just carry the torch of their familial interests, or sincerely practice the essence of what we call tunay na paglilingkod-bayan or genuine service to the people.  Moreover, a depressing situation shows that even though politicians’ profiles are made known to the people, the voting public tends to overlook rational decision making over fame — as these politicians successfully mislead and blur public’s perception about their images. These sort of “charades” used to twist their negative sides are habitually done through the “glamour and spark of prestige” intentionally worn by politicians, not to mention other illicit activities that would make the people notice only their self-designed and embossed qualities, overshadowing their negative ones – hence, a huge popularity contest and a grand event of name cleansing as the usual businesses of politics. The people know it; however there is always no escape from the jaws of greed for power.

The Filipino Oligarchy. By and large, the political terrain of the Philippines has never been in a smooth surface.  What the public sees today is a “prohibited system” which has turned into a glossy (seemingly acceptable) “natural state of affairs.” Accounts of red tapes, corruption scandals and other anti-public trust charges flood the typical content of the airwaves. It has exactly become a usual business to see how persons in power enjoy the autonomy of public space, or how they get pleasure from the stirring media circus. Likewise, it has been a normal thing to hear politicians exchanging pieces of swift and saturated rebuttal in any form — while public’s interest, in general, is disregarded. Political aspirants’ announcements on their candidacies become a national drama and a glaring display – while ignoring the most pressing and looming concerns of the moment.  Handshakes among politicians can be plainly perceived by the public as gentlemen’s if not state men’s acts, but little we know that these could mean something shady and cynical at the back of various allegiances, in the spirit of benefit sharing. Fame, command, wealth, doing favors, rewards — all these and more in a structure plagued with vested self-interest and strong addiction to the dose of bureaucratic power, amassing the complimentary control over their economic dominions. Welcome to the barbed arena of Philippine politics where we fall short to realize that above all these are many different actors who come from the same strand of supremacy – the ruling Filipino families! At this instant, learning the natural state of affairs allows us to witness a wide array of scrutiny – this shall include actors involved in this panorama of filthy power relations. Undoubtedly, Philippine politics cannot be conferred without the partaking of the “wealthy,” the “political entrepreneurs,” the “ruling elites,” the “power moguls,” “the privileged ones,” hereinafter and collectively known to as the OLIGARCHY.  

Oligarchy or elite democracy?  There has been a broad discourse among political historians as to what description Philippine politics shall hold. Oligarchy or elite democracy? Experts of elite studies state that oligarchy is a more appropriate term to describe the political system than elite democracy. In the basis of semantics, “elite democracy” is merely a combination of two contradicting thoughts, thus an application of a wrong description or a misnomer. On the other hand, the term “oligarchy” in itself, is able to transcend the idea of the rule of the few. However, from the perspective of a Development Studies student, oligarchy as a political description must be qualified as tyrannical, in essence, the rule of the few which completely subjugates the majority and makes no if not bogus avenues for public’s interest articulation and aggregation; becoming non-reassuring and pro-rich. One of the most sensible and established accounts on Filipino oligarchy and elitism is the Anarchy of Families edited by Alfred McCoy. This book vigorously exposes notorious oligarchic families across the archipelago. This literature made out of methodologies such as political history, familial lineage, historical materialism, genealogy and a bit of participatory research directly shows the prevalence of Filipino oligarchy not only restricted in urban domains (as what is usually stripped in the media) but rather strange cases of this kind exist in the rural areas as well. On the same instrument, we can distinguish the similarity of oligarchic families’ political psychology, strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities, means to muster political power, management to sustain economic power, rise from a particular field (generally business), their chronicles and generations, narratives and their fall from a regime of success to another – all of which are more than supportive to the study of the Philippine politics of today and its seemingly immortal interaction among the oligarchic families. All of which are relevant towards the understanding of the nature and existence of oligarchic families particularly at these times when there is a dire need to put political aspirants (predominantly members of the oligarchy) under necessary yet laymen’s assessments prior to the 2010 election.  In our day, at the verge of nationwide election hype or shall we say, the period of grabbing opportunities to pave advantages to increase bankability to the public, members of the Filipino oligarchy are once again visible to show their might and propaganda as major political actors; they are noticeable in campaigning their respective bearers who they think can establish the biggest edge to compete other aspirants, who, like themselves are members of the oligarchy – making it visibly, a transfer of power from the same faction.

The “intra-elite transfer of power” and the conflict of interest. The political configuration of the Philippine politics today includes a function of means, favors and rewards coupled with the immortal “money, power and prestige.” Making politics as a fertile ground to accommodate oligarchic interests, their material means and accesses/connections to other influential sectors of the society become their engine to public office. The Filipino oligarchic families couch in the same terrace, occupy the high circles and enjoy the exclusiveness of the superior power. In a spectrum between pro-people and pro-business agenda, regulations which will favor economic interests of the few hands or the oligarchy are of greater extent. I would never believe that political aspirants from the oligarchy and at the same time economic stalwarts (Villar, Estrada, Aquino, Roxas, Escudero, etc.) would crave to pass unfavorable policies against their wealth sustenance and accumulation – this is self-destruction to their familial status. To reiterate, public office has become a hall that continues to strengthen the ideals and interest of the oligarchy — public office as a mere business and nothing more. Those who have huge amount of money in their pockets are the ones who become instant vessels of power. Power in its sense is broad. Power in its ability corrupts. Along with these come the prestige or the celebrities among the members of the oligarchy as they acquire the artilleries to escape the structural predicaments a usual Filipino household experiences. Their clans seemed to have planned how power will be passed from a generation to another  — professional trapos (traditional politicians), as they say. By this, we can be certain that elections in the Philippines equally mean renewal of power domination. And the 2010 election can possibly mean no different from the previous political events.

