Good elites and bad elites
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-10-21
Have you ever wondered why the elite in almost every society is viewed with distrust, suspicion and envy? The Royal Family in the United Kingdom is generally popular but that’s after the powers of the monarchy were curbed and assumed by the parliament. Over here our elite became an easy target of the Left, Moderates and even the Right — all of them calling for the elite to be more generous and nationalistic.

In any society where a free market thrives, there’s no preventing the emergence of an elite. It’s a fact of life that some are indeed smarter than others and that would then decide who sits at the top and at the bottom of the totem pole. Even in the animal world, we see the totem pole. Only the most capable male gets to mate with the best females of the pack.

The emergence of an elite class isn’t always bad for a society. In Singapore, they openly attempt to produce their ideal elite. The incentive of enjoying the good life that’s open to everybody is a good thing. It spurs people to work harder and creates a passion for excellence. The elite should be an example for everybody to aspire to become, not a class to hate and eradicate. Even the so-called “class-less” society of the then communists, Russia and China, had their own elites.

In a society where the elite had evolved from the lackeys of foreign masters that were used in subjugating the natives — the seeds of hatred for the elite develop and thrive. Our society has such an elite — the favored few that served the Spanish and American interests in exchange for juicy chunks of business monopolies and political posts. Such an elite can expect resentment, envy and eventually hatred from the exploited classes. It’s a problem that stems from unequal opportunities and exclusive privileges.

In the Philippine setting, the elite is more often than not seen as negative. Many Filipinos see them as greedy, monopolistic, and predatory in character. The communists feed on this perception and foment hatred against the ruling class. That’s unfair because there are many from our elite class who are good Christians and generous Muslims, constantly sharing their wealth with the less fortunate and just in their dealings.

We should make a clear distinction between the good and bad elite. We should support the good elite and also enlist their support to help create a more equitable system. It’s the bad elite that we have to check. We have to dismantle their monopolies and terminate their political dynasties. That has become an elusive Filipino dream because we are not ready to elect and support the right leaders that will bring us into the Promised Land.

The elections should be our best avenue for initiating meaningful reforms, but that won’t happen if majority of our voters are ill informed and poorly educated, rendering them unable to discern the serpent of the Garden of Eden from the true Messiah that will come from the wilderness. Most of our voters are still mesmerized by showbiztocracy and they’ll elect a movie idol to a sensitive government post not on the basis of the person’s capability to govern but because they mistake the fictional roles that they play as reality.

As many Filipinos learned the hard way, Joseph “Erap” Estrada as president was far from being the people’s champion that he played on the movie screen. Estrada worsened the impact of the 1997 Asian currency crisis for our country. The big stock market scandal of his crony caused our besieged peso to plunge and we suffered from one of the biggest drops in the stock market. His presidency was perhaps second only to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s (GMA) track record for scandals and irregularities.

Most of our voters irrationally reelect the bad leaders from political dynasties that have become one of the main reasons why many local economies aren’t thriving. They will accept on Election Day the money that these dynasties stole from them and the services due them without thinking where the bribe money came from and if the candidate offering the bribe could be trusted to institute meaningful reforms that will improve lives across all socio-economic strata.
Ferdinand E. Marcos had the golden opportunity to reshape Philippine history when after imposing martial law he vowed to eradicate the oligarchy - the monopoly of political and economic power in the hands of a few. However, it turned out that what Marcos had in mind was to eradicate the old oligarchy and establish his own set of oligarchs. Between him and his cronies, they awarded the juiciest chunks of Philippine business and industry to one another. The juiciest monopolies were those in media (Bobby Benedicto), coconut (Danding Cojuangco), sugar (Bobby Benedicto), construction (Rodolfo Cuenca) and power distribution (Kokoy Romualdez). You had to be connected to the Marcos inner circle to be benefitting from any of these.

What Marcos did was the exact method that our colonizers used to create an elite that will help him consolidate political power. Marcos was very shrewd not to allow his cronies to obtain political power that can approximate his and therefore pose a threat to him. He chose as Prime Minister the respectable Cesar Virata who had neither a business monopoly nor a political power base. You don’t get to feel safer than that if you were Marcos.

In the case of then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos was very careful not to give him a business monopoly like those given to Cojuangco, Benedicto and Romualdez. Marcos had good judgment. In the end, Enrile delivered the Brutus stab into the dictator’s heart, triggering the People Power Revolt that ended the Marcos dictatorship.

Rather than bellyache about the elite, Filipinos should learn how to evolve a more productive and kinder elite. It’s a fact of life that we’ll also need them to move our country into the 21st century. Our elite is capable of competing with the best the world market has to offer. They know how to win big time.

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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” 

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