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Aquino: President of and for the oligarchs

Never in the Philippines’ post-war history have we had a President so representative of and servile to the oligarchy. President Aquino has shamelessly demonstrated again and again that the oligarchs are really his “boss,” not the masses. His motto that the Filipino people are the “boss” is really just a figment of his speechwriters’ imagination.

President Aquino’s Administration is the best illustration of that Marxist notion of the state as simply the executive committee of the ruling class. His anointed – Manuel Araneta Roxas – is as much an offspring of oligarchs as Aquino is.

I had thought that Aquino missed the second anniversary of the commemoration of the Yolanda Typhoon and secluded himself in his room probably playing an X-box game with his nephew Josh, as he couldn’t bear to be on the same stage as the Romualdezes and Marcos in Tacloban.

It turns out I gave him too much credit.

He was absent at this year’s commemoration rites (as he also was last year) for the tragedy that killed more than 8,000 Filipinos in 2013 and made life miserable for millions of Filipinos, because he attended the wedding of the son of property tycoon Andrew Tan. (I wonder: If American Presidents charge exorbitant fees for speaking engagements and appearances in events to raise campaign funds, is there a Filipino version of that?)

Owner of the Megaworld property conglomerate, Tan has become famous in the global liquor industry as the magnate from a capital-deficient, poor country who has been on a buying binge in Europe in the past three years.

He bought 1,000 hectares of vineyards in Spain, 100 percent of the Spanish brandy maker, Bodega San Bruno for P3 billion, and 50 percent of Bodega Las Copas for P3.7 billion. Last year he bought the United Kingdom’s iconic Scottish Scotch whisky-maker Whyte & Mackay for US$720 million (P34 billion). Would you believe the owner of the P85-per-liter Emperador brandy outbid the owners of Remy Martin, Glenlivet, Chivas Regal, Absolut Vodka and Campari? That’s the kind Aquino prefers rubbing elbows with, rather than weeping widows in Tacloban.

Different social calendars during the second anniversary of the ‘Yolanda’ tragedy. (Above, at extreme right is property and liquor magnate Tan)
Different social calendars during the second anniversary of the ‘Yolanda’ tragedy. (Above, at extreme right is property and liquor magnate Tan)

That’s laissez faire capitalism of course, the kind that had been banned in the Tiger Economies when they were still taking off, so they could channel scarce capital to strategic, local industries.

Such weddings by the elite are scheduled a year in advance. That there would be a second commemoration of the Yolanda tragedy was a given. He could have even asked Tan to reschedule the wedding, which after all, was in the church located in a property at his Newport City, which he donated. He didn’t.

Either this president is so stupid to realize the messages his actions send as elected President of the Republic, or he really wants to boast that he is the President of and for oligarchs in this country. There is a unique Philippine word for that frame of mind, which the English translation doesn’t quite capture: “Ipinangangalandakan.”

It is the second time that Aquino preferred to be in an event in the presence of the oligarchy, rather than in communion with the ordinary Filipino people. The first was last year when the government received in the Philippine capital the bodies of the 44 Special Action Force troopers massacred by Islamic insurgents in Mamasapano.

Snubbed solemn event

Aquino snubbed that solemn event, and instead, preferred to grace the ribbon-cutting party for the Japanese Mitsubishi Motor Philippines car assembly plant in Sta. Rosa.

It wasn’t even a new plant. Mitsubishi transferred its Cainta plant to the former location of Ford Philippines, which the US-based automobile company left (for Indonesia) two years ago. And why did Mitsubishi decide to transfer its plant? Because its Cainta property would be developed into a new business district to rival the Ortigas center. Who will develop it? Ayala Land, owned by one of the closest supporters of Aquino, the oligarch Ayala clan.

