What is an “oligarchy”?
Merriam-Webster defines it as a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.
This is a simplified and very concise definition.
This is the essence of the term as commonly understood or how it should be understood.
First, it is a government of the few often acting with and for selfish interests. This is very similar to an aristocracy but the rulers are without the royal title or status.
There are however other types of oligarchies, the so-called indirect variants.
The most common but less obvious is when the installed government officials are only “dummies” or acting for the interest of the corporate elite or a small group of wealthy individuals or families.
Have you ever wondered why the foreign defense policy of the United States of America doesn’t change no matter who the president is or what party he’s from?
Have you heard of the phrase “war is big business”?
Once the US stops its involvement on global warfare, its economy will greatly suffer.
The sale of weapons is one of the most profitable exports that it has.
Why was there a government bailout in Wall Street when it faced an economic crisis?
You can do the math.
Now, let’s go back to the local scene.
Oligarchy is not about the names of the prominent families in Philippine society or who are the wealthiest. It is about who holds political power.
Oligarchy is a political concept. President Duterte claimed that he has “dismantled oligarchy” in the Philippines.
But who are the people that he surrounds himself with? You have the Villars, the Arroyos, the Cayetanos, and the biggest oligarch of them all, the Marcoses. In their vocabulary, if you are his ally, you are not an oligarch.
If one is to study his every move, one will see that he has copied almost everything that the late dictator Marcos has done in the past.
So do we have an oligarchy here in our country?
Well yes and no.
While the president has been busy paying off his political debts, he has also institutionalized an autocratic government.
Why do I say this? Although we are supposedly a democracy, the President has practically dismantled all our major democratic institutions. We don’t have checks and balances anymore.
Congress with its super-majority is acting on the president’s every desire.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Congress was not corrupt in the past, but we are in a whole new level now. Even the Supreme Court has also become the President’s rubber stamp.
These are exactly what Marcos has done before.
What we have now is a rule of one. So what do we call the allies who profit from this regime? We call them cronies.
Indeed with wealth comes power, but in the Philippines the reverse is also true, with power comes wealth.
The Dutertes have become oligarchs themselves.