Like death and taxes, ‘elites we will always have with us’ – national scientist

MANILA, Philippines — Oligarchs can’t be dismantled in the Philippines because they can only be tamed or replaced by new ones, economist and national scientist Raul Fabella said on Tuesday.

Fabella was reacting to President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that he had dismantled oligarchy in the country without having to declare martial law.


“You replace the current crop of oligarchs and you engender new crop oligarchs. In a sense, the elites, like death and taxes, we will always have with us,” Fabella said in an email to Inquirer.

Some senators also doubted the President’s remark that he was able to dismantle the country’s oligarchy.


Sen. Joel Villanueva said it was “inaccurate” to describe what happened to shuttered media giant ABS-CBN as a triumph against oligarchy.

“But this is because of our institutional and legal arrangements that do not facilitate enough competition to challenge the market control of the few,” he argued.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan wondered why the President had to discuss oligarchy since the problems besetting the country were brought about by the pandemic, worsening hunger and rising unemployment.

“They just made up the issue about the oligarchs to fool the people because they cannot show anything good on how to resolve their failed and slow response to COVID-19,” Pangilinan said.

Mang Pandoy, Dennis Uy

Fabella said it was the duty of an upright government to reduce the likelihood of bad observable traits and increase the odds of good ones.

“Replace a known oligarch with Mang Pandoy from Isla Putting Bato in Tondo at the top of the former’s empire given the same social forces and you will have a brand new oligarch in no time! This is what many people say of the Dennis Uy card,” said the University of the Philippines professor emeritus.

The economist was referring to Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy, one of the biggest contributors to Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016.


Business empire

Since 2016, Uy has rapidly grown his business empire beyond his flagship Phoenix Petroleum. He acquired a controlling stake in the logistics firm 2GO Group Inc., took over the 177-hectare Clark Global Gateway estate, bagged the much-coveted right to set up the country’s third telecom player (in partnership with China Telecom), acquired a provisional casino license, and bought a 45-percent stake in the Malampaya geothermal consortium.

These are on top of a string of smaller acquisitions such as the local chain of FamilyMart Philippines, Enderun Colleges, Starlite Ferries and restaurant chains like Conti’s and Wendy’s Philippines.

Already rich

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque denied that Duterte was building his own band of cronies through Uy.

“As far as as I know, Dennis Uy was rich even before. Maybe he is wealthier now. But even before, he was involved in mining in Diwalwal. It was already booming so the President need not help him,” the Palace official said.

Uy was a donor to Mr. Duterte’s presidential campaign in 2016 and was even appointed presidential adviser on sports.

Strengthen rule of law

Fabella said the government should strengthen the rule of law and make the oligarchy “faceless and fair” in a harsh manner, if need be.

“But you cannot dismantle the oligarchy because the oligarchy is, as it were, embedded in our genes,” he said. “We are not either bad or good; we are all both bad and good. Good institutions make the oligarch in us recessive! Are we getting those institutions right?”

He said Duterte’s assertion of dismantling did not fully match the facts.

“The fact for the claim: the Lopezes and the Ongpins were meted injury. But does that mean the whole oligarchy is brought to its knees? Not nearly,” Fabella said.

Marx, Pol Pot, Sionil Jose

One does not have to eradicate every oligarchic gene from the landscape the way Marx and Pol Pot meant in their class-war rhetoric, according to the economist.

“The gene is so rotten (that) only its total annihilation will serve free humanity of the blight. That also seems to pervade National Artist F Sionil Jose’s attitude toward the Lopezes and Hitler’s attitude toward the Jews,” Fabella said.

Although the gene may not change, its manifestation in can change with the environment, he said.

Organisms, according to Fabella, can learn and adapt to a changed environment.

“You take on and bring down a limited number of members and the lesson may travel far. This is the view from the Confessions of St. Augustine,” he said.


He wondered whether this was part of Duterte’s playbook.

“Was that the reason why he turned benign on MVP (First Pacific chief Manuel V. Pangilinan) and JAZA (Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala) as having learned the lesson to be less greedy? Nobody knows,”’ he said.

“It may just be that the pandemic attenuated his autocratic enthusiasm and knows now you need other people with resources to get the country back on it feet,” Fabella added.

The President had threatened to arrest the Ayala brothers and Pangilinan because of what he called onerous terms of the 1997 concession agreement of Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services to distribute water in Metro Manila and neighboring areas.

But Duterte apologized to the Ayalas and Pangilinan in May after their business groups made substantial donations to the government’s response to the new coronavirus.

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TAGS: Dennis Uy, oligarchs, Raul Fabella, Rodrigo Duterte
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