The rise of the new oligarchs

Metro Manila, being the highest seat of power in the country since colonial times, naturally benefits from a centralized system of governance. But the concentration of power in the capital also perpetuates the oligarchic nature of the Philippine economy. The only way to rectify this is by means of an asymmetric model of the federal system—if critics of the prevailing system are to be believed, one that should be anchored on just entitlements for everyone and the right to self-determination, a form of rectificatory justice, given hundreds of years of neglect.

Alex Brillantes argues that the need for a federal system is in view of the imperative to develop self-reliance on the part of local governments. However, he also thinks that in order to achieve the authentic devolution of power, governance at the local level must be strengthened. It is for this reason that some advocates of federalism emphasize the importance of forming autonomous regions first before these are to evolve and be empowered as self-sufficient federal states. True enough, we can always hope for change once this system is set in place, but experience also tells us we cannot expect a lot from our crop of leaders.


For instance, our history has taught us that the Local Government Code of 1991 is good, but not good enough. While it may have empowered local officials in terms of decision-making on municipal issues, it has not really translated to the improvement of the quality of life for our people because big policy decisions are done away from where the problem is. In addition, the way I see it, some of the deep-seated issues that the advocates of federalism need to confront include the reality of fat dynasties in the provinces that either conspire or do nothing about the presence of tyrannical business interests.

Political dynasties contribute to massive human poverty. The feudal system of governance where leaders act as overlords deprive people of the right choices. Poverty has been hard to eradicate because some local leaders protect local business interests that control the local markets by instituting various deceptive schemes of manipulation. Given this reality, the lack of political freedoms of the poor also expands and cements the entrenchment in power of local clans.


Another issue that lurks on the horizon is the possible emergence of new “imperial” centers of power in the proposed regions. Regional governments will necessarily establish their own capital, and the concentration of economic and political power in them means that people will migrate there to look for new opportunities. Social problems arise when people converge on urban centers en masse—homelessness, garbage and crime. Given this reality, the neglect of those in the peripheries will only assume a new phase, and that is the domination of local economies by new oligarchs as the emerging power players who will want to exercise control and influence in the political, and consequently in the economic, life of the people.

John Kincaid strongly suggests that “there must be equalization in the sharing of revenues from richer regions to poor constituencies in order to ensure comparable levels of public services.” Again, here’s the problem. Our legislators are often good in crafting new laws, but our country’s record in terms of implementing these is embarrassing. And while we may have many well-meaning citizens in the private sector, the cancer-like inefficiency of our weak bureaucracy can be blamed on the lack of foresight of many national and local leaders.

The trouble is that we view our laws only as restrictions and punitive measures. As real tools for social transformation, public rules must also carry the moral power to promote the potential of each individual to act accordingly as a member of society. Federalism is grounded in people empowerment, and that alone is a good reason for people to look into it. But more importantly, since we cannot really trust many of our politicians to act with maturity, democratic inclusion means expanding the political freedoms of those in the peripheries of Philippine society as stakeholders in nation-building.

The basic point is, according to Jose Abueva, in order to transform the fate of this country, we have to change old systems that no longer work. Yet, we also have to look into ourselves. The philosophy of Confucius should inspire us in this regard. The Confucian notion of the “Rectification of Names” suggests that the people must follow the moral imperative of their names, if they are to reform human society. Thus, the ruler must act responsibly as a ruler and the father must act responsibly as a father. President Duterte means the same when he said in his inaugural speech, “Mind your own work and I will mind mine.”

Christopher Ryan Maboloc, assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University, holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. He is the founding president of the Social Ethics Society and was a consultant at the Centrist Democracy Political Institute.

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TAGS: federalism, oligarchy, political dynasty
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