From Barons, Brokers, and Buyers: The Institutions and Cultures of Philippine Sugar , as originally quoted in this entry of mine from 2006, Planters and millers:
…Many in the sugar industry persist in the belief that they are among the most powerful political forces in the nation. But those with real power consider that claim laughable in today’s Philippine sugar economy. More political capital can be gained from disparaging the “sugar barons” than from advancing their interests.
And yet, in their efforts to portray the Philippines as a neo-colonized, exploited, and “feudal” cog on the periphery of the global world capitalist system, many Philippine scholars have missed or understated this important trend… scholars have conveyed the impression that the old rural oligarchs have preserved their preeminence in unabated form, or at least that all Philippine elites are pretty much alike in how they relate to the state. Journalistic accounts… are even more stark in their portrayals. For them the Philippines is a “changeless land” and a “land of broken promises,” dominated by fabulously rich rural elites able to direct political life unfettered by competition from other elites with other values and unconcerned with the greater national good…
I am not claiming that those perspectives are entirely mistaken, only that today’s Philippine reality is far more complex. Where rural elite families have managed to maintain their status and power, they have done so by adapting to radically different circumstances, by making new alliances, and by using their wealth and influence to pursue different strategies of gain. Those oligarchic families who have clung to the older methods of wielding influence have largely ceded ground to the nouveau riche. Most important, urban businessmen and financial wizards have increasingly become the dominant reference groups for ambitious young people. One would be hard-pressed today -even in Negros- to find a young member of a planter family who would admit to aspiring to a life of rural leisure and inherited “success”…
Although patrimonial capitalism endures in the Philippines, I argue that the shift from landlord dominance to the dominance of urban businessmen is critically important as a harbinger of future change in politics, economy, and culture. While it may appear at first that all Philippine elites are alike, that elites from different sectors pursue different strategies of domination and advocate different sorts of policies has consequential implications.
Many on the Philippine left see signs that the next “ruling class” will consist of former peasants or proletariat. But it seems far more plausible, given current trends, that what is evolving is the more typical historical progression: replacement of an old elite class by a newer one with different interests and sources of power, even though many of the individuals and families are the same. Despite the many works decrying the static composition of Philippine elites, and the bipolarity of Philippine society, I argue that this shift is affording an unprecedented amount of upward mobility and the rapid growth of a Filipino “middle class.”
That historic progression is still taking place, but let me put forward a portion of Benedict Anderson’s 1988 essay, Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams:
Immensely confident of Anglo-Saxon world hegemony and the place of English as the language of capitalism and modernity, the colonial regime effortlessly extruded Spanish and so expanded an English-language school system that by 1940the Philippines had the highest literacy rate in Southeast Asia. After independence, the oligarchy, like other Third World oligarchies, found that the simplest way of establishing its nationalist credentials was to expand cheap schooling. By the early 1960s university degrees were no longer a ruling class near-monopoly.
The huge expansion of English-language education produced three distinct, politically significant, new social groups. Smallest was a radical intelligentsia, largely of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois urban origins, and typically graduates of the University of the Philippines. Among them was Nur Misuari, who in the later 1960s formed the Moro National Liberation Front in the Muslim southwest. Still better known was José Maria Sison, who broke away from the decrepit post-Huk Communist party to form his own, and, borrowing from the Great Helmsman, founded the New People’s Army which is today a nation-wide presence and the major antagonist of the oligarchy. (The spread of English, and, later, of ‘street Tagalog’, in nationalist response to American hegemony, has made possible an archipelago-wide popular communication – below the oligarchy – that was inconceivable in the era of Bonifacio or the Hukbalahap.)
Next largest in size was a bien-pensant proto-technocracy, which also included graduates from American universities. Drawn from much the same social strata as the radical intelligentsia, it was enraged less by the injustices of cacique democracy than by its dilettantism, venality, and technological backwardness. This group also deeply resented its own powerlessness. When Marcos eventually declared Martial Law in 1972 and proclaimed his New Democracy, it flocked to his standard, believing its historic moment had come. It stayed loyal to him till the early 1980s, and long remained crucial to his credibility with Washington planners, the World Bank and the IMF, and foreign modernizers all and sundry.
