ISSUE ANALYSIS No. 04
Series of 2010
THE LIMITS OF OLIGARCHIC POWER: BEYOND THE 2010 ELECTIONS
"Organization is the weapon of the weak in their struggle with the strong."
Robert Michels, Political Parties
By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
April 26, 2010
They say that elections in our country are like the game of musical chairs. In reality, however, elections are contests exclusively for the elites and their families who will later use their political positions of power for private gain for themselves and their affluent families. They are exercises for the oligarchy in sharing political power among their coterie of the elite. While more than 70 percent of our people are poor, more than 80 percent of the elected representatives in Congress and presidency belong to the exclusive multimillionaires’ club, based on their own declared assets and liabilities.
Factions of the oligarchy and bureaucrat capitalists have maintained their power by manipulating the poor and powerless especially during electoral contests. They have used the poor as their tiradors or hitmen in their contention for limited seats of political power at the national and local level.
But no matter how much they pretend to come from the ranks of the poor, or to project themselves as "maka-masa," especially in their electoral propaganda, one can see how they have gained from their positions of political power.
Can the oligarchy nationalize and expropriate land and private property under the auspices of a genuine agrarian reform law as Cuban President Fidel Castro did in May 1959 when he led by the example in implementing Cuba's sweeping Agrarian Reform Law by first nationalizing his own family's sprawling hacienda in Biran, eastern Cuba?
The coming Philippine elections are further validating the long-held truism that:
But these characteristics of Philippine electoral politics are also the limitations of oligarchic power. These limitations are on the following grounds:
The real hope
This is why the hope is not in the electoral struggle per se. The real hope lies in deepening the processes of democratization, in strengthening and widening the grassroots citizens' movements which can act as an effective countervailing force against the economic, political and military domination of the oligarchy - both foreign and local. Thus, elections at the national and local levels should not be a mere contest among the factions of the elites and bureaucrat capitalists, among whom we are often limited to choose from. The real struggle is between the continued oligarchic rule and the exploited/oppressed toiling masses.
And real power is not also in state power per se. Real power is in an empowered citizens' grassroots movement seeking to wrest control of economic and political power from the oligarchs. The role of people's movements in their engagement with the elite-driven state is not just to provide an effective check and balance in the state, or to share a token of that state power. Their role is to develop alternative local and national leaders for the emergence of a genuine political party of the non-elite to challenge oligarchic power. For this, it may be necessary to unify the country's diverse progressive and left-of-center forces behind a coherent political program.
What therefore, are the tasks at hand for people's organizations and social movements which are participating in the coming political exercise?
The greater tragedy of oligarchic power and politics is if the hoi polloi -- the poor victims themselves -- fight and kill one another while the exploiting classes playfully swap musical chairs in an elite game we call elections.
(This issue analysis was written by Prof. Roland Simbulan, Senior Fellow of CenPEG, centennial professor and former Faculty Regent of the University of the Philippines system.)