What’s New and What’s Old in Philippine Politics

Political dynasties are bound to the presidency by the system of patronage that the latter dispenses in terms of pork barrel distribution, appointments, preferential treatment in local government revenues and development projects, as well as other perks and privileges. They support the political party of the winning president either as new members or as coalition partners. Ideological considerations or public service – which are nil in most politicians – have nothing to do with this traditional partnership but merely politics of convenience. This quid pro quo politics makes the president strong and provides resiliency and recovery to political clans. Even as rivals, however, political dynasties maintain a history of reconciliation so long as these are for their own interests. For example, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., a business crony of Marcos who was implicated in the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., supported Aquino III in the last election. At some point as a member of Congress, Aquino III aligned himself with Macapagal-Arroyo on the Hacienda Luisita massacre issue and voted against the opening of the “Garci tapes” linking the incumbent president to electoral fraud.

The resiliency of political clans is exemplified not only by the Marcoses, Cojuangco-Aquinos, and Macapagal-Arroyos but also by the Singsons, whose dynasty dates back to the 1830s, Fuendebellas, Villafuertes, and others. They also trounced politicians touted to be reformist, with for instance Faustino Dy beating Governor Grace Padaca in Isabela and Lilia Pineda, an ally of Macapagal-Arroyo, winning over Governor Fr. Eddie Panlileo in Pampanga.

Economic base

Meantime, the material or economic base is important for the sustenance of political dynasties. In the past, land ownership, sugar plantations, mining and logging concessions bankrolled the grab of political power which in turn was used to amass more wealth. In recent decades, wealth provided by trade and commerce, banking, telecommunications and media, food and beverage chains, real estate, corporate law, and other new industries sent new politicians to government. The accumulation of material wealth has always been nuanced by a system of landgrabbing, exploitation and oppression, as well as the misuse of political authority and corruption thus making income inequalities more severe and economic crisis more pervasive. Aquino III is both a product and representative of the ruling class of political dynasties and is basically, therefore, aligned with his class interest. Aside from this, he is a product of an election system that still gives an edge to popularity and name recall rather than to ideological visions and catalysts of change.

In the recent elections, he was supported by influential dynasties and media owners as well as the corporate elite based in Makati. Some of his supporters belong to the 20 richest Filipinos whose net worth of PhP900 billion is equivalent to the combined income of the poorest 11 million families. He is the current “darling” of the U.S. and other powerful countries with strategic interests to protect in the Philippines, from investments to military intervention. (Didn’t they use to support Macapagal-Arroyo before?) The cabinet that he has formed recycles old faces – former Arroyo officials who will now occupy key positions – with new ones particularly in the justice post basically providing the embellishment of token reform. He can always claim he’s his own man but realpolitik dictates he not only needs the support of powerful endorsers but must dance through the music of traditional politics of trade offs and compromises if he aims to complete his six-year term.

The politics of political dynasties and oligarchic parties in the Philippines has always been against change, consistently beholden to elite interests as well as foreign powers. Because it is driven by narrow interests, it is consistently opposed to popular reforms espoused by the country’s poor and marginalized classes such as land reform, decent wages, basic social services as well as sovereignty issues and economic independence. It would be interesting to see how Aquino III will be able to transcend his class background and political orientation. In Philippine politics, promises are bound to be broken unless elected leaders begin to walk the talk by reforming the country’s governance system, initiating genuine land reform, and upholding human rights, among other basic reforms. These are the same reforms that Corazon Aquino pledged to address in 1986 only to disappoint – after six years in office – the millions of Filipinos who had marched on Edsa I. (Posted by Bulatlat.com)

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