Largest of all – if not that large – was a wider urban bourgeois and petty bourgeois constituency: middle-level civil servants, doctors, nurses, teachers, businessmen, shopkeepers, and so on. In its political and moral outlook it can perhaps be compared with the Progressives (definitely not the Populists) of the United States in the period 1890–1920. In the 1960s it made its political debut in campaigns for honesty-in-government, urban renewal, crackdowns on machine and warlord politics, and the legal emancipation of municipalities and the new suburbs. As might be expected, this group was both anti-oligarchy and anti-popular in orientation. Had it not been English-educated, and had not President Kennedy secured a major change in the American immigration laws, it might have played a major role in Philippine politics in the 1970s and 1980s. But these factors offered it enticing alternatives, such that, by the mid-1980s, well over a million Filipinos (mainly from this stratum) had emigrated across the Pacific, most of them for good. This bourgeois haemorrhage in the short run weakened a significant political competitor for the oligarchy, but in the longer run cost it an important political ally – one reason why the Aquino government has so little room for manoeuvre.
The Marcos regime, which began to entrench itself long before the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, was an instructively complex hybrid. From one point of view, Don Ferdinand can be seen as the Master Cacique or Master Warlord, in that he pushed the destructive logic of the old order to its natural conclusion. In place of dozens of privatized ‘security guards’, a single privatized National Constabulary; in place of personal armies, a personal Army; instead of pliable local judges, a client Supreme Court; instead of a myriad pocket and rotten boroughs, a pocket or rotten country, managed by cronies, hitmen, and flunkies. But from another viewpoint, he was an original; partly because he was highly intelligent, partly because, like his grotesque wife, he came from the lower fringes of the oligarchy. In any case, he was the first elite Filipino politician who saw the possibilities of reversing the traditional flow of power. All his predecessors had lived out the genealogy of mestizo supremacy – from private wealth to state power, from provincial bossism to national hegemony. But almost from the beginning of his presidency in 1965, Marcos had moved mentally out of the nineteenth century, and understood that in our time wealth serves power, and that the key card is the state. Manila’s Louis Napoleon.
In this extract he points to the origins of the middle class and a factor missed out, above: that the reformist middle class was gutted when American emigration laws were liberalized. Anderson thinks it took place in the 1960s-1970s; it may be that the initial decimation took place, then; but a large enough chunk remained to matter in 1986; but as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, since the 1980s, it was further decimated in the 1990s to date; and what’s left has clung more and more ferociously to the Old Guard as it tries to forestall losing power in the face of a population which has reaped the failures of the Old Guard but refused, or been unable, to exact its pound of flesh -because it can go overseas like the middle class has been doing since the 1960s…
But whether or not you subscribe to Billig’s view that the old provincial nabobs have given way to a new class of merchants and managers, or to Anderson’s (earlier) views, or even my assertion that the old middle and upper classes have been decimated but have managed to retard the rise of a replacement class culturally divorced from them, the process of evolution of not outright reform, at least in one respect, seems to have stalled.
Back in 2006, apropos the stalled peace process, I blogged about an observation made by Paulynn Paredes Sicam:
She observed that the past twenty years has seen the disappearance of a “peace constituency” and that the urgent task at hand is to rebuild one. To this end, she appealed to the media to devote attention to peace developments, and to bear in mind that sensationalistic, or utterly cynical reportage can have a tremendously harmful effect on the prospects of peace, and be quite damaging to peace prospects in particular localities. She also said t[h]ere are many inspiring stories that are never reported or superficially reported: cases where communities rise up, and basically tell both government and rebel troops to get the hell out and leave them in peace -and then, maintain that peace.
As it is for human rights, so it is for almost everything else: the disappearance of so many constituencies formerly so vibrant and even powerful.
Add to this list the obvious weakening of the land reform constituency. The best it could muster was a kind of kamikaze mission the other night: Commotion erupts at House of Representatives.
To be sure, land reform hasn’t been a major priority of the present administration. There has been the usual speechifying in favor of it, but the President certainly hasn’t gone for broke in terms of spending political (or any other kind of) capital to accomplish it. See Land redistribution slowest under Arroyo presidency. But neither Aquino (who herself came from a landed family) nor Ramos (who did not), actually targeted the big estates. Both administrations redistributed more middle class land and then public land, than actually breaking up the big estates -and only those big estates of families willing to give up their lands, and not the richest and most valuable estates whose owners actively resisted land reform.
The other day, in his blog, Rep. Ruffy Biazon pointed out the administration at the very least, went through the motions of corralling support to put the renewal of CARP over the top:
In fact, aside from the certification which is an official act, more personal efforts were taken to ensure the cooperation of congressmen. Last Tuesday, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office individually reminded congressmen to attend sessions and stay until its passage. Likewise, the Office of Speaker Prospero Nograles sent text messages to the Members of the House, urging them to be present during session and not leave until debates are concluded and a vote is taken.
