Bossism

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Eduardo Murphy Cojuangco – billionaire entrepreneur, presidential friend, and business magnate.

“Boss Danding” to others and to his close associates. In an earlier time, the San Miguel Corporation chairperson lorded over the southern reaches of Negros Occidental, and even earlier, the entirety of the province as a political kingmaker.

After his passing, an opportunity arises to understand the underpinnings and implications of “local strongmen” or “bossism”. This is what John Sidel defines as “prevalence of local power brokers who achieved sustained monopolistic control over both coercive and economic resources within given territorial jurisdictions or bailiwicks.”

Bossism is a phenomenon mostly happening in countries or states whose institutions are organized to benefit and satisfy the interests of the elite. It is, in simple terms, the rule of the powerful over the mechanisms and personalities of government.

These bosses, usually landowners in the Negrense experience, exercise control and loyalty over local and sometimes nationally-important political machines. Most politicians or leaders, who may be bosses in their own right, owe their allegiance to them.

The patronage of these bosses often determine the rise or fall of their respective political careers and fortunes.

There are instances wherein the personalities affiliated with and the desires of these bosses clash with the interests of other local leaders and personalities, resulting sometimes in devastating outcomes that could make or break political futures, of which the 2013 Negros Occidental provincial elections is a classic example.

In 2012 to 2013, the once-formidable United Negros Alliance or UNA, the dominant provincial party, was rocked by a split. There were the partisans of former Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and the heirs of former Ambassador Roberto S. Benedicto on one side, versus the partisans of Boss Danding and another powerful congressman backing the other.

This conflict pitted the incumbent governor against the Vice Governor, Genaro M. Alvarez Jr. backed up by the latter. They called their new faction “LOVE Negros”, under the patronage of Cojuangco and allies. Their ultimate aim was to place the provincial government under their control by defeating Marañon and placing Alvarez in his stead through an election.

After a tough, grueling, and contentious campaign in the summer of that election year wherein Gov. Marañon was initially outnumbered in terms of support by the Local Government Unit chief executives (the mayors), his political will prevailed, and was re-elected to the governorship by a wide margin over his opponent. The opposing bosses retreated to lick their wounds and regroup. Danding and his partisans were defeated in the battle of the bosses, leaving Governor Marañon in the top job.

The dynamics of bossism paint a clear picture of elite politics as a continuing scenario in Philippine democracy and in its economy, too. They call the shots, while most do not have the opportunity to do so. With this, one may infer that the decision-making processes lie firmly in the hands of the privileged and the uber-wealthy, that as long as the systems remain the same, the true empowerment of the people would remain elusive and distant. Personality politics has led to Philippine elections and this dispensation generally continuing to be the stomping ground of the bosses and their followers. With our institutional framework continuing to remain closed off, the bosses keep their roles.

Bossism, in the end, has proven to be a pillar of democratic deficits (a good read by Prof. Claire Carlos) in the Philippines and its regions, by keeping the reins of power away from the common people, a strong middle class, that broad cross-section of society needed to guide and bolster the foundations of a strong state and functioning democratic processes.

It will be around with us for some time, but the passing of another boss should allow us the opportunity to reflect and then courageously revise the practices which shape our current political and economic situation, for the good of each and every citizen.

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