Thursday, December 17, 2009

State and Family in the Philippines

To Alfred McCoy, a historian and observer of Philippine politics, our republic is a “weak post-colonial state” where “the interaction between powerful rent-seeking families and a correspondingly weak Philippine state has been synergistic” (An Anarchy of Families, 19). This essentially means that these families and their rivalries have been both cause and effect of our weak State.

Over the years, beginning with the 1907 Philippine Assembly elections under the tutelage of the United States, members of provincial families who have risen to national offices have used their positions to obtain “rents” or economic values through government regulations, permits, or low-interest loans that give their families an artificial advantage, special access, or even a monopoly over the markets of goods like sugar and copra, and services like banking and broadcasting.

The Lopezes of Iloilo, for example, have shown how business and politics can mix and feed off each other. In the period between World War II and the Marcos dictatorship, Eugenio Lopez Sr (1901-1975) became a successful entrepreneur who controlled several large corporations including the Manila Electric Company and ABS-CBN, among the nation’s top broadcasting networks. His brother Fernando (1904-1993) became mayor of Iloilo City, a senator, and then vice-president for three terms.

“Fernando’s political success afforded Eugenio access to government contracts for his business concerns. Indeed, this symbiosis of political influence and corporate growth was a key factor in Eugenio’s spectacular rise from provincial bus operator to the Philippines’ most powerful entrepreneur in only a quarter of a century.” (Anarchy of Families, 447)

This practice of rent-seeking that has persisted to this day has decreased public resources, degraded the political impartiality of the civil service, and diminished accountability, competence, and efficiency among public officials and employees. Whether rich or poor, families in the Philippines are clannish and tend to give greater premium to family loyalty than patriotism. As a result, “we imagine ourselves foremost as brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers of our families instead of as citizens of a nation” (Arnold Alamon).

Compared to family and friends, government, especially at the national level, is remote and distant to many of the rural and urban poor. Even when national officials happen to be honest and efficient, kith and kin are nearer, dearer, and more reliable when it comes to fulfilling one’s needs and wants. The kinship network is relied upon for employment, money, medical help, education, and socialization, among others, especially in hard times.

More importantly, according to McCoy, the family strives to pass on to the next generation its “name, honor, lands, capital, and values.” The kinship network even expands to include acquaintances, peers, and superiors with whom one can be bound through rituals of initiation like baptism with its potentially numerous sponsors, kumpares and kumares.

No comments:

Post a Comment