Monday, August 14, 2006

On The Preponderance of the Pinoy Elite

After discussing the tragedy of the Filipino middle class (see my earlier entry), allow me now to examine some of the reasons behind the preponderance of the Filipino elite class in electoral politics. I have always been fascinated on why and how the traditional elite have somehow managed to sustain their grip on political power despite the fact that many of them have already lost their preeminence in Philippine business. The world of business today is very much different from what it was 50 years ago; for example, most of the old elite (i.e. Sorianos, Elizaldes, Madrigals, Cojuangcos, etc.) have already been dislodged by the new (i.e. Gokongweis, Sys and Lucio Tan, etc.). Scanning the list of elected officials today, one finds the same family names occupying high government posts. One can therefore conclude that although they lack entrepreneurial flair, the elite more than makes up for this by displaying remarkable aptitude for politics.

I find the Filipino elite’s “staying power” in politics truly remarkable, especially in light of their “spotty” record in history. Because unlike the elite in other countries who truly contributed to making their countries great, the history of our local elite is marked by their collaboration, putting personal over public interest and failure to make our country great. The British aristocracy for example, has provided exceptional leadership that enabled their country to become one of the largest empires in history. Whether as outstanding ship captains during the Napoleonic Wars, able administrators of their colonies, or as gallant officers during the two World Wars, the sons and daughters of their elite proved they deserved their respected position in English society. Armed with little more than an Eton education, young members of the British aristocracy would go off to colonize distant lands and develop new markets for British products by befriending local elites (i.e Nicholas Loney).

In contrast, the Filipino elite as a class has no “generational achievement” to boast of and in fact, the history of the Pinoy elite is marked by their failure to lift our country to greatness. Of course, many of them fought and led our revolution against Spain and America but they were also, as a class, the first ones to pledge allegiance to our colonizers. During colonial times, most of them acted as the trusted administrators of our colonizers and helped in their subjugation of rebellious Filipinos. After the Philippine won her independence, the elite failed to develop our manufacturing industry and concentrated mostly in real estate development, rent-seeking and extractive industries which had turned the Philippines into the consumerist society it is today. In the field of public governance, they have (and continue to) mismanage our government such that the Philippines is now saddled with P4 trillion in foreign debt. Today, corruption and mediocre governance is the norm in government service.

Taken from this historical perspective, it is fascinating to see how ordinary Filipinos continue to be “mesmerized” by the elite and continue to elect them to public office. Given their “spotty” record in history, one would think that Filipinos would reject “old” families and clamor for “new blood” in politics. Many political pundits say that the preponderance of local elites is attributable to their monopoly of the “guns, goons and gold” (and in addition, “girls” meaning sexy showbiz dancers). But I somehow find it hard to believe that our people can be cowed / controlled by “guns, goons and gold” for so long, especially in this age of mass media, internet and universal education. There must be something more to it than just their ability to terrorize and buy votes.

It is said that political leaders embody the people’s aspirations and that people elect as their leader someone whom they think personifies their aspirations best. Be it good looks, intellect, success in business or profession, or talent, a leader possesses something which people want or aspires to. Of course, seeing the quality of our current crop of leaders leaves this theory in doubt. But the fact is, the masa aspires to become the elite. For example, the masa wants to wear what the rich wear (hence the popularity of fake LaCoste shirts), they want to go where the rich go (everyone wants to go to Boracay), they want all the things that the elite have (a big house, a nice car, an expensive education, etc.). And finding that they cannot achieve those aspirations here, the masa migrate abroad to earn dollars just to be able to imitate the lifestyles and mannerisms of the Filipino elite.

The Filipino’s adulation for all things elite, I think, has a profound effect on how we choose our leaders come election time. For starters, Ilonggo voters have a penchant for measuring a politician’s worth by how thick his wallet is and how “galante” he is to his constituents. Having a familiar, prominent-sounding last name also helps. Also, descendants of prominent politicians have a built-in advantage because of the "goodwill" their ancestors have built for them. Which is I guess par for the course: a good lawyer or doctor would be leaving behind a large number of satisfied customers whom his son or daughter can inherit later on. This, I think, is another plausible explanation for the preponderance of the Filipino elite in Philippine politics.


Jaypee said...

Hi there! Thanks for leaving a message on my guestbook. Cool blog you have here. Just droppin by to return the favor. Have a nice day & God bless! :)

Anonymous said...

