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Binay vs Roxas: A class-war simulation

President Aquino’s endorsement of Mar Roxas as his political heir and the Liberal Party’s candidate for the 2016 elections would really be his biggest gift to the nation, for a reason that I don’t think he can ever understand\ or accept.

The contest between Vice President Jejomar Binay and Manuel (“Mar”) Araneta Roxas II would be a simulation of a class war.

With Aquino’s anointment of Roxas, Filipinos would be given a clear choice to make: whether to choose an executive of the elite, which has dominated the presidency since the Republic was set up, or a product of the middle-classes, which historically has been the class that takes up the cudgels for the working-masses.

Marcos vs. Cojuangco-Aquino in 1985; Ramos vs. Santiago in 1992, Estrada vs. de Venecia in 1998; Arroyo vs. FPJ in 2004; Aquino vs Villar in 2010 — these contests didn’t present Filipinos with such a choice between leaders of distinctively different class origins.

You can’t get a better embodiment of the Philippines’ enduring economic-political elite clans that originated during the country’s Spanish colonization than Roxas. He is the progeny of two Philippine ruling-class “noble” houses, if I may use that term: the Roxases and the Aranetas.

The two clans are the progeny of Basque adventurers who joined the Manila-Acapulco trade to eventually gobble up huge tracts of land to turn these into sugar haciendas, or into a huge central business district in Metro Manila. The names itself reflect the origins of the ancestors: Araneta means “abundance of space” in Basque while “Roxas,” a variation of Rojas, meaning “red,” which was a common family name in the Basque region of Galicia-Asturias.

In contrast, I haven’t read or heard of somebody named “Binay,” other than the Vice President and his family.

Long-lost relatives, by any chance? Left, Indonesia’s Widodo; right, Philippines’ Binay
Long-lost relatives, by any chance? Left, Indonesia’s Widodo; right, Philippines’ Binay

“Binay” is in the genre of such family-names as Pabalinas, Erana, Tria, Anniban, Tabdi and those of the other 39 Special Action Force heroes with obscure names which you’d never hear as those of your friends.

These lowly names are those of the great unwashed, Filipinos during Spanish times who lived so far away from the poblaciones, the centers of power and wealth that they couldn’t be reached by the friars who assigned names to the indios or allowed those they seduced (or raped) to use their names for their off-springs.

Economic elite cadre
While one of the most competent senators we ever had, Mar’s father Gerardo Roxas unmistakably was his economic-elite clan’s cadre in the political realm. That was a common practice of many of our richest families, notably the Lopezes and the Osmeñas in the era before martial law, and continued today by such tycoons as the Romualdezes and the Villars.

Roxas grandfather Manuel, whom he wants to emulate, was the country’s president from 1946-1948, the period when the country’s ruling class recovered most of their wealth destroyed or sequestered by the Japanese occupiers.

And reflecting the practice of the elite marrying only an elite, Roxas mother Judith Roxas is the eldest child of “Don” Amado and “Doña” Ester Araneta, who owned vast tracts of sugarcane lands in Negros island, one of the country’s biggest sugar mills. The clan, headed now by Judith, had diversified into property by buying in the 1950s a huge tract of land that would become the Araneta Complex, into mining (Atok Big Wedge), and into the fast-food business (Pizza Hut and Wendys).

In sharp contrast, Binay’s father was a librarian in some forgotten public library in Batangas province, his mother a schoolteacher in a public school. Both died when Binay was nine, and adopted by an uncle, a lawyer in the Senate, who made him do the chores in the household, even requiring him to collect the slop (“kaning baboy”) in the neighborhood for his backyard piggery, a common source of income in that era even in urban neighborhoods.

There is no question whom the traditional Spanish-descended and landed elites like the Ayalas and Lopezes would support: Roxas.

The Philippine elite actually live in a very small world, unknown to us hoi polloi, and as far away as “Elysium” is in that sci-fi movie of that title.