Who’s next? A brief inspection on the 2010 political curtain. While we are not discarding other important positions in the archipelago, the most drilling issue of the moment is the quest for the presidency, the highest position of the land. If we take a look at the national level election, the attraction dwells into the names legendary in the political arena. Here are the concrete examples: Noynoy Aquino, perceived as the strongest contender who currently enjoys the magnetic wave inherited from his parents, former Benigno Aquino’s marked as an icon of anti-dictatorship and former president Corazon Aquino’s “Cory magic,” tagged as the mother of Philippine democracy. These are the glimmer of Aquino’s battle at present, yet it must be told again that Noynoy is still a part of the clan lording vast lands in Tarlac. On the one hand, let us assume that Mar Roxas pursues his ambition to presidency. His caliber will certainly include the benefit from earning the Roxas glory, as his grandfather was the former president of the republic while his father was a legislator. Aside from these, they own domains in various farm communities, not to mention their strong connections with the Ayalas, a known big bourgeois comprador. His decision not to run as a president still brings a suspicious stroke as to what favor and rewards happened at the back of this deceiving political curtain. Manuel Villar, known as a tycoon, on the other hand is likewise a prominent landlord in diverse territories. His packaging involves the giving out of houses and lots while raising the bar of “ST Lang: Sipag at Tiyaga.” Identified as the “green president” for her advocacies in environment and land related programs, Loren Legarda, a broadcast journalist by profession has used her media skills and mileage to build a sharp edge among contenders however, her image regressed when her worship for power was exposed to the people. Opposition’s Chiz Escudero pitted against administration’s Gilbert Teodoro get pleasure from their juvenile representation – both are strongly identified members of the oligarchy with the former’s family being a landlord and political mainstay while the latter being a military man and a famous ally of the Arroyo administration who aims to continue its backward foreign policies. And the list does not end there. As election fever approaches, a lot of aspirants are anticipated to declare their candidacies which embrace local government officials, members of the legislative branch and television celebrities, among others. In the end, the electorate will have its final inventory of candidates and soon, it will be realized (yet is suitably predicated already) that all of them are generally members of the oligarchy – the powerful families who continue to dominate all sides of the system.

Election as the hallmark of democracy.  With dirty tricks, properly tuned packaging and vibrant console to the public, election is simply assumed and democracy is believed to be operational.  Through election, people choose leaders who they think can best represent their ideals, aspirations and interests — a tenet of democracy as supreme power comes from the people and government authorities emanate from them. Election exhibits the political will of the public again, “as it claims.” Political researchers and social scientists often discuss the encompassing role of our election which includes: (1) leadership selection, (2) performance review and (3) renewal of consent. More than these, the Philippine election is being used by the Filipino oligarchy to gain wide access to all forms of power. Does election really serve as the hallmark of democracy or just a spacious region to advance what we call tyrannical leadership? To start with, is there really a pool of accountable leaders to choose from? Second, how can the real leadership performance be measured if, in the first place, the whole system is weighed down by patron-client relationships and other acts of granting suspicious favors and rewards? Assuming that there is a body which will conduct the review; will the result assure the people that it has survived the political stain? Does it really reflect the political atmosphere the public has been suffering for decades now? And finally, what is the real score behind the renewal of consent? What is renewed – the consent of the majority or the rule of the powerful few?  These questions are hardly addressed especially at these instances when the oligarchy is more than eager to fashion a self-serving masquerade of deception.

The Lesser Evil.  Erratic may it seemed, but the dilemma as absence of REAL options is in itself a clear indication that the system is not successful in bringing out the best for its constituency primarily composed of the people. A rational voter’s second to the last resort is to vote who he thinks possesses the “lesser evil” imbued in a personality while his last resort is not to vote at all,  which, by all means is an equally lucid impression of a further defeat for the voting public.  “Lesser evil” label in this case, belongs to politicians of the oligarchy who are victorious in flaunting flawless masks and wearing camouflages to conceal their downbeats while lifting up their positive edges, if there’s any.  This inconvenient truth of what appears to be an obligating selection of the lesser evil leads to a phenomenon likely to be called recidivism – recidivism in the context of electing politicians of the same features and finally ending up with calls for impeachment or ouster. Is this really a sort of committing repeated mistakes? Or, is it more of a result of not having serious, real, truthful options? The oligarchy in the Philippines has had its lion’s share in the political history of our country.  The Filipino people seemed to be satisfied to the enclosing and disenabling political environment where we are declared “the most powerful” during elections and gravely “powerless” afterwards. The powerless majority, in this case, is taken only as entities to prove the legitimacy while being struck by the gambit of the oligarchy.

The final victory of another member of the oligarchy to public office is yet to be known. This unquestionably requires our citizen-critic duty in safeguarding the sovereign will. We are again the most powerful at these moments; and we must be, until the end of this rough road of democracy. Barriers shall be conquered by continuous efforts to deepen socio-political consciousness.  Political education shall increase the ability to tirelessly uphold Philippine’s democratic character — mamamayang mapangmatyag, mapanuri at kritiko. Let us continue searching the whole story on the probable causes of people’s struggle to disengage in the current alienating political system where the oligarchy rejoices to reside at the apex of what we call triangle of social injustice and its ensuing cycle of power concentration.


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



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