Rodrigo Duterte

[OPINION] Beyond Duterte’s oligarch spin

Karl Patrick Wilfred M. Suyat
[OPINION] Beyond Duterte’s oligarch spin
'Malacañang will never stand against the oligarchy, not when the survival of all politicians in the system depend on its largesse'

Make no mistake: Rodrigo Duterte is not the enemy of the oligarchy.

In fact, if one takes an incisive look into how the Duterte presidency unfolded in the last 4 years, the same oligarchy he claims to scorn has been the unyielding bedrock of his administration – from Enrique Razon to Dennis Uy, from the Aranetas to Chinese tycoons. His sarswela a few months ago against the Ayala clan and Manny V Pangilinan fizzled out when the coronavirus pandemic afflicted the country, which cajoled Duterte to bend a knee to these oligarchs. 

In these 4 years as well, the other oligarchs who might not be that close to him have been enjoying the perks of the neoliberal socioeconomic order maintained, refurbished, and emboldened by Duterte himself. When he was still a candidate for the presidency, Duterte presented himself as the so-called “champion” of the masses, going against the elite rule personified by Noynoy Aquino’s administration and the untrammeled rise of capitalists in the towering halls of the country’s capital bases – Ortigas Avenue, Bonifacio Global City, and Ayala Avenue. 

Duterte’s anti-elite rhetoric even went as far as promising to stamp out contractualization, appointing progressives into vital government agencies, and labeling himself as the country’s first “socialist” President. But all that was just hot air: contractual labor worsened under Duterte, Rafael Mariano and the late Gina Lopez were kicked out of their positions by Duterte’s own Congress, and capitalist exploitation was aggravated under Duterte’s watch.

In 2018 alone, numerous workers’ strikes erupted in different factories and other enclaves of capital throughout the country – in front of Jollibee’s production area in Parañaque, outside PLDT’s office in Manila, in picket areas set up by workers fronting Monde Nissin and NutriAsia factories, even inside Middleby’s production factory, where its workers conducted a sit-in strike to struggle for security of tenure, livable wages, and workers’ benefits and labor rights. 

But none of the oligarchs or capitalists helming these corporations and their exploitative working machinations have been badgered, humiliated, or threatened by Duterte; in utter contrast, his police and military forces were even called upon to violently break up workers’ strikes. Not a few trade unionists and organizers have been harassed, red-tagged, or hauled off to prison – on trumped-up charges – for the “crime” of unionizing.

And yet, we heard nothing from Duterte.

This pattern of governance under this regime only shows one thing: the oligarchy was never his enemy. He has been in bed with the country’s top oligarchs since 2016, and has done nothing substantial to even fend off, clamp down on, or put a halt to the exploitation of workers inside factories.

Duterte was only livid about one thing: ABS-CBN’s critical reportage of his government. (READ: After ABS-CBN decision, Duterte ‘happy’ he ‘dismantled’ Philippine oligarchy)

And with that came his fury towards the Lopez clan, the owners of ABS-CBN.

Ironically enough, Duterte’s incensed diatribe against the Lopez clan neither put a dent on their fortune built upon decades of playing the political and economic field, nor did it coerce the Lopezes to kneel before him. Instead, the President’s words only inspired a vote of 70 to 11 to kill ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal – and with that, the livelihood of 11,000 workers and other laborers and industries dependent on ABS-CBN’s operations. This, at this delicate time of pandemic and economic recession, with the network being one of the citizenry’s largest sources of credible, technologically-advanced journalism.

The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos also played the oligarchy card to rationalize placing the country under martial law – when, in fact, what ensued since 1972 was the construction of Marcos’ own brand of oligarchy: crony capitalism. Subsequently, and after taking over the Lopez clan’s assets (and imprisoning Geny Lopez), Marcos gave out ABS-CBN, Meralco, and other businesses formerly owned by the clan to his oligarchs – such as Roberto Benedicto and Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez.

An eerily similar conclusion, it seems, can now be made of Duterte – specifically when a new upper-class had arisen, with Dennis Uy, the Villar clan, and Chinese tycoons out to dominate the country’s economy.

This is the truth beyond Duterte’s oligarch spin: Malacañang will never stand against the oligarchy, not when the survival of all politicians in the system depend on its largesse. The obliteration of one oligarchic clan will just herald the rise of the new oligarchs, comprised of personalities whom Duterte can coerce into following his orders – the same way the old oligarchy pre-martial law had only been replaced by Marcos’ golf buddies, former campaign lieutenants, and relatives. 

To stretch the point further: it is not the 70 representatives who voted against ABS-CBN’s franchise who are the stalwarts of pro-labor advocacy. Nor is it in the interest of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, whose own family members are playing in the political arena, to abolish the oligarchy – since more than half of the chamber he leads hails from oligarchic politics. 

The only Filipinos who actually battle to bring down the caste system are those who organize in communities where oligarchic abuse is tangible; those who collectively take to the streets and bring to the fore the populace’s pressing issues; and those who have engaged themselves in armed struggle to overhaul the entire neoliberal system – the same sectors Duterte also strives to eliminate.  

How’s that for an “anti-oligarch” stance? –

Karl Patrick Suyat is a campus journalist, writer, and a national democratic activist staunchly advocating against historical revisionism, fascism, and injustice. He also works as a staffer for the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Laguna.

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