The three worlds of Philippine society – and what it means for Duterte



ONE of our deepest illusions is that we live in just a single world, a delusion that derives from the time religion was invented and portrayed society as one big happy family, presided over by the Father (the King) representing the invisible Grandfather (God), with the exploiters and the exploited all brothers and sisters simply occupying their divinely appointed posts in life.

Centuries later, in our modern era today, there have been changes of course, but not really much. We can understand Philippine history and be more realistic about our society by realizing that there are really different worlds in our country.

The first world is the economic elite, the richest residents of the country. Forbes’ Magazine’s list of 50 richest business people gives us a glimpse of these immortals, among them the Sys, Gokongweis, Ayalas and Zobels, Tys, Consunjis, Gotianuns, Lucio Cos, Cojuangcos, Angs, Ongpins, Lopezes, Osmeñas. There are, however, many low-profile billionaires hardly known to the general public, many based in cities outside metropolitan Manila, who get to be known only when the Bureau of Internal Revenue publishes its list of top 500 taxpayers.

The income and wealth of these elites are inconceivable to us ordinary mortals. For instance, only because he complained that he wasn’t included in the BIR’s latest list of top taxpayers and consequently publicly disclosed his income, did we learn that Andrew Tan’s net income was P540 million in 2011. That means he earns P1.5 million a day—when 90 percent of Filipinos earn just P400 a day. Danding Cojuangco is said to have a two-storey building to park his 100 ultra-expensive cars. A banking tycoon has four mansions costing P200 million each in Forbes Park to house his mistresses, not too far from each other so it would be easier for him to move from one concubine to another.

In the rich Asian countries, the economic elites saw that their very survival as a class depended on the growth of their nation as a whole—the South Korean elite fearing the takeover of the communist-controlled North, the Japanese to reconstruct a war-ravaged country, the Kuomintang to create an economic powerhouse to fend off an invasion by Mao Zedong’s mainland, tiny Singapore separating from the bigger Malay Federation.

As a consequence, Asian elites were willing to give up much of what they could earn from their control of productive assets in order to raise wage rates, go into industries that weren’t immediately profitable but would develop their countries’ productive forces (as in Japan and Korea), or cooperate with their competitors so the industry where they are in will be globally competitive (as in Taiwan).

Not so in our unlucky country. Most of our economic elites came from Spain, the US, and China, who mostly view the country not really as their nation but merely as a place to make money in, and then live in Spain, London, and now China. The popularity of the notion even among the young that they are global citizens, is merely a reflection of the fact that our economic elite has all but discarded the sense of nationalism, of being rooted in one nation, and having the responsibility to develop it.

Little really has changed from medieval times, except the numbers: Today’s economic elite were the nobility of the medieval age, who rule the country.

We can never make our nation as developed as others unless our economic elite, as occurred in the rich Asian countries, is transformed to sacrifice for the country, to view it not just as a place of business but as a nation they are responsible for. Precisely because they control the country’s resources and assets, it is only the first world that normally can affect major changes our society, with the following two other worlds only playing a secondary, supporting roles.

The we-don’t-care majority
The second world, for lack of a better term, is the apathetic, we-don’t-care majority. This includes the well-off, even the rich, but who aren’t with the economic elite, down to the poorest who are largely unconscious of society, and don’t really care about anything except their own lives.

My notion is similar to the idea of the Silent Majority, which US President Richard Nixon popularized in the late 1960s to refer to what he claimed were the vast majority of Americans who were conservatives, who just didn’t get to have their views expressed publicly.

Most of your social circle, dear reader, belong to this second world, coming from different generations and socio-economic levels. He could be your boss, or the owner of the company you work for, obsessed with finally being able to buy a BMW. She could be your domestic help, living from month to month through loans from you, whose sole interest is to make sure her daughter finishes nursing school.

They hardly read newspapers, much less opinion pieces. They use their Facebook timelines mainly to post their selfies from their holidays, or their meals. They really don’t care who runs the country, or where it is going—either because they are so obsessed with their own families or because they have come to believe they are powerless to change society after all.

The third world is us –- readers of newspapers and columns like this, journalists, very recently, “netizens” and political bloggers, in urban poor communities and in rural areas, that guy who talks a lot about what’s happening in the country in those small gatherings at dusk seated at the stools of their popular sari-sari stores. This world is that of the politically active minority.

These are the people who have taken seriously the modern idea of a nation, that it is a community where each and every member has a role to play in choosing who its leaders are and how it should be run.