I've been commenting on your blog quite a few times already and I must say that you have a great blog the postings are carefully thought of.Overall it's a great blog and I think that more people should pay attention to it.You have mentioned that the elite of this country failed to do what their counterparts in Europe did, and that is to make this country great.This is very true, let us also not forget that most of our elites came from the bloodlines of our colonizer,just by mentioning the name you can tell their origin or their forefathers.Some families had lord for so long a time in their hometowns and places.Their forefathers are the landowners, main reason why they were in power,adding the fact that some of them stayed in power during the Marcos time.They're fortune maybe fading but the structure or the political machine in their turfs is still very much alive.The elders in their places still owed them a great deal of favors and will continue to support them.In the politics of vote buying and intimidation they became experts for they've been doing this for a long time.I can attest to this, for I spent my childhood listening to stories of my father being involved in this kind stuff.Even up to the last days of my father, politicians would come to him asking him to deliver votes for their sons or grandsons just like what my father did during their time.To adore the rich folks, however is not unique to the Filipinos nor the main reason that these people stay in power for a long time.Patronage, vote buying, and intimidation is what make them winners.However, patronage could only go so much, this is a hard lesson learned by governor Contreras in Capiz.Patronage or "utang na loob" can be easily forgotten if your being slapped with a thousand peso bill, or your being threatened that your house will uprooted.Being an incumbent for so long a time does not guarantee you a dynasty.Money and power will.Take the case of Julius Salcedo who has done a lot of favors for his constituents but he was deafeated by Castro a balikbayan supported by a miilionaire brother.Money can guarantee a win if your team knows how to use it.The same reasons why national officials are elected because they have their own bailwicks, consider Enrile, never lost, because he has the north,Marcoses, because they have their own territory too which could deliver solid votes for them.Roxas, hesitated at first because he has a very small bailwick and not so well known yet even in Region 6.However this not of course the rule, as in any case there's always an exception.People like actors or media personality who the masses think that they're one of them, always have a shot.These elites are already starting to see people challenging them and giving them hard time. People who got money and feel a sense of obligation to their "kasimanwas" are stepping up.Remember when Garin had hard time when Torres decided to run?This kind of politics we have will probably not change in our lifetime but at least we're beginning to see some cracks to it.However, there's always the fact that, whoever gets elected, most of the time they just keep on thinking, planning, and doing everything just to keep them on power. They always tend to forget how to effectively manage their office, they always lost out on a great chance to use the power of their office for the greater good.

Iloilo City Boy said...

Thank you for your kind words. It is my goal to show our people that their "adoration" and "awe" of the elite may be misguided. You said that politics takes a long time to change and that we may not live to see it in our lifetimes. But I refuse to acknowledge that. I believe we can start changing things, first by changing the system of government. That is why I'm in favor of a change in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary-federal. If provinces are free from Imperial Manila, then I feel we will have a greater chance to grow.

Alice Mendoza said...

Hi Oliver - I really like your writings on Filipino politics etc - but actually I got directed to your blog because I was searching about the origin of our surnames - we share the surname 'Mendoza'.
My father is/was Filipino and my Mom is Chinese - I am Singaporean now. I am absolutely not in touch with my Filipino roots at all - maybe I look a bit Filipina - I am tanned (naturally! no time to sun-tan though I would love it!) and I have long, fine wavy hair - and sort of Filipino/Malay features! (Though many Malays say I look Chinese and the Chinese think I look Malay??!)
The reason why I am not in touch with my Filipino roots is that my parents divorced when I was very young - I think when I was one year plus and my Mom refused to keep in contact with my biological/Filipino father because he has another wife back in the Philippines! Sigh ... - so that made my Mom - the - um - MISTRESS!! Well, to cut a long story short, my Mom re-married a Chinese Singaporean and that's how we ended up in Singapore. I used to be Malaysian but now I am Singaporean - I will tell u why I became a Singaporean on another occasion!
Anyways - my Mom did say my Dad came from either Zamboanga or near Manila - and he was very fair and he's maybe half Spanish or something (do u call that mestizo?) - I was just wondering where our surname came from!
I would really appreciate it if you could shed some light.
You can email me at - i should start a blog - i have a 'dead' blog at!
I am an aspiring writer and I am trained teacher - I have a huge passion for Art - I can't draw or make Art or at least I don't think I am good enough! But I am studying for my MA in Art History and hopefully one day I might be able to do my PhD - but that's still a long way off. In the mean time - I pose for artists and art students part time - yes - in the nude! YOu have to learn the FUNDAMENTALS - which is having a good grasp of the human figure - well - maybe I am sort of traditionalist but that's my take on learning Art!
Hope to hear from you!
Peace, alice mendoza (Singapore)