When President Rodrigo Duterte announced on July 14 that he destroyed the oligarchy in the Philippines, I tempered my reaction because days later he follows up his statements with a disclaimer, “Nagbiro lang ako naniwala naman kayo.” The he tops it off with his usual “p.i.”
When Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque started distancing himself to the “destroying oligarchy” statement, at least on the angle that the statement is being pointed at the Lopezes of the ABS-CBN, it finally downed on me that the President’s statement is indeed serious. But did he really destroy the Philippine oligarchy?
An oligarchy is defined as “a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution”. Specifically, the President said that the oligarchy he dismantled used to control the economy of the people. If this will be the standard, then by all means the President may have been had by his advisers and made him appear like a clown.
First, as published in the book “The Ties that Bind: A Guide to Family, Business, and Other Interests in the Ninth House of Representatives”, author Eric Gutierrez showed that oligarchy exists in the Philippines. Hence, the President did not speak without basis. But then, Gutierrez did not stop there. His research showed that these oligarchs control not only economic but also political power. Control over political power is necessary to ensure the the protection of economic interests. That explains why Gutierrez’s research led him to the halls of Congress — the nesting place of a number of oligarchs.
Gutierrez’s research and a number of studies on political clans from Carl Lande to those undertaken by the Institute for Popular Democracy, and the professors and students of various universities in the Philippines clearly show that the Philippine oligarchy is not just composed of one family. In fact, there are at least 319 political families or clans in the Philippines with 234 of them continually dominating the elections in post-Marcos era. These families define, if not dictate, economic policies and as much as possible maintain the political environment to make it favorable to them. In other words, they are the oligarchs that the President had to deal with and dismantle. Unfortunately, the Lopezes are not included in this list.
Well, it can be argued that the Lopezes do not directly engage in electoral politics but field their candidates. That can be true but if they are that powerful as the President claims, how come the Lopezes could not even muster a number to have their franchise renewed? Note that ABS-CBN’s franchise bill had been first filed during the time of President Noynoy Aquino and has been refiled several times under the Duterte Administration. Simply put, if the Lopezes can be considered as among the oligarchs, then what the President destroyed was only a weak one. Ironically, to destroy this weak one, the President had to use the Congress, an institution populated by the stronger oligarchs.
The President claiming that he destroyed the oligarchy in the Philippines is a mis-statement. Unless he institutes an honest to goodness political reform, the rule of the few will continue to dominate the political economy of the country. Definitely, there will be transaction costs and that means strengthening if not solidifying the power of the stronger ones. Isn’t it that businessmen close to some national politicians are offering to buy ABS-CBN? Even the President had a slip of tongue when he declared, “My friends who are helping me, if you get richer and richer, I am happier. Because I am happy with my life. But I want you to get rich.”