Feudalism and Colonialism—Alive and Kicking in the 21st Century: A More Reticent View of the Present Philippine Political Landscape

[A paper presented in the 2009 Sociology Forum held on 10 September 2009 at the
University Training Center of the Mariano Marcos State University(MMSU) in
Batac, Ilocos Norte ]

A. A General Overview

Despite all the trappings of modern democratic mechanics—the superficial exteriorities institutionalized as official components of Philippine politics—the landscape of our realpolitik is still—as it has long been in generations— predominated by two vigorous sets of dynamics—socio-culturally feudal and economically colonial. About the socio-cultural dynamics, Prof. Jose Ma. Sison initially stresses in the text of his lecture at UP-Diliman on 25 April 1986 entitled
“Crisis of Philippine Culture” that

“ . . . [C]ulture is not simply the ideological reflection of current forces and contradictions in the economy and politics. It is also the accumulation of notions, customs, habits and the like which date
as far back as prehistory, and which persist in current circumstances for so long as there are carriers and they are part of the social psychology of the people.”

In this light, simply reflecting on the attitude of local elected leaders toward themselves reveals a common feudal character whose acquired meaning in ages has seemed to be as natural as it is mouthed with confident spontaneity: they are the “fathers” or the “mothers” of their respective constituencies—villages, municipalities, provinces, even the nation itself. Something essentially crucial is overshadowed and actually blotted out in this attitude: that in a genuinely democratic political milieu, an elected local (even national) government leader is fundamentally a public servant. The democratic political culture signifies the leadership of a public servant and not of a “father” or a “mother” of a local (or national) government unit. The latter being patriarchal/matriarchal is obviously feudal. Observing how political leadership is carried out in local government units further reveals how the barangay chair or the mayor or the governor acts and dispenses authority like a landlord (and worse still, like a taskmaster) who behaves toward his/her constituents as if they are his/her tenants (and worse still, as if they are his vassals or slaves). In the process, the latter are always beholden to the powers that be as this condition of political relation is intensified socio-culturally by the value of utang na loob which is inherently and automatically spawned in its vicious—and hence, corrupt—aspect in the context of this mode of power dispensation. And the trail of corruption in government is thus inaugurated.

Corruption, if viewed in this framework, is no longer an appalling phenomenon but a logical corollary of a political culture where double standard morality is well entrenched in the hands of the “feudal” masters who cannot be immoral. In this condition, they are the framers and definers, the interpreters and dispensers of morality that, of course, naturally benefits their social and economic circumstances expressed in their whims, caprices and wishes. Affected directly by this “political” morality is society’s economic facet. Economic advantages and opportunities are therefore automatically bestowed upon, enjoyed and, in most cases, monopolized by the “feudal” elites invincible in their coats-of-mail of power. This condition is controlled by a cabal of conspiratorial manipulators of a locale’s economic ambience. By and large, they are the ones who call the economic shots being in charge of the general run of businesses and practically all income-generating ventures, regardless of whether these enterprises are legitimate or otherwise.

In this basis, it is not always necessarily the case that the “elected” official should be a member of the elite bloc; it has been witnessed so many times that an outsider may be “elected” as long as s/he is logistically supported by the said syndicated alliance’s established machinery. Being elected in this framework further cultivates the viciousness of utang na loob as the “elected” official becomes constrained by the present circumstances to return to her/his patrons the favor that sustained his/her nomination, campaign, and ultimate “victory”. In many instances, a coalition of businessmen whose power rests in their obvious advantages of sheer economic nature likewise exerts massive influence in the political field as “king makers”. The whole situation is constitutive of a system wherein the dynamics of feudalism sustain the mechanics of a capitalistic economy and a politics that appropriates the nominal components of democracy. The entire scenario is cordially accommodating to colonial conditionality where a foreign politicoeconomic power can legitimately gain a foothold in the domestic arena through a mutually beneficial partnership with local businessmen and business alliances that—as has been established earlier—are likewise the political powers that be. In Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance, the distinguished MIT linguist, philosopher and political analyst Noam Chomsky asserts:

“The fundamental assumption that lies behind the imperial grand strategy, often considered unnecessary to formulate because its truth is taken to be so obvious, is the guiding principle of Wilsonian idealism: We—at least the circles who provide the leadership and advise them—are good, even noble. Hence, our interventions are necessarily righteous in intent, if occasionally clumsy in execution. . . .”

