Is there an alternative to oligarchy and showbiztocracy?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-01-04
Let us start the year right. This means we must first get our priorities right. And if there is one New Year’s resolution that we should be acting on without fail, it is the task of getting our country moving. It’s time to reverse the Filipino’s track record of failure of over 40 years.

First, we must analyze and reflect on the history of our failure. We must learn where we failed, how we managed to slip from our lofty perch until 1965 to find ourselves slipping and eventually overtaken by our regional neighbors who used to envy us and put us in high esteem. We must know the reasons why we failed and identify the people who contributed to the national failure.

To make a long story short, the failure of our democracy finds its roots in the oligarchy – the political control of a handful belonging to the economic elite.

Oligarchy is the reason for the huge wealth gap in the Philippines. The few families who are wealthy get to have the political power – one feeds on the other.

The traditional politicians are the operators of the oligarchy. One wonders how a country with such a talented race (Filipino overseas workers are running the households and industries of the world) can produce only a few good leaders.

Are the Osmeñas and Garcias the only ones who can run Cebu? Or the Espinosas for Masbate, Albertos for Catanduanes, Romualdezes for Leyte, Josons for Nueva Ecija, Singsons for Ilocos Sur, Marcoses for Ilocos Norte, Magsaysays for Zambales, Remullas for Cavite, Tans and Loongs for Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, Villafuertes for Camarines, Barbers for Surigao and so forth? Of course, they are not the only ones!

But you and I hardly stand a chance to compete against them in elections simply because we do not have the wherewithal to match them in the patronage game – the currency of traditional politics – or in the three Gs of guns, goons and gold, the "plan B" of traditional politicians. Although not all of these political families adopt the same methods for dominating local politics, nevertheless, they enjoy a heavily stocked deck when ordinary mortals like Juan de la Cruz try to contend with them.

Filipinos must regain control of their country from the traditional politicians who have managed to pull us all down and bring us to this present pathetic state. There is no hope under the present Gloria Macapagal Arroyo regime and the sight of an opposition rallying around the disgraced Joseph Estrada can only mean that we will be a nation that is not about to move forward, still stuck in the past.

From 1965 to the present, we have encountered an endless cycle of pockets of economic booms that are followed by political uncertainty and turbulence, and the inevitable economic stagnation. The year 1965 is very significant. It was the year when Ferdinand Marcos became president and the last year we enjoyed being the second best economic performer in Asia.

In fact, over the past 40 years, we went around in circles repeating the same mistakes. At best, we just postponed the dangerous social explosion that our conditions threaten to unleash, following historical parallels.

The promised dawn of a New Society of former President and Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the democratic restoration and economic emancipation of former President Cory Aquino, the Philippines 2000 of former President Fidel Ramos – did little to deliver the country from the stranglehold of political power in the hands of an oligarchy. There were boom periods at the start of these three presidential initiatives but in the end we found ourselves still stuck with the same fundamental problem, the failure to implement structural reforms.

When Marcos imposed martial law, there was little resistance because many saw salvation in a New Society that promised to dismantle the oligarchy. But what happened was that a new inner circle – the Marcos cronies – became the new set of oligarchs.

The restoration of democracy and removal of crony capitalism under Aquino brought a lot of new faces into the political mainstream. But with it also came the old faces that Marcos removed from power. In the end, the reform initiative began to wane. Worse, many of the new politicians became traditional politicians as well.

The Philippines 2000 of Ramos gave renewed hope of finding fruition for the reforms that Cory Aquino had started – seeing the emergence of a new type of politicians and new approaches. After all, Ramos was a product of EDSA People Power. But then Joe de Venecia became the face of Philippines 2000 and that marked the full restoration of traditional politics.

The experience of the Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos administrations provided clear signs that the oligarchy is too solidly entrenched and that an overhaul of the system of political control is long overdue. Both Aquino and Ramos became presidents in non-traditional fashion (both of them never ran for public office before) and represented what the people have long been seeking. Even the election of Joseph Estrada, in a way, is an affirmation of that public sentiment.

Although 40 poor million Filipinos wanted to ditch the oligarchy, they were severely handicapped by their lack of education. They do not have access to the right information – the kind of information that would have empowered them to rise above their plight.

Instead, the masses went for showbiztocracy. Removing the oligarchy was a good objective. However, unable to discern the real from the reel world of showbiz, the masses were mesmerized by the promises of false messiahs.

A new political option must emerge, one that reflects the needs of the times and manned by the people who truly represent the majority and the strategies that will get the country moving. But this won’t happen unless the middle class plays its role as the traditional agent of change in society.

In between the oligarchy and the information-deprived and economically disadvantaged masses is the Philippine middle class. The middle class will have to lead the masses in reclaiming our democracy and make it work. Both EDSA I and EDSA II were middle class productions but the traditional politicians ended up running the show.

Is this nation of 84 million so bereft of heroes, of political giants with the vision that can lead us into the Promised Land? Must we be stuck with dwarfs and self-seeking oligarchs?

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