"They feed on each other."
If the coronavirus pandemic has done anything good—or bad—it is to expose the harsh reality that Philippine society is grossly unequal. In my estimate, only 100 families own the economy and politics of this country.
The elite owners of the economy are called oligarchs. The elite owners of government positions, elected and appointed, are the dynasties. They feed on each other.
The oligarchs bankroll the candidacies of the dynasties. When the dynasties are installed in power, they return the gesture by giving concessions to the oligarchs. Sometimes, the dynasties get to envy the oligarchs. So they proceed to destroy the oligarchs by destroying their businesses. Then the predator dynasty installs its own oligarchs.
During the Marcos regime of 20 years, these oligarchs became known as cronies—so-called because they depended on the largesse of the ruling power.
Sometimes, the ruling power becomes an oligarch himself. He builds his own businesses. It becomes a one-man show, a dictatorship that is an oligarch at the same time, a very dangerous and obnoxious combination. How do you deal with such a political and economic hydra of Lerna? Well, kill it—either by disease or by force of arms, what you call a revolution or a revolutionary government.
In Philippine context, killing a political and economic hydra by disease is credited to God. Still, demolishing such a hydra by revolution is also credited to God, specifically to the virgin Mary. Hence, we have a monument at EDSA of a very masculine (I did not say ugly) Virgin Mary.
Sometimes, the oligarchs and the dynasties quarrel—as in the case of President Duterte maneuvering the closure for good of ABS-CBN Corporation, the media empire of one of the country’s foremost dynasties—the Lopez family. The Lopezes run six generations or more than 200 years deep, from 1800, with original Lopez (who was not actually a Lopez, Lopez being just an adopted name) Basilio Lopez of Jaro, Iloilo. So don’t expect that with the ABS-CBN shutdown, the Lopezes are gone for good.
Pandemics can also be a great equalizer. The coronavirus doesn’t give a damn whether you are rich or poor. It infects you, whatever your income or social situation.
Good thing about the Philippine coronavirus, only one-fifth of one percent (.20 percent) is infected by COVID-19. That’s 224,264 out of 110 million Filipinos. The fatality rate is also very low—3,597 out of 224,264 or 1.6 percent. For every 100 Filipinos with COVID-19, fewer than two die. So why the longest and most severe lockdown in the world?
But then comes the harsh reality. Twenty million Filipinos have lost their jobs because of lockdowns supposedly to contain the virus’ spread. One of every four Filipinos is certifiably poor.
As for the oligarchs, well, they are doing well and have managed magically despite the greatest recession in Philippine history.
The oligarchs have their so-called holding companies which are listed in the stock exchange. Listing in the stock exchange means the oligarchs have access to free money (yes, free money because selling your shares to the public is like borrowing other people’s money with zero interest). Plus you enjoy tax perks (like exemption from crippling inheritance tax when transferring wealth via the stock market).
As of today, these are the country’s top billionaires: 1) Lance Y. Gokongwei $5.68 billion; 2) Manny B. Villar Jr. $4.248 billion; 3) Iñigo Zobel $3.82 billion; 4) Enrique Razon Jr. $3.48 billion; 5) Erramon Aboitiz $3.34 billion; 6) Lucio Tan 2.43 billion; 7) Ramon S. Ang $2.29 billion; 8) Lucio Co $2.25 billion; 9) Tony Tan Caktiong $2.0 billion; 10) Herbert Sy $1.73 billion; 11) Harley Sy $1.53 billion; 12) Henry Sy Jr. $1.53 billion; 13) Teresita Sy Coson $1.497 billion; 14) Roberto V. Ongpin $1.397 billion; and 15) Hans Sy $1.33 billion.
As of today, the ten biggest family holding companies in terms of stock market value (or market cap) are:1) SM Investments Corp. (owned by the family of the late Henry Sy Sr.), P1.023 trillion; 2) JG Summit Holdings, Inc. (owned by the family of the late John Gokongwei Jr), P460.18 billion; 3) Ayala Corp. (owned by the families of Iñigo Zobel and Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala), P460.18 billion; 4) Aboitiz Equity Ventures (owned by the Aboitiz family of Cebu), P270.25 billion; 5) San Miguel Corp. (owned by Ramon S. Ang and Iñigo Zobel) P241.42 billion; 6) Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (by the Salim family of Indonesia), P105.35 billion; 7) LT Group, Inc. (Lucio Tan), P91.11 billion; 8) GT Capital Holdings (the automotive and banking conglomerate of the late George SK Ty), P86.11 billion; 9) Filinvest Development Corp. (Gotianun family), P72.64 billion; 10) Alliance Global Group, Inc. (Andrew Tan), P60.3 billion; and 11) DMCI Holdings (Consunji family), P43.75 billion.
Compared with the end-December 2019 market cap, the Sy family’s SMIC has lost 18.5 percent of its market value; JG Summit down by 20 percent; Ayala 6.5 percent; Aboitiz 6.8 percent; San Miguel 38 percent; MPIC 1.1 percent; LT Group 29.5 percent; GT Capital 29.5 percent; Filinvest 34.8 percent; Alliance Global 47 percent; and DMCI 39.5 percent.
If you think those declines in values are steep, consider the ordinary worker—he has lost his job, meaning he has lost 100 percent of his income. None of the oligarchs has been wiped out that dramatically.
It pays to be an oligarch. And a dynasty.