Elite property rights in the Philippines II

Posted: March 20, 2010 in Cory Aquino, Erap, GMA, Philippine politics, Political economy
Tags: , , , , , ,

Dr. Yuko Kasuya

Dr. Yuko Kasuya

 

The single-term limit for the Philippine President in the 1987 Constitution has apparently spawned several unintended consequences. While drafted by the members of the Constitutional Commission as a check on abuse of the chief executive’s power (ala Marcos), the provision had the opposite effects. First, it induces efforts on the part of incumbents to propose self-serving charter-change proposals. Second, it stimulates faster-paced rent-seeking and plunder of state resources. And third (as pointed out by the Japanese political scientist Yuko Kasuya), it weakens an already-fragile political party system. Since the incumbent president can no longer stand for re-election, she cannot maintain party discipline in the next electoral cycle. Disgruntled members can form new parties should they fail to win the incumbent party’s endorsement for their presidential bids.

To date, GMA has been president for nine years, second only to Marcos in length of ‘service’. Not a few are fully convinced that she will step down from power in June 2010, if only because she and her ruling faction both fear prosecution for their misdeeds and abhor the loss of perks of power. If her strategists continue and succeed in their machinations to maintain her on top through whatever formula, then the country will be in for a new round of great political instability.

Elite factions now currently out of power or not entirely close to the Palace’s occupant will not countenance a continuing post-June 2010 GMA leadership. The GMA faction has amassed so much wealth and powers that it is feared to be able to rule indefinitely. Consequently, out-of-power and out-of-favor elites will be expected to use any political means to frustrate the GMA faction’s plans. We will not expect them to confine themselves to constitutionally-sanctioned strategies.

The restoration of democratic processes in February 1986 was read by all elite factions as a return to the pre-martial law modality (that prevailed from 1946 to 1972) that electoral defeat did not threaten already existing elite property rights. The single-term limit was a new rule that accords to the incumbents the right to capture all the rents during their stint in power.

Combined with the above-mentioned unintended consequences of the single-term limit, the greater integration of the Philippines into the global economy made larger and larger rents available to incumbents than ever before. Such riches have enabled them to consolidate their positions and emboldened them to find ways to perpetuate themselves in power.

As I reflect on this question, I am reminded of the insights of realist international relations (IR) theory regarding the prospects of cooperation between sovereign nation-states in an anarchic (meaning the absence of over-arching authority above the states) global environment. Realists are supposedly not optimistic that states will cooperate with each other even if such cooperation will result in mutual benefits due to a concern with relative gain. Such states ask not “who gains?” but “who gains more and at whose expense?” The states in a realist world are afraid that cooperation with others will allow the latter to gain more and be more powerful in the future.

Given the relative weaknesses of the Philippine state, one can construe our elite factions as sovereign nation-states similarly unwilling to ‘cooperate’ with each other. During Tita Cory’s term, rents were supposedly monopolized by Kamag-anak, Inc. Such monopolization was tolerated to the extent that Cory did not attempt to stay in power after June 1992. FVR tried to tinker with presidential term limits but was rebuffed by all other elite factions (including Tita Cory’s). Erap’s faction was unable to drink its full fill. GMA’s nine-year rule is unprecedented but more than that is unacceptable.


For our elites, the key decision is to what extent greed can be moderated so property rights (even over plundered assets) by outgoing factions will be respected by incoming ones.

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