Yellow Pad

President Rodrigo Duterte said: “Kaya ko mamatay, mahulog sa eroplano. [I can now die, fall from an airplane.] I am very happy. Alam mo bakit? [You know why?] Without declaring martial law, I dismantled the oligarchy that controlled the economy of the Filipino people.”

But wait, Mr. President, before you let yourself fall from a plane, listen to this. People who have religious faith as well as non-believers with a good soul would not like that to happen. For the believers, such an act is sinful. For non-believers, the act is reprehensible.

Besides, your wish of dying after claiming to have dismantled the oligarchy might not be realized by falling from a plane. Falling from a plane will not result in certain death, especially for an outlier like you. That you have performed exceptionally well in survey after survey, despite the controversies that have hounded you, shows you are an outlier.

Have you heard of Vesna Vulovi?? She, too, was an outlier. She was a flight attendant and the only survivor of a terrorist bomb that blasted a plane in midair. She fell to the ground without a parachute from an altitude of 10,160 meters. (The elevation of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, is 8,848 meters.) According to Wikipedia, Ms. Vulovi? “suffered a fractured skull, three broken vertebrae, broken legs, broken ribs, and a fractured pelvis.” Even a heavy dose of fentanyl cannot alleviate such pain. Again, believers and non-believers with good hearts would not like you to endure such suffering.

But the more important reason why your wish is not possible — and your happiness denied — is that it is predicated on a wrong assumption. You assume that you have dismantled the oligarchy by denying a broadcasting franchise to ABS-CBN, owned by the powerful Lopez family.

Let us first define what is meant by “oligarchy.” Here, I turn to the definition of political scientist Jeffrey A. Winters. In his book, Oligarchy (Cambridge University Press, 2011), he defined “oligarchy” as those few “who command and control massive concentrations of material resources that can be deployed to defend or enhance their wealth and exclusive social position.”

So being a billionaire is insufficient to make an oligarch. One must likewise use “massive concentrations of material resources” for wealth defense and promotion. Hence, to be an oligarch, one must have political power, or buy political power. Taking off from Winters’s definition, John Sidel (“Achieving Reforms in Oligarchical Democracies: The Role of Leadership and Coalitions in the Philippines,” Developmental Leadership Program, 2014) says that oligarchical democracy is “a political system whose institutional structures and electoral contests are directly or indirectly dominated by such an oligarchy.”

Undeniably, the Lopez family has been part of the oligarchy. Scholars have written about this. Most notable is Alfred W. McCoy’s “Rent Seeking Families and the Philippine State: A History of the Lopez Family,” in Alfred W. McCoy.ed., An Anarchy of Families: Filipino Elites and the Philippine State (Ateneo University Press, 1993). For a story about the Lopez family and ABS-CBN, read Raul Rodrigo’s Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the making of ABS-CBN (ABS-CBN Publishing, 2006).

But the Philippine oligarchy has other sets of actors, and the Lopez family in recent years has had its political clout diminished. The economic power of the Lopezes pales in comparison with that of the Villars, the Marcoses, Lucio Tan, the Danding Cojuangco-Ramon Ang faction, and others.

In short, the oligarchy is alive. The oligarchs associated with the Duterte administration, including the nouveau oligarch that is Dennis Uy, are prospering. In the words of disgraced former President Joseph Estrada, weather-weather lang. Disenfranchising ABS-CBN is all about hubris and political arbitrariness.

Duterte is a resurrected Marcos. Duterte does not need martial law. He is terror personified.

The oligarchy is dead! Long live the oligarchy!


Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.