The derogatory term for this notion, used in the West, is the “chattering class,” which Wikipedia defines as a politically active, socially concerned and highly educated section of the “metropolitan middle class,” especially those with political, media, and academic connections.”

Read comments in opinion columns and posts in Facebook pages, and it is obvious that this “chattering class” is afflicted with the delusion that all their blah-blah solely will change society. They won’t, unless the first world, or a part of it, says so, and the we-don’t-care-majority acquiesces to such changes. Opinion columns like this aren’t worth the price of the newspaper they are printed on unless it convinces a faction of the elite.

What’s the use
Which brings us to the question: What’s the use of this classification of our society into the Three Worlds of the elite, the apathetic majority, and the chattering class. The answer is that it explains much of our recent political history, and points to what likely would be its course.

EDSA I involved a big faction of the elite— among them, the Ayalas, the Gotianuns, and Osmeñas—and even the supranational elite, the US, moving against the Marcos dictatorship, since the economic quagmire, which to a large extent was the result of the global debt crisis at the time, couldn’t be resolved unless Marcos was removed.

But the elite couldn’t have done this by themselves. It required the help of the anti-dictatorship chattering class that awakened a section of the silent majority to go against the dictatorship.

What is ground-breaking in the rise of President Duterte is this:

Even with only a few of the elite (mainly those based in Mindanao) behind him, and with the chattering class, represented by mainstream media, mostly against him, he was able to get the support of the silent majority by directly appealing to them. He did this through his street-language, through his comportment as a non-elite crusader, and, most surprisingly, his tight grasp of the fact, missed by many, that what Filipinos wanted was simply personal security that had been severely eroded in the last six years by the proliferation of illegal drugs.

What is also unprecedented is that the messenger that brought Duterte’s message to the silent majority was this new invention called social media, which couldn’t have emerged without technology and the economies of scale that brought down cell phone prices, because of the emergence of the vast China market. Social media weakened the hold of the economic elite, which controlled most of the newspapers whose views the chattering class in the past mostly followed and echoed.

The three-worlds map bodes well for Duterte. Except for the mining elite, he is drawing more and more supporters from the economic elite, evidenced in part by the fact that his ratings among the ABC class, according to the latest Pulse Asia survey, jumped from 69 percent in December to 86 percent in March.

The second world of the apathetic majority has been untroubled by the intense propaganda against extra-judicial killings in mainstream media. Anecdotal reports show that more and more ordinary citizens feel safe in their neighborhoods, because of the decline in the use of illegal drugs. The issue remains the concern only of the chattering class.

Social media has been dominated by pro-Duterte netizens, and the minds even of the chattering class more and more are being molded by it. It is only a go-for-broke character like Duterte who can throw caution to the winds and go against the elite-controlled mainstream media who have been against him, principally the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN.

Duterte is emerging as the President in our history that is the most independent of the economic elite. As a case in point, he recently threw under the bus the Mindanao magnate Antonio Floirendo, one of the biggest financiers of his electoral campaign.

The question is whether he can undertake the reforms that the elites are adverse to, but which, as proven in the history of the rich Asian countries, were critical for their growth — such things as getting them to pay more taxes, raise workers’ wages, and nationalizing the strategic telecom industries.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao


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  1. As I already said, we will now experience the coming of both nice and mean Presidents. From Quezon to Marcos, we had known only nice Presidents who scrupulously adhered to the rule of law and were most respectful of human rights. Now we had seen the rule of mean Presidents, starting from Corazon Aquino and her son, Aquino III and followed by Duterte. We will see more Duterte’s come to the Presidency as well as more grenade throwers like the Aquinos to accomplish the same.

    There are only two ways in order to intimidate dissent, either by resorting to extra-judicial killings or by throwing grenades at the rally of politicians. The extra-judicial killings of criminals are nothing new. More matured Latin American republics used it before.

    The only reason why there was a howl of protest when Marcos placed the country under Martial Law was because he tolerated dissent to an unusual degree. In spite of this howl of protest, the Nationalista Party rose to its pinnacle of power capturing more than 90% of Congress and nearly every elective official in local government. Pampanga – traditionally a bailiwick of the Macapagal’s – went KBL when all its elected officialdom from councilor to governor and assemblymen were all KBL candidates. Only People’s Power restored Pampanga back as the bailiwick of the Macapagal’s again.

    The only hope for this cycle of nice and mean Presidents to end is industrialization itself. Without industrialization, Filipinos will be living from one crisis to another.