I googled and wracked my brain to recall if there has been any event in which Aquino demonstrated he is one with the masses in a moment of their suffering. Other than that event in which he met with relatives of the 44 SAF heroes to mitigate the public outrage that he snubbed the Villamor arrival of the bodies, I couldn’t find any. Has he even addressed an assembly of major trade federation, or an assembly of peasants or urban poor? No.

For a president who epitomizes the Philippine oligarchy, or at least that faction that emerged from the extremely exploitative sugar industry to move into modern business and politics, he would have tried to show that he isn’t just the spoiled scion of the oligarchy.

He hasn’t. When our press and our academe would have awakened from their intoxication drinking yellow Kool-Aid, they’d write articles and history books about the shocking plot by Aquino to wrench billions of pesos as government payment for his clan’s turnover of Hacienda Luisita by removing the Chief Justice.

But what’s wrong with being among the oligarchs, which my built-in Microsoft Word dictionary defines as “very rich businessmen with a great deal of political influence?”

Everything that is really wrong with this country. It is neither corruption nor a weak state, nor neocolonialism that explains why our country has been and will be poor. It’s our entrenched oligarchy, and their control of the state.

Almost every academic book analyzing why some countries are rich and some are poor describes the Philippines as a country ruled by oligarchs, and that has been the reason for its economic and political quagmire:

Francis Fukuyama in his best selling 2014 book Political Order and Political Decay:

“By exporting the nineteenth century US model of a government of ‘courts and parties” to the Philippines, the United States permitted the growth of a landed oligarchy that continues to dominate that country.”


Luiz Carlos Bresser Pereira also in a best selling book writes: Globalisation and Competition, Why Some Emergent Countries Succeed while Others Fail:

“With large land-owning families that have had a stronghold on the state, the Philippines is more like some Latin American countries.”

Ming Wan in The Political Economy of East Asia (2008:)

“The reason (for the Philippines’ poor economic results to this day) is the dominance of oligarchic, landowning families that have captured the state to advance their own interests. Put simply, oligarchy defines the Philippine political economy system. By contrast, the central government is weak because civil servants are beholden to their political patrons outside the bureaucracy.” (My emphasis)

Even a book focusing on a particular industry couldn’t help asserting:

“To this day in the Philippines, economic and political power is vested in the hands of a small number of powerful family dynasties and coalitions, with 10 percent of Philippine households, dominated by Spanish and Chinese mestizos, holding 32.1 percent of household expenditures. (Telecommunications Politics: Ownership and Control of the Information Highway in Developing Countries Information[2009]).”

Such a serious, rigorous academic as Wan wasn’t fooled by the yellow narratives the US State Departments’ operatives popularized in 1986:

“The Aquino ‘People Power’ revolution did not fundamentally reform the country as triumphant street demonstrators had hoped for. Aquino’s victory was not a true revolution as many had thought but a return to the dominance of the powerful provincial families. Being from one of the wealthiest land-owning families herself, Aquino did not push the land reform hard. It did not help that Aquino exempted her 6,000-hectare family estate.” (In case you think Wan is a Chinese propagandist, he is professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University in Virginia. His Ph.D. was from the Government Department, Harvard University.”

That the economy has grown under Aquino is indisputable, even as it is due to two things: (1) his predecessor President Arroyo’s success in weathering the 2008-2009 global economic crisis, which was the worst in post-war world history, that convinced global investors of our economic resilience; and (2) unlike the terms of other Presidents, there has been no major world economic crisis since 2010.

Yet, Philippine economic growth has only meant the expansion of the Filipino billionaires’ wealth. There has been no increase in workers real – or inflation-adjusted – wages. Outside of the government’s statistical hocus-pocus, poverty in the country has worsened since 2010.

Other than the conditional cash program – a massive dole-out scheme which is actually the biggest vote-buying scheme ever invented in this country – Aquino has neither undertaken any new program to improve the economic structure nor redistribute wealth.

Why, in Aquino’s mind, should he join the people of Tacloban and miss the wedding of the son of the country’s biggest property billionaires?