By: Vergel O. Santos | Posted on 06-07-2012
I HAVE often found myself at forums faced with the question,How do we even begin to live as a people of common interests and shared responsibilities, a people predisposed to give and take, instead of taking advantage of, let alone exploiting, one another?
And, dominated as they often are by economists, these forums have tended to view the problem underlying it as fundamentally economic. There’s no argument that economic remedies have their own wide and recurrent application—in urgent and desperate and specific cases, cases that precisely will continue to multiply until the root problem has been dealt with.
And the root problem is socio-cultural, therefore looking for socio-cultural solutions. In fact it could have been avoided altogether, but the opportunity has long passed us by. Still, revisiting it should have its own diagnostic usefulness.
That missed fateful opportunity presented itself, I would say, at the turn of the last century and lay in the hands of a new world power, one that should have felt, to say the least, awkward preaching democracy while doing imperialism. That imperial power was the United States, and it gave little more than lip service to democracy; it not only picked up from where the previous colonizers had left off, but in fact built on their inherently inequitable efforts toward an elitist leadership and further, inexorably, toward the perversely lopsided distribution of resources and opportunities we see today.
To justify the exclusively privileged existence of these elites, a thesis even had to be invented for them, one that in fact continues to be promoted despite its resounding failure.
It’s an economic thesis that borrows from natural laws, a thesis born in the realm of pseudoscience and given scientific attributes for authentic air: it invests economic development with an aqueous quality, that of seeking its own level, flowing from the top—from the elites, those self-styled drivers of development and, being that, its own first beneficiaries—down to the masses, who in time are to get their own shares in better jobs, better income, better education, all in all in a better life.
With a name like “trickle-down economics,” we should have seen it not coming. In the first place, the masses certainly deserve a more munificent rate than a trickle, and it’s even doubtful they got their trickle. Well into the third generation since independence was declared from the United States, only one percent of the population hogs the country’s wealth; in the meantime, the middle class has become all but erased, and one of four or five citizens goes hungry in their own supposedly resource-rich archipelago.
What seems to me more natural than any water-like quality to economic development is a susceptibility to greed, a monster that feeds upon itself, thus bound to strangle, as it has in fact strangled, the trickling of profits and benefits down and away from the elitist hands controlling it at the source. If the monster seems tamed at all, it’s only in that it has learned to obey a master and operate within a culture he has himself devised—a culture of patronage, the very mother culture that rules Philippine life today.
Although it’s where real power and profit can be had, the patron—the padrino—is not only in politics, but everywhere: after all, he is the way—the way to a job, the way to a deal, the way out of a fix; indeed, he is, ultimately, the way to patronhood itself.
The whole setup in fact admits only two classes, patron and client, wherein one can be either, depending on where one falls in the hierarchy in relation to the deal at hand; effectively in any case, it’s a hierarchy of middlemen—fixers. And since it is a closed setup, one that shuts out anyone who refuses to play the game, the only game in town as happens, costs are driven up at will. Inevitably the padrino culture spawned subcultures like political and economic dynasties; sundry syndicates; extra-judicial shortcuts through bribery and even murder; professional and bureaucratic mediocrity and corruption; and impunity.
For all this history is blamed, as if history runs on power all its own, laying out its immutable terms and circumstances—its good and bad luck—and the masses just happened out of favor.
Of course, it’s all a cop out—a cop out by the whole ruling class of elites who have made and carry on making and remaking our history and our culture to their own advantage and for their own profit; it is they who make the rules of the game of history, they who have kept the teeming poor at their mercy, yet outside their patronage, and therefore out of the game of history, plainly because they have nothing to play with. (http://www.cmfr-phil.org/inmediasres/the-game-of-patronage/)
Vergel O. Santos has been a journalist for over four decades. He worked as a senior editor of the Business Day, consulting editor of the Journal publications, and executive editor of The Manila Times and The Manila Chronicle. He has written four books, all on his profession, one, “The Newswriting Formula”, a university text. Mr. Santos is today a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Chairman of the Editorial Board of BusinessWorld, Philippines.