Fourth of 5 parts
The oligarchy is a multifaceted class, and the term is by no means neutral. Practitioners of political science and political economists often differ in their definition and the clarity of their interpretation. I have adopted the contemporary definition as used by ordinary citizens, which in most cases is colored by their politics and heavily weighted by their acuity and prejudices. It can be virulent and, at times, mild or even exhilarating. Some popular definitions describe the nature of the oligarchy as a power structure that allows members to accumulate economic and political clout, influencing governance directly or indirectly and distorting functions and policies to their benefit to the exclusion of the rest. of the society. This complex power structure is invariably a composite of several large private and controlled corporations involving allies or auxiliaries in elective and nominating positions in government and captive regulatory agencies. The latter aptly describes the special class of mostly elective civil servants, political dynasts capable of transmitting their political weight and their rights to family members over the generations.
I have often argued that not all individual families or the figures making up the oligarchy, who in contemporary parlance are also interchangeable with “the Philippine family business elite” are enemies of the president. I have cited some members of the Philippine business elite dating back to the American and Spanish regimes. “These people are risk takers, with a long-term vision, pioneers in industries that need big capital and management talent – where government is incompetent to engage.” (“The Philippine Oligarchy, The Manila Times, July 29, 2020.) What is unreasonable are those from the same elite who suck the bone marrow of Filipinos, using their wealth to bribe public office holders. At this level, a macabre partnership is formed between financiers and bankrollers with those who seek political power using the tools of democracy and republicanism – the process of legitimizing elections and general suffrage. This synergy between the business elite and elected government officials is the double systemic evil that hangs over our democratic space, anchored in traditional political practices. At this point, the lines are blurry as to how economic and political power is harnessed and used. The greatest myth propagated is the singular notion that there are good and moral oligarchs and political dynasts. There are not any! A fine distinction must be made at this point. It is true that there are “good and bad” businessmen, just as there are “good and bad” politicians. But the very concept of oligarchy and political dynasty as power structures embedded in the body politic protected by our laws is odious. This unwanted offspring born from an incubation of an abnormal forced marriage of the Filipino culture, with that of 300 years of Spanish influence, and 100 years of American imposition of their distorted ideals of democracy and republicanism, emphasized by the unbridled practices of free market economy, must be abandoned. (“The Philippine Oligarchy,” TMT, July 29, 2020.)
A case for structural reform
For decades, laws on laws have been enacted, allowing the proliferation of these twin evils that preserve political and economic power within and within their families. This in turn breeds and sustains a culture of impunity, corruption and criminality. The absurdity of all of this is that the purveyors of these laws are the disbelievers themselves at all levels of government, especially the legislative bodies – both houses of Congress.
An example is the prohibition of political dynasties in the Constitution of 1987. Its article II, section 28 states: “The state guarantees equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibits political dynasties as they may. be defined by law. No law has ever been passed by Congress to enforce the same in the past three decades. The reason is simple: 80% of the two Chambers are made up of members of political dynasties.
What underlies the systemic evils of this country is fundamentally our abnormal political structure, from which emanate policies and laws that benefit either the people or their perdition. Among the legacies handed down by American colonial rule is the two-party system, the building blocks of a truly functional democracy, if we will. Filipino politicians, however, have abused this concept ever since. Today we have nearly 169 political parties accredited by the Election Commission.
Senatorial Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a pillar of the opposition, has this to say about President Duterte’s claim that he dismantled the oligarchy when ABS-CBN Corp. parties…[this] can only be achieved through structural reform and overhaul of existing laws that have allowed the oligarchy to endure.
The good senator understood too well the symbiosis between the oligarchy and the political dynasty. Both must be erased, but political dynasts take precedence. Its solution, similar to that of the centrist Democratic Party (CDP), is to push for the passage of an anti-political dynasty law and a law on reform of political parties.
Let me quote verbatim my take on CDP precepts written in blog form in 2012 as part of our recruiting brochure.
“Political parties are key players in a democracy. They serve as a mechanism of liaison and direction in politics being a means of mobilizing the masses as well as of socializing the leaders. They also function as a source of political identity – alongside religion, political parties should be how citizens are identified or the point of reference. In addition, political parties are a channel of control. Without political parties, citizens are not represented in government institutions, cannot control power and participate in decision-making. Thus, in the long run, they cannot prevent the abuse of power.
Political parties are the backbone of democracy in modern societies. They are organizations that bring together the interests and resources behind policies. They gain power and authority by participating in elections.
Political parties are supposed to be the channels of communication between decision makers and citizens. They should also play an active role in informing and educating the country’s citizens about politics so that they can make informed choices. They should have a fair, democratic and reasonable process for selecting candidates for different public positions.
Political parties play a crucial role in overturning public opinion, in shaping laws and in public administration at all levels. They offer the people their plans to implement these changes.
A party should draft a single governance platform or vision with a set of principles and strategies. This vision defines the ideological identity of this party; and members are expected to adhere to these principles and strategies, as political parties provide the direction of government. Voters should be able to choose who should govern them based on what the candidates and their parties stand for.
It is therefore important that political parties are owned and controlled by their members.
And not by the oligarchs, not by political dynasties and not even by the political clan of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Next week: Call for change – constitutional revisions