A primer for Philippine politics


IT is election time and some say nothing ever changes in the Philippines. The candidates change but the social inequality remains. Candidates for the presidency this time range from two representing the rich elite, the daughter of a deceased movie star and a foul-mouthed mayor vowing to kill all suspected criminals and a senator who is fronting for the family of the former dictator.

The frustration of the educated middle class is the absence of a visionary leader of integrity with a genuine love of the poor, immense popularity and with a reform agenda to bring equality and justice. The election is not about agenda or policy platforms, it’s about popular controllable personalities, pliable puppets able to dance and sing or who are bombastic and crude. They must be controversial and media magnetic.

They must submit to the interests of their financiers and accept that they have “debts of honor” to pay when and if they win the presidency. They are under the control of the media manipulators and the masters of the puppet show, and what a bewildering spectacle it is. They have to play to the gallery and capitulate to the interests of super rich.

The ruling oligarchy would never allow the rise of an independent candidate with a pro-poor agenda and a popular following. Besides, no financial bloc would fund a candidate like that. There is no political messiah on the far horizon.

What we see as a stage backdrop is a mineral rich country of 100 million Filipino people, mostly poor. Twenty-six million are in dire poverty surrounded by the mansions and condominiums of the rich. The poor are necessary consumers and cheap workers tolerated by the super rich.

These 100 million Filipinos are in the power of a corrupt 140 families. They eliminate their opponents with ruthless violence. When a strong voice of protest and defiance ring out in defense of human rights or the exploitation of the poor, it is silenced with a shot to the head as documented by Human Rights Watch.

None of the candidates can run on their own. To grab the presidency, the rival families change their various alliances and rivalries, coalesce to form new strategic alliances. Then they fight for the presidency. The most powerful office in the land is their goal, the candidate is their façade.

The candidates are owned and financed by the different clusters of the 140 or so of the megarich dynastic families; these control or own an estimated 70 percent of the national wealth, land, buildings, industry and the treasury. They want to protect this ascendancy and strive for the power that will guarantee their dominance and wealth expansion.

The winning group gets control of the public purse, the awarding of the mega infrastructures projects, the granting of supply contracts, the approval of controversial permits to build dangerous polluting power plants and the like. The President and his Cabinet have the power to arrange the smooth privatization of public institutions and utilities to their relatives and cronies.

If they win they have the power to subjugate the losers and isolate their business and political competitors. So each group gets a popular candidate, an actor, celebrity or a winning political face will do. Each alliance will finance their chosen candidate and their followers.

Foreign donations are given secretly and indirectly. International companies, like mining and fishing corporations, want permits and concessions so they buy influence and give to several candidates to sit at the winning table.

In this way, the moneyed moguls of Asia and the Philippines provide the billions of pesos needed to buy the most poll surveys, media time and the most votes. They want to roll the dice, the Philippines is their casino.

It is this obsession with the pursuit and retention of power and money and their security that the ruling elite have no interest or concern with the masses of poor. The 100 million are only of concern when they are restive and desperate. Then they give them handouts like the conditional cash transfer project. Small amounts of cash are given to the poorest of the poor. But it is no way out of grinding poverty.

The dominance of the few over the many creates the massive inequality that besets the nation and causes intolerable slums, and drives millions to flee abroad in search of jobs leading to broken homes and abandoned children.

The local authorities hide the begging, hungry children away from visiting foreign dignitaries like Pope Francis. They keep the dirty faces, pleading eyes and outstretched hands from disturbing the indifference of the rich in their limos and SUVs on their way to church.

Such social injustice and deprivation fill the subhuman jails with streetchildren subjecting them to sexual abuse and malnutrition and brain impairment. Human traffickers sell thousands of young underage girls into the sex industry. These sex tourist establishments, owned by local and foreign investors, are operating with government permits. The poor are useful after all. To get a single document from a government office like the DENR takes three months at least but a sex bar permit, issued by local governments, takes a few days. Such is the plight of the Filipino.

There is some minimal growth in the middle class but it is a slim sliver of the economic pie. There is hardly a crumb for the poor. Nothing falls from the rich man’s table for them. The rich grow ever richer and the number of poor people, who become hungrier, multiplies.

This election will be bought. They with the most money will win and the poor, as always, will lose.



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  1. I believe pope Francis summed it up well in his address regarding the decline of the family in Philippine society. He accurately identified the two sided coin of corruption and poverty mindset as the mechanisms which are destroying all that has been good of Philippine Culture. He the accurately identified the common choice of both sides, as ignorance… To know what is right but to choose to do the selfish wrong.

    Ours was a good People on its way to greatness, a valuable culture to be esteemed among the worlds best and brightest. We have been given a heritage of honor and joy of family, and a work ethic of dedicated self sacrifice. What are we doing with it?

    “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” -Santiago 3:16

  2. Roger Purdue on

    What a shocking and revealing analysis. I commend Fr Cullen for his incisive observation and honesty – without intertwined religious commentary.

    However, Fr. Cullen makes no mention of the role of the church. In a country whose history has been dominated by the church, which is such a dominant force in contemporary life in the Philippines, it would be interesting for the church to shine its light on itself, and undertake an honest and in-depth analysis of its role in today’s world in the Philippines, and how it can be the author of change towards an egalitarian and compassionate society.

  3. I pray Fr. Cullen that Miriam Santiago will win in this election. I believe that she can deliver a good governance for the People and so with Bong Bong Marcos.

  4. Christianity has failed in the Philippines. The 1% oligarchs who own and rule the country can never be called “Christians”. Maybe Mr. Homobono Adaza’s call for a “revolution” should be heeded after all. But how, when, where and who would lead such a revolution are the questions. Can the Catholic Church with its almost 80% adherents help?

  5. The stupid poor are directly responsible for their own plight, because they refuse to vote wisely.

  6. What a sad commentary to what is happening in the country which professes to be a Christian Catholic country!!!!

    The teachings of the Church and of Jesus go from one ear to the other ear without any effect on the hearts of these rich people. We all should realize that they will not bring any centavo or wealth or power when they reach the grave!! Things will change only when this wisdom is realized in these people.

    God help the Philippines.