They even mostly live in one neighborhood in the Forbes Park and Dasmariñas Village a rea. They are all mostly on a first-name basis and chance upon each other often in their country clubs, Manila Golf Club (for the golfers, and costing at least P40 million to get into), Manila Polo Club (for the tennis players, membership closed for years now), Tagaytay Highlands for the cool air.

Most of the elite spend half of the year in their residences in New York, Los Angeles, London (allegedly the Ayala’s favorite homes), and starting only in the past decade in Shenzhen and Shanghai. The Philippines for most of the elite is just a market to make money in, not really where they live.

I’m sure that isn’t Binay’s world. I don’t think he was even ever invited for lunch in those clubs during his years as Makati mayor. Roxas, as he himself told me once, almost spent every morning playing golf at Manila Golf Club when he resigned as Estrada’s trade and industry head in the months leading to his downfall in January 2001. Roxas without a shadow of a doubt is one of the Philippine elite’s, as Aquino is.

Where were they during martial law?
Where, and what were Roxas and Binay doing during the Marcos dictatorship are also in the sharpest contrast. Roxas was doing what his elite class was doing, and Binay was doing something else, of course.

After finishing high school at the Ateneo de Manila in 1974, Roxas attended the Wharton School of Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a degree in economics in 1979. For the rest of martial law, Roxas was making money for the American capitalists as an investment banker, becoming an assistant vice president of the New York-based Allen & Company, a small, privately held boutique investment bank.

At that time, Roxas was being groomed by his clan as its corporate CEO, while his elder brother Gerardo ‘Dinggoy’ Roxas, Jr. would be the politician.

That plan fell through, when his brother Dinggoy died in 1993, and Roxas, as the only son had to come home. Through a special election that year, Roxas assumed his brother’s post as congressman of the First District of Roxas City. That was the start of his political career. As early as that time, he started to dream — and plan — of becoming Philippine president, even organizing a think-tank to draft his program of government.

While Roxas was in Wall Street planning mergers and acquisitions, Binay in the 1970s was in the thick of the political struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. He was with a group of idealistic lawyers such as Joker Arroyo and Rene Saguisag that provided free legal services to those imprisoned by the Marcos dictatorship — MABINI, or the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity and Nationalism. He himself was detained for four months by the Marcos regime, on charges — unproven — of being a “subversive.”

Aquino and Roxas have been the favorites of two powerful media institutions owned by the elite, ABS-CBN, and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, with the latter in fact having undertaken (and probably will continue) one of the most intense character-assassination campaigns against a political personality in our modern history. If Binay wins, the hegemony of the media controlled by the rich over the electoral process would be broken.

Binay is of low or middle-class origins, and his rise to the political firmament has been a fluke. What if Cory’s political henchman, Aquilino Pimentel in 1986 had changed his mind and withdrew his offer for the human-rights lawyer Binay to be Makati officer-in-charge?

While the Yellow Crowd — noisily by 1970s singer Jim Paredes, now an Aussie — claims Binay is just a traditional, corrupt politician, he has positioned himself as the working-class champion. Whether you believe that or not, you certainly can’t delete his class origin\ that is in very sharp contrast to that of Roxas.

The choice for voters really would be between somebody from the lower classes who might be corrupt on the one hand, and on the other, the Philippine elite’s man, a CEO who could be a good-hearted hacendero taking care of his serfs.

The election next year would be a class-war simulation we have never really before seen.

While ruling class, almost by definition, get to put their man in power, there are instances when it loses its hold on the nation’s highest post because of some unique conjunction of events and forces. For example, former Leftist guerrila Jose Mujica won by a slim margin in Uruguay’s 2009 elections as president.

But perhaps Binay’s genre would be that of Indonesia’s president elected last year, Joko Widodo. In a Time article, former World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz described him: “President Widodo, popularly known as Jokowi, rose from humble origins to become a prosperous entrepreneur, the first Indonesian President ever to do so. He has been an accomplished mayor of Solo, his hometown, and of Jakarta, one of the world’s great megacities.”

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