  2. Thank you Mr. Tiglao, for exposing the naked but sad reality of the three worlds we live in.

    However, I would like to add another group of people you have not mentioned who are a class by themselves. They are the most notorious, selfish, ill-mannered, heartless, callous, and criminal minded class who pervaded in our consciousness for so long..

    They would not hesitate to bring down the whole government or society including their mothers and children just for the sake of advancing their mafia like interests. It is them who invented the term “weather weather lang yan!”

    They carry titles such as “Honorable” and “Distinguished Gentlemen and Women”. Masters of manipulation, adorable and charming when they needed you, but turn to ugly monsters once they win your ballot and then rape you afterwards. They probably are the reason why ours is called a “weak republic”.

    Lets call them by the name “Politicians”.


    Yonkers, New York
    17 April 2017

    I sincerely compliment Roberto D. Tiglao for this column, “The three worlds of Philippine society–and what it means for Duterte,” in The Manila Times of 17 April 2017.

    It is a TOUR DE FORCE of an Analysis of Philippine society, and deserves to be discussed thoroughly in colleges all over the country, as well as by all Filipinos who consider themselves “stakeholders” in it.

    For at least fifty years now, I have come to a DISTILLED ANALYSIS of what explains the Philippines being stuck in a quagmire of underdevelopment and poverty.

    THE PHILIPPINES IS HELD IN THE VISE-LIKE GRIP OF A PLUTOCRATIC-POLITICO-CLERICO CONSPIRACY, whose overarching Agenda is to perpetuate itself in wealth and power, the better to manipulate and exploit the people.


  4. charles river on

    The “silent majority” picked a man saddled with issues like having had 2.2B worth of bank transactions. Where did this amount come from? From drug lords like Peter Lim whom Duterte is still not exerting effort to arrest? From salaries of Davao City ghost employees? Former VP Binay was once also very popular, but after his corrupt activities were exposed, he became just like any other big-time corrupt public official now charged with graft. Duterte will suffer the same fate or worse. We will witness his fall from being messiah to big-time crook with fetish for murdering the poor. Sobrang believe ka naman kay Duterte, Mr. Tiglao. Politiko dito, parepareho lang yan.

    • Aphetsky Lasa on

      PDgong is against corruption, yet you are implying that he is corrupt himself. Does that make sense? It doesn’t to me. He has spoken that anyone who can prove that he is and even any of his children is into corruption he would step down. As of now, almost a year into his Presidency, that proof has yet to surface.

  5. So true, so astute. We see ourselves in the mirror of your eyes. Thank you Mr. Tiglao

  6. Robert James on

    Continue to enlighten the masses of how religion, politics, powers and influence have to maintain the status quo so that the elite will continue to be masters of us servants until eternal damnation but change has come and we now have the chance to serve a better future for each and every Filipino and this will not be achieved overnight. I think, if we have another 2 more President like Duterte or better ( I just want a President that kills the illicit drug industry to its grave, execute corrupt officials and croaks businessmen and shamed hypocritical religious figures to their hypocrisy but has a decent mouth, But I can not complain, since I think, he is bad mouthed but has a great heart for the Philippines and the Filipinos), and we shall see sustainable and lasting progress.

  7. dre, di mo nagets angpiont of view ni Tiglao. Hinati nya sa tatlo ang society kaya yung sinasabi mong professional na nagpapatakbo ng bureaucracy? Depende, involved ba sa politics? E di sa Chattering class. Kung ayaw makialam edi sa silent majority. Pareho rin ng OFW, tahimok ba sila’t ayaw mainvolve sa politics? Against ka lang siguro kay Duterte kaya mainit ulo mo sa mga bilib sa kanya. So sa chattering class ka kasama.

    • Patrick gonzalez on

      tumatawa pa nga ako paano iinit ulo ko

      Duterte is not the problem here, yung analysis ni tiglao na 3 classes tayo ay simplistic at done to suit the duterte phenomenon

      Paano yung students agricultural workers uring mangagawa?

  8. You’re the man, sir Tiglao! Seldom or never an ordinary Pinoys read the subject of your today’s column even in any books by Pinoy writers.

  9. Your Comment
    The promises were:
    “Stop drugs in 6 months”
    “Sort out traffic problem in 6 months”
    “Create 1.2 million new jobs every year”
    “Bring home OFW’s”
    “Reduce poverty by 1.5% per annum”
    “Stop corruption”
    “Raise the standard of living for all”
    “Invest in infrastructure”
    “Employ the brightest and the best”
    “Reduce inequality”

    The reality is:
    Inflation increasing, unemployment rising, youth unemployment at 16%, the peso under pressure, exports down, wages frozen/declining in real terms, prices rising, balance of payments worsening, EU investments to decline and aid to be reduced, allies alienated, increasing number of OFW’s, rampant tax evasion, widespread incompetence & corruption in government departments, scandals galore, no moral leadership, and no progress on key infrastructure projects.