In this reality, the feudal dynamics accommodate the legitimization of colonial—i.e, neo-colonial, to be more exact—presence seen through transnational investments monitored and safeguarded by well-placed “elected” local officials in both the executive and legislative branches of government serving the imperialist interest of foreign powers. This particular phenomenon is an absolute realization of how feudalism is wedded to colonialism in a marriage of convenience politically and economically empowering and hence advantageous to both the local power elites and the neo-colonial dominators—an unholy conspiracy that expectedly smashes to smithereens the sovereign platform of a purportedly independent country.

B. Personality Politics Dominates the Feudal Power Culture Scheme

The evolutionary trail of political maturity in a social circumstance runs from the most primitive to the most sophisticated with personality politics as the most primal, party politics in-between and program politics the most mature. Philippine politics as we have it in its 21st-century condition is yet dismally of the personality type. What distinctively stands out in this type of politics is the promotion of personalities over and above political parties and national development programs. Personality politics is characteristically feudal for in a feudal society, the person, achievements, exploits, authority and wealth of a feudal lord are utterly highlighted beyond anything else. This reality obviously operates in the regular and ordinary course of current Philippine political set-up and we may cite a myriad of instances to sustain our present contention.

1. One of TESDA’s scholarship grants is known as “Pangulong Gloria Scholarships”

2. Along roads and highways, we find announcements like “This road widening project is made possible under the auspices of the administration of Gov. So and so or Mayor So and so.”

3. Acronyms that reflect the initials of an incumbent local official, e.g., Serbisyong Bayan (in Quezon City where the incumbent mayor’s initials are SB for Sonny Belmonte); Linisin at Ikarangal ang Maynila (in the city of Manila where the incumbent mayor is Lim).

A local government official will surely take advantage of every possible and given opportunity to promote his/her personal advantage in the political arena and in the process amplify his/her political clout aimed at establishing and perpetuating a political domain that outlives his/her own political career but extends further to his/her progeny thereby putting up in the process a political dynasty. It is thus definitely and absolutely a feudal state of affairs.

Pre-martial law Philippine politics saw the dominance of a two-party electoral scenario where the Liberals did battle with the Nacionalistas. But the whole situation was not the real thing but simply a semblance of true party politics for what was actually highlighted was not the parties themselves and their respective platforms but the famous, even controversial, personalities within them as candidates who have achieved popularity of showbiz proportion. This is precisely the reason why it was a “no-sweat” act for a prospective candidate to cross over party lines.

Nothing has actually changed in post-martial law politics. In fact, more complications have gotten in as the two-party system was overshadowed by a multiple-party system bereft of solid and genuinely practicable pro-people development platforms. This state of affairs has actually demolished the preconditions of what should have been called party politics but has instead made personality politics rampant and hence institutionalized as the name of the political game in the present dispensation—a primitive type of politics in the post-modern Western world.

C. Colonial Economic Hegemony Supportive of and Reliant on Feudal Power Culture

The power base of a “post-modern” feudal leadership is reinforced by its colonial alliance which in the case of the Philippines is chiefly with the foremost global superpower, the United States of America. The US does not only impose its economic hegemony over the Philippines but such, as always, is in intrinsic simultaneity with political supremacy. The US Department of Defense housed at Pentagon as well as the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) constantly keep an eye on the Philippine political scenario to make sure that the ones positioned in the national government will precisely toe the US foreign policy line. This situation of brazen meddling is only an aspect of a larger political intervention of imperialistic magnitude as the Balikatan Exercises continue on regularly through the blessings of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) forged between the governments of the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America. The eminent US-based scholar, culture critic and political analyst, E. San Juan Jr, in his After Postcolonialism: Remapping the Philippines-United States Confrontations, remarks:

“The passage of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) at the end of the twentieth century signifies not a ‘return of the repressed’ but a symptom of the loss of memory, a historical amnesia that disavows the unspeakable barbarism and carnage that masked itself in ‘brotherly spirit.’ For Filipinos, however, it is a ritual of trying to remember. . .”

In the guise of providing special training opportunities toward the modernization of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), the US contingents in the said military exercises also get themselves involved in actual counter-insurgency operations along with the AFP and in the process act as protectors of both the economic and political interests of the US in the Philippines. E. San Juan Jr, reminds us that

“Not yet a decade since the U.S. military bases were forced to withdraw in 1991 by nationalist demand, the passage of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States in February 1998 marks the return of imperial power in a more total repudiation of Filipino sovereignty. . . . [T]he VFA grants the ex-colonizer extraterritorial rights and privileges exceeding the privileges that the United States once enjoyed in the day of the Laurel-Langley Agreement and parity rights.”