It is not the first time that such persuasion was used on congressmen. The Anti-Terror Bill, the R-VAT Bill, and many others were passed with the same kind of prodding from the Office of the President and the Office of the Speaker of the House. While other bills languish in suspended animation, there bills which enjoy the active support of the leadership, to which members of the majority are all too willing to accommodate.
But there was a palpable lack of enthusiasm among administration allies. Biazon says that if the previous Speaker fell, among other reasons, for failing to muster quorums, then it bodes ill for the new Speaker that he doesn’t seem to be doing much better:
So with the President’s certification of the bill and the leadership change still fresh in the House, it was expected that the CARP extension bill would not encounter difficulties in passing. Although debates have been going on for almost three weeks owing to some lengthy interpellations by a few congressmen, it seemed that yesterday was going to be the last day for debates. There were several congressmen lined up to ask questions, including myself, but the intention was to go overtime if needed, just so that the bill would come to a vote.
We have also done that many times, conducting marathon sessions stretching one day to the next, just to give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and yet have the bill voted on as soon as possible.
At first it seemed that the congressmen were going to maintain the pace and close the deliberation of the bill and finally vote. But as the night wore on and the debates became longer, the numbers began thinning. At around 8:00 PM, one congressman from the administration coalition suddenly stood up and questioned the quorum.
It was obvious then that there were not enough numbers of congressmen in session. The proceedings were suspended and the quorum bell rang, calling all congressmen to proceed to the hall. Proponents of the bill tried to convince the member who questioned the quorum to reconsider his position. But he stood firm, and eventually the session had to be adjourned.
And as subsequent events have shown, it has to be asked, just how genuinely, did the administration bat for the House giving CARP a lease on life?
The Inquirer reports House defers vote on CARP extension bill: But resolution extending LAD until December OKd, and some rather peculiar suspicions on the part of at least one frustrated member of the House:
Akbayan party-list Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, one of the principal authors, however, said that the “landlords” in “collusion with leftist solons” from the Bayan bloc were out to block the passage of the bill, or water it down.
The fate of the proposed legislation hangs in the Senate because the senators are bucking its approval until the DAR submits a full accounting of the CARP funds for the past 20 years.
“There’s no CARP without the Senate… There can be no law without the Senate,” Nograles said.
Now the point isn’t whether some sort of unholy alliance is at work, but rather, we are facing the revival of a political force long thought extinct since the days of Martial Law: the Sugar Bloc. You can read, entirely free, on-line, John A. Larkin’s Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society:
In the end, sugar created a native elite, prestigious and powerful who, despite their disparate provincial origins, acted together with the collusion of foreigners to shape the course of Philippine modernization. For more than a century and a half, sugar represented the most important and influential sector of an insular commercial life that this elite, with rare exception, exploited almost exclusively for their personal advancement. Their conspicuous consumption contributed not so much to the progress of the islands as to the outflow of cash and to the inequitable colonial economy. Among sugar workers the maldistribution of profits created not a consuming public but permanent pockets of poverty, and attempts to ameliorate their circumstances came mostly to naught.
But even the book’s snapshot, of moribund sugar mills, of limited successes for cooperatives, has changed:
The post-Marcos era has commenced in the Philippines, and Nasutra has gone the way of other martial law aberrations; however, world economic conditions have prevented significant recovery for the industry. The U.S. market, too, promises to remain a finite one for Philippine sugar, given pressure from America’s own sugar producers, the demands of its other offshore suppliers, and the fact that its biggest food producers, including large bottlers Pepsi and Coca-Cola, now increasingly use corn sweetener in their products. Even if future Philippine sugarmen improve their productivity, they will have to depend for their livelihood on insular consumption and limited exports. The World. Bank reports the industry’s export earnings for the present as “stagnant,” and there seems little prospect of revival.
The book was written before the expansion of regional economies, and of ethanol and the modernization of the industry: the creation of a New Sugar Bloc.
The New Sugar Bloc has some of the old (though still fairly new, in that they’re Marcos-era) faces of the Old Sugar Monopoly of the New Society, but in its behavior it’s more like the pre-martial law Sugar Bloc in that it has strategically, and effectively, managed its bloc in Congress regardless of what the chief executive wants (or in collusion with the Palace, which is a possibility, too). And triumphant, too: in Negros (Bacolod, for example), the reformist clergy I met are no longer young; and the priests and future bishops who will replace them, no longer imbued with the same focus on Social Justice.