    The only beneficiary is China which has managed to silence the south china sea issue, and also the 1% of chinoys who have increased their economic grip on the country.

    The price you pay for being so naive, insular, and subservient.

    Duterte talks incessantly, and repetitively, but achieves little, acts little, and knows little. He still thinks as though he is still in charge of 1980’s davao.

    • withinaninchofoneslife on

      Then, James, what have you done for your country aside from the reality you’re saying?

    • Excellent presentation of the facts James.

      The problem is the Duterte supporters can’t remember what was said last week much less what was promised before he got elected.

      The masses elected another entertainer who greatly amuses them like the clowns they continue to elect to Congress.

      The government represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people, Which is why they continue to elect corrupt and incompetent officials.

  10. Sad to say that it is only in the Philippines where the social structure of riches is flaunted and made obvious by those who “really have it”. The attitude of that minority rich is an embarrassment to humanity, as their greediness in visibly flaunted in the midst of poverty. Some of them have several houses without noticing that their neighbors are living in cardboard boxes and pieces of wood.

    Duterte seemed to break that barrier that stands between us Filipinos. It is only when you have lived in another country that you can see the real difference in how the rich and the poor are so segregated in the Philippines.. In some countries there is such a thing as equal opportunity. Sometimes, the person wearing a tattered clothing is a millionaire and some how that homeless man have the same rights as any citizen. Here’s hoping for more changes with Gina Lopez leading that change.

  11. Leland Sacro on

    The rich can be more RESPONSIBLE by not bribing government officials, by paying right taxes, by profiting less.

    Th poor can be more RESPONSIBLE by not adding to the population and making it a government problem.

    The Catholic church can be more RESPONSIBLE by not trying to be government.

  12. Good Morning, Sir,
    I always read your column thru “On Line” edition, I admire your guts and precisely, you always hit the nail! Kudos, Sir

    With Great Respect

  13. Nothing is permanent in this World Sir … everything would end someday , somehow for these Greedy Elites . There would come a time when these insatiable few in our Society , would be engulfed and suffocated by their own greediness.

    As the Holy Bible say : “There are those who are FIRST and become LAST , and there are those who are LAST and become FIRST”.

  14. If you do serious introspection, probably you would understand that duterte is widening the gap of the poor and the elite. While it is true that poor people voted for him, and the elite tried very hard to discredit him for he didnt meet their standard, unfortunately, the poor are at the losing end. Poor are being exploited to make drug campaign appear effective. They are being killed mercilessly to scare and to show terror to who? Not to the elite or to the middle people, but for the same people, the poor themselves. Do you think the elites care much? There was no instance of tokhang killer raided la vista or any subdivision i know with technology and human security. For all i know, they normally get their prey in a slum or depressed area. Tirades to a dozen of elites is beyond compare to the ejk of poor with forgotten counts. Elites didnt support him thats why. I dont know what to say but social justice is really hard to achieve especially we brag success in the destruction of others. Plain and simple if we can start promoting fairness and equal rights protection to all then i can say this presidency is historical.

  15. If Duterte doesn’t find a way to get rid of Ombudsman Morales then all the thieves from Aquino’s administration will escape justice.

    Pork barrel thieves still serving in Congress instead of serving time in prison thanks to Morales.
    Aquino and Abad not being held accountable for the DAP fund by Morales.
    Aquino not being held accountable for abandoning the SAF 44 by Morales.
    Roxas and Abaya not being charged by Morales for the MRT scandal.

    Morales charges someone then waits 5 years to move it to a trial where it gets dismissed for taking too long. Charges without convictions.

    Ombudsman Morales is responsible for the thieves from Aquino’s administration getting away with stealing billions.

  16. the elite and the oligarchs must be very, very careful. if the drug menace becomes pervasive and uncontrollable, all the wealth of the elite and oligarchs might dissipate if people become desperate and there is chaos and street anarchy and the properties of the elite and oligarchs are ransacked, looted, torched, their families killed and raped by drug addicts.

    who will buy the products of the manufactured by elite and the oligarchs if many people are jobless and hooked on drugs? the poor people are used to hunger and they have nothing to lose. but what about the oligarchs and elite?

    • You are so right there. They don’t think far enough. If Duterte have not intervened, that would have been the next scene.