The manner by which Mr. Aquino and Mr. Marcos further enriched the rich was of two different strains. Mr. Marcos chose a set of favored oligarchs, gave them special business sectors that operated like monopolies, the competition token if not non-existent.
There was one group for food and beverage, one group for communications, one group for sugar, one group for cargo handling at the Manila ports and so forth and so on. Mr. Marcos also made sure old-line, blue-chip companies were moved into the hands of cronies. The media was under the control of less than a dozen people, the same cronies, the same names that controlled the other profitable economic sectors.
We still remember that the boycott of these crony firms was the last big anti-Marcos act of Mrs. Aquino before the breakout of the EDSA People Power revolt and her assumption of the presidency in February of 1986. She was in Cebu City to rally Central Visayans to the boycott efforts when the EDSA 1 crowd started massing up in front of the two camps, the iconic global event that ended the Marcos rule. Mrs. Zobel and a private plane picked her up at the Cebu City airport tarmac and whisked her to safety at the height of the EDSA chaos. I know. I was with a pack of reporters that sent her off to the airport. She even asked for a photo-ops with the “regulars” – the reporters assigned to cover the snap elections and its aftermath.
But the plutocrats and oligarchs did not go away with the democratic restoration in 1986. They just got richer, more so under the Aquino 2nd administration.
Mr. Aquino’s enrich-the-rich policies are of a different tack. He just let those with awesome capital dominate with their bigness and reach. There was no set of cronies. whoever was big and in a position to dominate was tolerated. Then, he cleverly promoted the PPP –centric approach in infrastructure modernization to make sure that only a few names, the corporate giants, would dominate the multi-billion peso tenders that the PPP would bid out.
No one complains about “crony-capitalism” now because rules seem to be fair. Even parachuting foreign business writers are impressed, taking the cue from Mr. Aquino’s most ardent admirers, the Davos Crowd. But the truth is the bedrock of Mr. Aquino’s economic doctrine is Randian market-worship that gives no chance whatsoever to the small and medium-scale enterprises to hit their stride and compete at even terms with the giant corporate entities. The extensive discussions in the APEC sessions on SMEs interested Mr. Aquino only superficially.
The benign face of “favor-the-rich capitalism” under Mr. Aquino differs only from Mr. Marcos’s in the sense that Mr. Marcos handpicked specific cronies to favor and bless while Mr. Aquino favored everybody who was deemed big and dominant, regardless of the names. Still, we get the same results.
But there is one area where Mr. Aquino knowingly and deliberately channels the practices of the “Imeldific.” This is on how to present Metro Manila to foreign visitors, on how to show the “ good and beautiful “ – Mrs. Marcos’s own words – side of the country’s capital and hide the areas of permanent blight, desperation and grimness.
How? Turn the grimness of Metro Manila, the dark and ugly side, into spruced-up-for-the-occasion Potemkin Villages.
Mr. Aquino did not exactly build temporary facades to hide the grimness of the squatter colonies, the areas of blight and urban despair. Neither did he order the spray-painting of shanties to make them look like decent communities.
What he did was to round up the beggars and street people begging and squatting near the APEC areas. Those “cleared” were then housed in temporary sanctuaries, with free board and lodging up to the time the last APEC visitor was out.
The stories on how they were rounded up and forcibly taken into temporary shelters under the supervision of the DSWD and the City of Manila spilled into prime-time TV – naturally. Such real stories get more audience traction than all the big issues , the West Philippine Sea dispute included, that the APEC leaders took up. An old man about my age, paralyzed from wait down, was distraught after they hauled him off to Boys Town without his grimy but dependable wheelchair. He was pushed around by the reed-thin wife, a struggle, in a monobloc chair. Was he aware that the APEC was about the debut into big-time international organizing by the well-fed, Zegna-suited men of the Aquino administration?
Probably not. He just wanted his dammed wheelchair and his freedom to roam the Manila streets to beg.
Human Rights Watch Asia did notice the “mass arrests” of the beggars and street people, however, and strongly condemned the Imeldific overstretch of the Aquino people.
HRW Asia said :” Philippine authorities have violated the rights of hundreds of Manila residents to put a cynical veneer of cleanliness on the city for the APEC delegates.”
Putting a cynical veneer of cleanliness and order over vast swaths of grimness in the city was done before, the dry run. Remember the papal visit? Putting the best foot forward under the Aquino administration was no different from the approach during the Marcos time.
How true. How sad. And how Imeldific.