Part 2: DU30 vs the Oligarchy Daily Tribune

Part 2: DU30 vs the Oligarchy Featured

My column last Wednesday, December 18, suggested negotiations with the water concessionaires from President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s (PRRD) position of strength, after these people blinked. But the oligarchy-owned water monopolies are simply the tip of the iceberg. They are into big-ticket projects in the country and their tentacles are entwined into many of the “public-private partnership.” These long-term risk-prone investments, that government must not and can’t take on its own, need to be protected by all stakeholders, government, investors and the people. The President’s initial foray against the Oligarchy — that Ongpin episode — was a welcome development but an aberration and appeared tentative. It came off as a mere “palabas” — a theatre, as there was no clear follow through.

This time, it’s different. The Deegong clearly has the upper hand and this may usher in a new paradigm requiring fresh protocols.

The multi-faced oligarchy
The Oligarchy, a small group of families that hold economic power, perforce wield political influence, has been a feature of this country for more than a hundred years. Some wear different faces at different times with different regimes. But above all, they are the inevitable results of a free market economy imposed by our American colonials, which in some ways, we adopted but with a twist. We married it to our traditional political practices. But the President needs to understand the nature and character of the oligarchy. Not all are his enemies; nor are all enemies of the people. What he should be after are the leeches that suck the lifeblood and marrow out of our people, yet they prosper in all administrations because their allies are ensconced in all levels of government and the bureaucracy. We have senators and congressmen who need the oligarchy and the elites to win elections and win power. Many are DU30 allies, too. The people appointed in the regulatory agencies overseeing their monopolies are simply their “living quid pro quo,” and they will be there long after the Deegong is gone. Because of this unholy alliance their network permeates vital institutions of this country — the courts, the military, police, both houses of congress; the very bedrock of our cherished values of democracy, freedom and the rule of law which they have perverted to their ends.

This symbiotic relationship between the oligarchy and the political elite has to be dismantled; provided the Deegong understands that the rule of law be applied equally well — without he himself or his administration becoming the transgressors. Now a cursory lesson on what he is faced with.

The noveau riche
These people are more often than not bred in the petri dish of incoming regimes like his own using their nascent clout to expand their political connections. They are a ubiquitous lot, prone to conspicuous consumption showing off their wealth whose sources could very well be illegitimate. Their fealty is pledged to the regime that allows them upward mobility on the social ladder. These are the emerging cronies; toddler steps to the elite class, new to the game of wealth accumulation, nevertheless ravenousness in their acquisitions. Most originally come from modest economic and social ranks. If they can parlay their embryonic network and sustain their influence towards the next regimes in the next generations; they may undergo gentrification and perhaps a patina and nomenclature of “old money.”

Old money oligarchs
The leading ones are of Spanish pedigrees “…the Zobel de Ayala Family is one of the prominent names in Philippine business. Forbes Magazine listed them as the Philippines’ wealthiest at an aggregate wealth of almost $6.5 billion; but in reality, their wealth can be aggregated to almost $100 billion. All the local business taipans are but their princelings, like the Sys, Gokongweis, Tans, Ongpins, Cos and other Chinese sounding names.” (Zobel de Ayala Empire — The Rothchild Empire of the Phliippines, Makers of Philippine Presidents, Delmar Topinio Taclibon, MBA, PhD, DA)

Since perhaps the Spanish and American eras, these people truly begun to believe that they do important services to the nation. And indeed, they do; and in some perverted ways, they are patriots. Their motivations may be seemingly altruistic but heavily weighted towards their survival, expanding their wealth, preserving their political prerogatives but more importantly a sterling legacy they must leave behind. These people are the risk-takers, with long term views, pioneers in industries that need big capital and managerial talents — where government are incompetent to tread into. Having invested their family’s fortunes in the country, they will not jeopardize these and therefore must work in partnership with any transitory government. The big proviso is that they have to adhere to the rule of law. And this, the Deegong must internalize in his negotiations.

Over the decades they begin to undertake the responsibility for steering the course of events the country must pursue by stage-managing the political environment. And they indeed set the trajectory of the political arc without the transparency, accountability and consent of we, the governed. And there’s the rub!

They exist upon the sufferance of our perverted political-economic system. And this faulty structure allowed the elite and the oligarchy to survive, flourish and manipulate the transitory elected officials, who govern us. And like magnets, they attract the dregs of society — from the rent-seeking “movers & shakers” up to the highest circles of the mighty and powerful.

DU30’s predicament
Paradoxically, the oligarchy is also the very people who are in a position to bring about the necessary changes. No President has ever confronted them directly except perhaps Marcos who in the end elected to create his own but was consumed by the very class he set forth to destroy. But PRRD in so crude a manner has telegraphed his intent in no uncertain terms. These oligarchs must have understood that this President is too much of a “mad man” to burn them along with him. Mutually assured destruction (MAD) is a doctrine the President understands exceedingly well. And with his vaunted political will, the legitimate use of state violence at his fingertips, boasting his record of “kills” and the adulation of his base; the oligarchs need no further arguments that to preserve their class and their prerogatives they need simply to moderate their greed and align their interest with that of the populist president. Long shot, but the seeds of change could be planted now with the Deegong in the lead.

Unsolicited advice
Negotiation is my default advice. But this is by no means the end of the narrative. But this is a good start. The President’s needs to follow through producing the proverbial “win-win” to erode this wicked partnership with the political elite. PRRD has enough allies in congress to provide the legal underpinnings.

But beware, the sycophants and the quislings in the corridors of power.

They will be whispering in PRRD’s ears to back off. The President needs to install a team prepared to be on a war footing and strategizing the next moves.

As inferred in my last column, the Deegong’s “Best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (Batna) is one that is clearly supported by his base and I suspect, a healthy number of Filipinos. Revolutionary Government!

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