OPINION: Oligarchy and rent-seeking

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Feb 20 2020 09:17 PM

Today, an oligarchy and its coterie of rent-seekers are causing tectonic happenings in the country that will have lasting deleterious effects upon the current and long-term health of the Philippine economy. 

There is nothing amiss, much less extraordinary, for informed and unshackled political commentary to point out that in dictatorial regimes, (and in virtual versions thereof), it is the dictator and political strongman who is in fact the sole and principal oligarch.
 
Such is the undeniable reality regardless of time and clime. 

In textbook examples, the dictator-oligarch is served, surrounded, emboldened and propped up by the noisome noise from the fawning servility of fact-denying zealots. They populate the core of his supposedly popular public support. He possesses the tools to effectively soften the institutional spine of the armed services, by way of pelf and favor. Thus, the country’s military, to a considerable extent, may have become compliant, coopted or even prostituted in varying degrees. The dictator-oligarch is also oftentimes enriched, clandestinely of course, by his rent-seekers. 

Rent-seekers are usually political benefactors who contributed to his ascendancy to political power. He then rewards his rent-seekers economic opportunities unavailable to them in an otherwise competition-driven, free enterprise democratic government system.

Please note that the country has yet to fully truly rehabilitate and heal from the moral and financial ravages of the Marcos era. In fact, the culprits are still amongst us and are revving up a return to political power and launching a revisionist history. Under our very noses, a Marcos redux is in progress albeit not by martial law, yet! Under oft-manufactured circumstances, the regime is able to “rule by weaponizing the law,” (because they can and they do!) replacing constitutional rule of law justice!

That the Marcos Redux is sponsored and abetted by the incumbent dispensation is beyond shadows of doubt. These happenings are tolerated, encouraged, launched under a political oligarchy in the exercise of rent-seeking and “rule by law.” As the Philippine intelligentsia has come to realize, “rule of law” as meant under our Constitution, has been emasculated with the active participation of legislature and the Supreme Court.

For our mutual edification, enhancing our ability to form fact-based opinion and deliver sane commentary, let us define our terms. 

Tectonic: Originally a geologic term pertaining to movements of the earth’s crust, it is commonly used in structural quality and/or fidelity of construction such as buildings, also used in defining socio-economic institutions. Examples: “a tectonic shift in world affairs,” “tectonic quality.” Synonyms are: “earthshaking,” “momentous,” “historic,” “monumental,” etc. Thus, the ‘tectonic happenings’ in Philippine society today, as ushered in, sponsored, tolerated and conducted by the Duterte regime will definitely bring about ill-effects. Much of it is already affecting the country and will continue to do so in the days of our children. 

Oligarchy: Most definitions refer to government. It is “best defined as a government ruled by a small, elite group.” The relevant action is one of “control.” In the arena of Big Business in a democracy, on the other hand, where there exists competition, the term ‘oligarchy’ is misplaced. In fact, it is hardly used. (nb: Russian business oligarchs while dominant in their economy are tolerated, sponsored and ‘controlled’ by the State ruled by Vladimir Putin.) Hence, synonyms for the word “oligarch” are dictator, strongman, ruler and “a government ruled by a dictator, a government ruled by a monarchy, a government ruled by a small, elite group.”

Rent-Seeking: It is an economic concept that happens when an entity (most often a secret partner, a political-financial benefactor or crony, of the current oligarch) seeks to gain added wealth without any reciprocal contribution. More often than not, rent-seekers hover around government-funded social services, social service programs such public works infrastructure. More academically speaking, it is behavior whereby “expenditure of resources in order to bring about an uncompensated transfer of goods or services from another person or persons to one’s self as the result of a ‘favorable’ decision on some public policy.” Without attempting an exculpation, let me state that rent-seeking is not a white-collar crime per se, at first blush! 

Rule by weaponizing the Law: It is a ‘happening’ that occurs when the law ceases to reign supreme untrammeled and unaltered by vengeful expediency. It happens when the elected political power exercises undue influence over government institutions; when the dictator-oligarch chooses which law to utilize, “when to invoke it, how to interpret it” and even to blatantly manufacture evidence to buttress calculated nefarious objectives.
 
Do we know of anyone who has been effectively “weaponized by the law” and thus molested, harassed and/or summarily deprived of freedom and other human rights? 

Sen. Leila M. de Lima comes to mind most prominently. The ‘quo warranto’ case that led to the ouster of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno is another. 

And what about Maria Ressa and Rappler? Shouldn’t former Senator Sonny Trillanes now be enrolled in sterling roster of the legally abused, as well? What about the ABS-CBN ‘quo warranto’ by Solicitor General Jose Calida?

A working understanding of the aforementioned terms will endow credible vigor and substance to any conversation about our prevailing socio-political condition. Inevitably we will have to arrive at the conclusion that the rent-seekers are all beholden to an oligarch. That together they will preside over “tectonic happenings” leading to the demise of our society, as we know it, is a distinct possibly.

By the way, the only oligarch in the Philippines is not a CEO of Philippine Big Business!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.