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FLEA MARKET OF IDEAS

The marriage of business and politics

/ 05:05 AM December 10, 2018

Politics is married to an assortment of vested interests in the Philippines. It is married to business, religion, show biz, and even to shady ventures like gambling and illegal drugs.

We have businesspersons who use their wealth to enter politics. We have religious groups that convert their influence into political power. We have show biz personalities who translate their popularity into forays in politics. And we have gambling and drug lords who utilize their fortunes to invade the arena of politics.

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The reverse is equally true. Politicians employ their powers to enter into business or expand their current commercial interest. Others position themselves as fattened beneficiaries of gambling and the trade in illegal drugs.

Why is politics the constant bride in all these pairings? The answer, of course, is because politics ensures the longevity (and prosperity) of one’s vested interest in any of these various fields.

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A businessperson ensures the expansion of his business if he successfully enters politics. A religious group ensures the growth in number and in influence of its devotees if it votes as a single political bloc. An actor ensures his fame will last beyond the end of his show biz career if he uses his popularity to enter politics. Gambling and drug lords will ensure protection for their illicit ventures when they secure a political post.

The intermingling of politics with a variety of vested interests breeds diverse problems. But let’s focus on the marriage of business and politics, because it’s the most prevalent coupling on the national and local fronts.

Among the national political parties, three are called “corporate blocs” by my fellow Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon. These are the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), National Unity Party (NUP) and the Nacionalista Party (NP).

Billionaires lead these three parties. The NPC is led by the tandem of Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. and Ramon Ang, who have a combined net worth of P219 billion. The NUP is under the wings of Enrique Razon, who has a net worth of P203 billion. The NP is headed by Manuel Villar, who has a net worth of P255 billion.

Among our country’s elected officials, the NPC has three senators, 33 congressmen and nine provincial governors. The NUP has 21 congressmen and nine provincial governors. And the NP has three senators, 31 congressmen and five provincial governors.

The NPC’s Manuel Villar, through one of his companies, was recently granted by Congress a franchise to operate a telecommunications system throughout the Philippines, similar to Globe and Smart. A congressional franchise to operate any public utility business is difficult and expensive to obtain, and Villar’s corporate bloc in Congress certainly provided an advantage.

On the other hand, the NUP’s Enrique Razon is currently caught up in a controversy as he is accused of taking advantage of his political influence to grab the business of an existing electric franchise owner. Panay Electric Co. (Peco) has been distributing electricity in Iloilo City for the past 95 years. In July 2017, Peco applied to have its franchise renewed by Congress because it was set to expire in January 2019. Congress has sat on Peco’s application up to this date.

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In contrast, and in a “record-breaking” period of three months, a company owned by Razon obtained the approval of both the House of Representatives and the Senate of its electric franchise, to replace Peco.

The union of business and politics pervades even in our towns, cities and provinces. Public works projects, supply contracts, trading enterprises and fast-food chains are ensnared by local politicians.

We have been looking at the issue of dynasty as a single monster that wreaks havoc on our political life. In reality, a dynasty has become a nuptial of two monsters, ruining the economic welfare of our communities as well.

Comments to fleamarketofideas@gmail.com

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