To begin with, most University of the Philippines students — even some Ateneo de Manila seniors — have heard about the oligarchic state. UP student activists regularly refer to it, though they tend to use more precise terms like “bureaucrat capitalism” to describe the private appropriation of public power as a means of plundering the public treasury.

This being the campaign period for the student council elections in UP Diliman, for their enlightenment the curious could venture into UP’s halls where they’re sure to hear student leaders urging their fellows to “serve the people” and to reject service to a government dominated by the wealthy, powerful and corrupt.

If Romulo Neri found out only the other day that the Philippine state is dominated by a handful of powerful families and individuals who have a monopoly over political power, who have turned the government into their own private milking cow, and who use the willing and equally corrupt police and military establishment to protect their power, privilege and wealth, then UP students are way ahead of him.

Neri nevertheless made much of his “oligarchic state” thesis, regaling the press with it to establish his reformist credentials. During the February 18 press conference he and his Malacanang keepers called to discredit Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada’s story that he (Neri) had described Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as “evil,” Neri said he has delivered lectures on the oligarchic nature of the state before the House of Representatives as well as other government agencies and officials. Implicit in Neri’s claim was that he delivered those lectures in behalf, and with the intent of, reforming the system. After all, he declared, it’s for the sake of reforming it that he’s remained a bureaucrat of the very same state that he condemns.

If that sounds like preaching to the impossible-to-convert, it is. If the Philippine state is indeed the domain of oligarchs in whose service the political class has been for decades (if they’re not oligarchs themselves), it’s a foolish reformist indeed who thinks that the same class will reform the very system that keeps its members in mansions, fleets of cars, vacations in Switzerland and mistresses, and their wives in jewelry and 24-hour, seven day a week maid service, not to mention bank accounts bursting with millions in ill-gotten dollars.

It doesn’t need a Ph.D., only a little historical sense, for anyone to know a fact the poorest peasant has known all his life: that you can’t convince 99 percent of landlords to give up their lands, for example, or to even treat their tenants half-way decently.

Not incidentally is a Ph. D. one of the things Neri doesn’t have in addition to a sense of history. Contrary to the views of certain academics, a Ph. D. is no cure for stupidity. But a Ph.D. is what the post of Commission on Higher Education Chair — the CHED law (RA7722) doesn’t allow for an Officer In Charge — requires anyway. That being the law, one would have expected reformist Neri to have refused a post that requires a qualification he doesn’t have. Neri, however, has promised everyone that he’ll be in CHED until August 15, no matter what the Commission on Appointments and common decency, not to mention his own reformist self, says.

Reforming the oligarchic state, one would assume, should begin with a campaign to implement existing laws impartially and with no exceptions. But reformist Neri is apparently not interested in doing that by giving up CHED and urging Mrs.Arroyo — in whose commitment to such reforms as the NBN project he apparently has more than enough faith — to do what the law says, which is to appoint a full-time, qualified chair with a fixed term.

It’s an eminently simple option devoid of the rhetoric of reform and change that the minions of the gangster regime Neri serves dish out at the least provocation so as to mislead us all into thinking that they’re actually doing something else other than enriching themselves and assassinating protesters. But that’s apparently not only too simple, it’s also too real.

In assuring their survival and dominance, those forces and elements that rule, benefit from, and seek to preserve at all costs then — you guessed it — oligarchic state need reformists like Neri as much as they need the myth that they’re not preserving the status quo that’s been so kind to them, they’re actually reforming it.

Reform and even revolution have become so obviously necessary as solutions to the putrid rule of the most rapacious political class in Southeast Asia they can only pretend to be for it themselves. That’s why even some of the most immoral are raising the standards of a moral revolution — and the unreformed waving the banners of reform.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. Much of our history, especially the part relating to how the Filipino ilustrados became hacienderos and assemblymen during post-Spanish times, is not thoroughly discussed in many of our high school textbooks. I hope our historians can look into the contents of the Philippine history textbooks we use in our classrooms.

    Salamat po.


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