Fighting the oligarchy
"There were/are the events of 1962, 1972 and 2020."
In a speech that he delivered shortly after the denial by the House of Representatives’ Committee on Legislative Franchises of ABS-CBNs application for a new franchise, President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he had succeeded in dismantling this country’s economic oligarchy without having to resort to martial law.
In contrast, he said President Ferdinand Marcos had to place the country under martial law – specifically Proclamation No. 1081 of September 21,1972 – to be able to cow into submission the group of very large business establishments that he considered the controllers of the Philippine economy and Philippine politcis.
President Duterte did not mention ABS-CBN in his speech, nor did he identify the other oligarchs whose economic futures he had hurt. But knowledgeable commentators were quick to recall the Chief Executive’s rancorous disputes with the Ayala family’s Manila Water Co. and Manuel Pangilinan’s Maynilad Water Services with the government, with the LT (Lucio Tan) Group over the indebtedness to the government of LT-acquired Philippine Airlines, and with the Rufino-Prieto family corporation over the lease agreement covering the government-owned Milelong property.
Ferdinand Marcos was not the first post-World War II president to suggest the existence of a group of business establishments exercising control over the Philippine economy. President Diosdado Macapagal, whom he defeated in the 1965 elections, was the first to do so.
One of the first things that the poor boy from Lubao – the nickname given to him by the domestic press – did upon assuming the presidency in January 1962 was launch a personal campaign against this country’s politico-economic oligarchy. Not familiar with the word, most Filipinos had to rush to their dictionaries to learn the meaning of “oligarchy.” When Ferdinand Marcos spoke of oligarchs around 11 years later, they knew what he was talking about.
The oligarchy that President Macapagal declared was against 68 years ago was not a group of large business establishments representing a cross-section of the Philippine economy. The target of the ninth Chief Executive’s ire was a single component of the Philippine economy: The sugar industry, which the press routinely referred to as the sugar bloc. The fortunes of the Philippine sugar industry had been greatly improved by the highly preferential prices paid since 1955 by the US for Philippine sugar under the terms of the Laurel-Langley Agreement. Diosdado Macapagal, who had been a Liberal Vice President to Nacionalista President Carlos Garcia, sensed that the sugar bloc was pro-Garcia and contributed heavily to Mr. Garcia’s re-election finances. The leaders of the bloc were the brothers Eugenio and Fernando Lopez and Alfredo Montelibano, the president of the powerful National Federation of Sugarcane Planters. There were other major figures in the sugar industry, such as the Lacsons and the Gustilos, but the Lopez brothers and Montelibano were clearly its leaders.
It was now payback time. President Macapagal repeatedly raged against those he considered the leaders of the oligarchy, The proverbial kitchen sink was thrown and the Lopez brothers, Mr. Montelibano and their sugar industry friends with charges of violations of tax, labor and other laws flying thick and fast.
It soon became apparent that President Macapagal’s thinking that he could cow the sugarbloc folk into submission was a gross miscalculation. They were not going to roll over and play dead. They were going to fight back. With the support of the press – especially the Lopez-owned Manila Chronicle – and their sympathizers in Congress, they launched a counter-attack against the Macapagal administration. The editorials of the Manila Chronicle were particularly damaging.
Stunned and hurt, and having come to the realization that he had underestimated his enemies’ willingness and ability to fight back, President Macapagal decided to back off. The word was sent out through the government’s minions. Nothing more about oligarchs and their evil deeds was heard thereafter.
Things were different with President Marcos. Macapagal did what he did in a democratic environment, with his enemies enjoying the protection of constitutional guarantees. Marcos, meanwhile, had the benefit of the extraordinary powers provided by martial law. Marcos could not say that he had destroyed the oligarchs because what he did in due course was replace the alleged pre-martial-law oligarchs with his own oligarchs, e.g., Eduardo Cojuangco (coconut industry) and Roberto Benedicto (sugar industry).
Although the language used by Anti-Oligarchy Campaign No. 1 (Macapagal’s) differed from that used by Anti-Oligarchy Campagn No. 2 (Marcos’), the two campaigns had a common central target – the family of Eugenio and Fernando Lopez. Although his rhetoric was directed at the sugar bloc, all knowledgeable Filipinos knew that Macapagal’s real target was the Lopez family – the bloc’s acknowledged leader – and the Lopez-owned Manila Chronicle, which had supported re-electionist Carlos Garcia. Not being clothed with martial-law powers, and bereft of the support of a docile House of Representatives, all that President Macapagal could do was rant and rave against the Lopez family; he could not close down the Manila Chronicle or imprison the Lopez brothers.
Things were different with the Anti-Oligarchy Campaign No. 2. Claiming extraordinary powers under Proclamation No. 1081, President Marcos lost no time padlocking the Manila Chronicle – as well as other publications – and imprisoning the president and chief executive officer of the Lopez-owned broadcasting network ABS-CBN.
The current campaign, Anti-Oligarchy Campaign No. 3, is being made to appear like an honest-to-goodness campaign against oligarchs. True, President Duterte has acted tough against the corporations of the Ayala brothers, Manuel Pangilinan, Lucio Tan and Roberto Ongpin. But the corporate entity that has borne the brunt of his displeasure and ire has been ABS-CBN. The other oligarchs are still operating their businesses, whereas ABS-CBN has been shut down.
After the pathetic outcomes of this country’s first two anti-oligarchy campaigns – the first because the President of the Philippines (Macapagal) lost the will to continue, and the second because the chief executive (Marcos) merely replaced the old oligarchy with his own oligarchy, we now have President Duterte claiming that he has dismantled the oligarchy without the use of martial-law powers.
Many things could have occurred to any thoughtful person upon hearing President Duterte’s claim. One was, was there an oligarchy that needed to be dismantled? The second question was, have the other members of the alleged oligarchy been rendered as ineffective as ABS-CBN has been?
President Duterte has an affirmative answer for both questions. Let’s leave it at that.