The latest news-making development about this which landed on the pages of the New York Times is the decision of US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates

“ . . . to keep an elite 600-troop counterinsurgency operation deployed in the Philippines despite pressure to reassign its members to fulfill urgent needs elsewhere, like in Afghanistan or Iraq, according to Pentagon officials.
. . .
“Special Operations Forces are the most highly skilled in the military at capture-and-kill missions against insurgent and terrorist leaders. Within their ranks, Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, have for decades been training allied troops on their home soil and conducting counterinsurgency missions.”
(http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/world/asia/21military.html?_r=1)

This is imperialism of the first order. In this sense, US colonial hegemony supports the local feudal power culture, on the one hand. Re this, Carol Pagaduan-Araullo comments in her BusinessWorld column, Streetwise, entitled “Standing on the Wrong Side of History” (August 28,2009):

“Even the infrastructure projects carried out by US troops and the medical-dental missions they conduct are clearly for counterinsurgency purposes contrary to the usual government and US embassy press releases that these merely underscore and reinforce the continuing “good relations” between the two countries.

“Unnamed officials spoke of pressure on the Pentagon to shift the [Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines] ( JSOTFP) to Afghanistan or Iraq. This is a clear indication that US forces are overstretched and unable to simultaneously wage and quickly win wars in two global regions as envisioned in the US neoconservatives’ ‘Project New American Century’ under Pres. George W. Bush . The decision to maintain the JSOTFP underscores both the strategic and tactical importance of maintaining US military presence in the Philippines and implies that the permanent US presence is both for local as well as global and regional reasons.

“Despite the rhetoric of ‘Change,’ the Obama administration is at base continuing the geopolitical thrust of consolidating US hegemony in the world with minor changes in approach and methods, e.g. talking with “rogue states” instead of threatening them with preemptive first strike option, without necessarily giving up that option. This includes continuing and strengthening US military presence overseas.

“Specific to the Philippines, this translates to increasing military aid and so-called training exercises and permanent US military presence as exemplified by the JSOTFP deployment and forward operating sites in Mindanao despite the 1991 Philippine Senate decision to terminate the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.”

On the other hand, the Philippine feudal order keeps the US capitalist requirements going by providing the latter with raw agricultural, marine, forest, and mineral resources, even human labor resources. Hence, the path of Philippine economy to go capitalist is out of the question. In this connection, E. San Juan, Jr. observes: “What is at stake is really control over the natural resources and labor power of the Filipino people via the destruction of their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

It is the power of US imperial control that has kept Philippine economy retrogressively subservient to US colonial interests in a feudal socio-cultural environment. In other words, it is actually US imperialism (“the highest stage of
capitalism”, according to Lenin) that has forced Philippine economy to be colonial and remain feudal in its socio-cultural conditionality. Noam Chomsky affirms that

“The goal of the imperial grand strategy is to prevent any challenge to the ‘power, position, and prestige of the United States.’ The quoted words are not those of Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, or any of the other statist reactionaries who formulated the National Security Strategy of September 2002. Rather, they were spoken by the respected liberal elder statesman Dean Acheson in 1963.”

D. A Radical Dismantling of US Hegemonic Control: The Singular Saving Grace of Philippine Socio-Politico-Economic Milieu

In the face of this incontrovertible reality, the more enlightened sector of the population which consists of the proletariat, the petit bourgeois professionals, academics and businessmen, the progressive segment of the clergy, as well as the small entrepreneurs advocating national industrialization are the cutting edge to appropriately initiate and eventually realize a radical transformation of the sociocultural and economic dynamics that animate the present state of affairs of Philippine politics. In operational terms, this radical transformation is systemic and structural aimed at dismantling US hegemonic control over the Philippines as it becomes clearer that the most crucial issue at hand is the final and total achievement of the nation’s authentic sovereignty. How? When? These are the sixmillion- dollar questions we need to seriously consider next.

However, the better next step before we get to the “how” and “when” concerns is to look for concrete models of erstwhile colonies in the international community— countries that have defied, resisted, rebelled, fought and finally triumphed over their former colonial masters and are now sovereign in the most realistic sense of the word. It is of prime significance to realize that revolutionary actions leading to the final emancipation of a nation do not necessarily start off with the daring guts of the people but with a pure inspiration from which genuine courage is astonishingly developed even in the basest case of utter cowardice.

The most critical challenge at this point in time is for us to earnestly start looking for these models. This writer is of the opinion that they are just around.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, PhD

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