Political dynasty, party list and oligarchy intertwine Featured

Third of a series

LAST week's Part 2 was a short treatise on the political dynasty and its antecedents from our historical and political cultures. Today's column is a discussion of its twin evil, the oligarchy, and their symbiosis. An appendage, the party list, deserves special treatment, as this was an anomalous adaptation of the 1987 Cory Constitution emanating from the desire of the newly installed regime to translate the EDSA People Power Revolution into "empowerment" of the people.

The oligarchy

(Excerpt from "Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy," The Manila Times, Aug. 5, 2020.)

"In the Philippine setting, the oligarchy as defined refers to some large private multi-businesses whose wealth can be traced back to the Spanish colonizers. Some sources of wealth are gifted to families from Catholic friar lands for their services to the Crown. Growing over time, this wealth is passed on to the next generations. Many of these businesses started as monopolies continuing to the present time. But many indubitably grew out of sheer hard work by founders gifted with talent and the ability to convert opportunities into wealth creation. But to exist, survive and flourish over time, they needed to acquire and possess political power to protect their economic clout. In the present context, political power is acquired through a legitimizing process of elections — handed down by our American mentors under the umbrella of democracy and all its appurtenances. And the political dynasties have this as their singular expertise."

(Excerpt from "Can the oligarchy and political dynasty be obliterated?" TMT, Aug. 12, 2020.)

"The oligarchy is a multifaceted class, and the term is by no means neutral. Political science practitioners and political economists oftentimes differ in their definition and clarity of 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 acuities and biases. It can be vituperative and, at times, benign or even uplifting. 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 for their benefit, to the exclusion of the rest of society. This complex power structure invariably is a composite of privately owned and controlled multiple large businesses involving allies or adjuncts in elective and appointive positions in government manning captive regulatory agencies. The latter describes aptly the special class of mostly elective officials, the political dynasts capable of passing on their political clout and entitlements to family members over generations.

I have often maintained that individual families or personages composing the oligarchy, which in contemporary parlance are also interchangeable with 'Filipino family business elite' are not all enemies of the people. I cited some members of the Filipino business elite going back to the American and Spanish regimes. 'These people are the risk-takers, with long-term views, pioneers in industries that need big capital and managerial talents — where government is incompetent to tread into.'

What is unconscionable are those of the same elite that suck the bone marrow of the Filipino, using their wealth to corrupt public office holders. At this level, a macabre partnership is forged between the financiers and bankrollers with those who seek political power using the tools of democracy and republicanism — the legitimizing process of elections and general suffrage. This synergy between the business elite and elected government officials is the systemic twin evils hovering over our democratic space — anchored by traditional political practices. At this point, the lines are blurred as to how economic and political power are exploited and utilized. The biggest myth being propagated is the singular notion that there are good and moral oligarchs and political dynasts. There are none! A fine distinction has to be drawn at this point. True, there are 'good and bad' business people, as there are 'good and bad' politicians. But the very concept of the oligarchy and the political dynasty as power structures embedded in the body politic safeguarded by our laws is abhorrent. This unwanted offspring borne out of an incubus of an anomalous 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, underlined by the untrammeled practices of the free market economy, must be aborted."

Intertwining and symbiosis

(Excerpt from "Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy," TMT, Aug. 5, 2020.)

"This marriage of interests between the oligarchy and political dynasty blurs the line between economic and political power accumulation, resulting in several phenomena with grievous consequences.

First, encroaching directly into the political mainstream, political parties are either created or captured. Cases in point: The Nationalist People's Coalition, or NPC, founded in 1992 by the late Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr., now under successor Ramon Ang, has five senators and 33 congressmen and countless local government executives. The National Unity Party, or NUP, chaired and funded by business tycoon Enrique Razon Jr., has about 36 House legislators. Billionaire Manny Villar, a former senator, has captured the Nacionalista Party (NP). His wife Cynthia is a sitting senator, among four other NPs, with son Mark, erstwhile public works secretary under Duterte, and daughter Camille, members of Congress, plus 35 others."
Party list

The second phenomenon is the travesty of the party-list system. Originally a political innovation patterned after European party-lists to give a broader voice to the "non-political" sector of society — the farmers, fisherfolk, labor, peasants, etc. — the purpose of which was to democratize the Lower House of Congress which had been co-opted by the oligarchy and the political dynasties. What was meant to allow one-fifth of the Lower House greater democratic representation was instead perverted by the oligarchy and the political dynasts by installing family members as party-list representatives. Today, the party-list has become an adjunct to the twin evils of Philippine politics — the oligarchy and the political dynasties.

It may be recalled that the original party list concept was a structure suited to a parliament where a parliamentary majority of adversarial political parties determines the government of the day. It was therefore imperative to build ideologically diverse political parties that cater to the collective aspirations and hopes of the citizenry — with the voiceless segment of the populace given a voice through the party list — but within the ambit of the major political parties, the ruling majority, and the opposition. Thus, the traditional ideological divide of, conservatives (Republicans), progressives (Democrats), labor, leftists, etc. — not a single-issue party list with eclectic proclivities: Agimat, Kontra Brownout, Mocha (Mothers for Change), Marvelous Tayo, Tutok to Win, Ako Musikero, and a host of inane acronyms.

Politics in the Philippines as a family business is thriving. Even the former president, catapulted to power under a populist resurgence, has created his own. Daughter Sara, erstwhile city mayor, now vice president; son Sebastian, former vice mayor, now mayor; and another son, Paolo, congressman. All come from one city, Davao. BBM has a senator for a sister, a son for a congressman, the speaker of the House for a cousin and various relatives in local government units (LGUs).

Next week, March 15: The unitary-presidential system and alternatives

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