Guns, Goons and Gold: Perspectives on Philippine Politics


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Lecture slides for an undergraduate class on Philippine Politics and Governance I taught between 2003 and 2005. The title (and content) is a nod to the prevailing perception of what politics in the Philippines is all about.

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  • Learning Objectives: 1.) To arrive at a better understanding of the dynamics within Philippine politics. 2.) To become acquainted with two analytical frameworks for understanding Philippine politics.
  • “ Trapo”  Strictly speaking, a trapo (traditional politician) is one who behaves according to this view.
  • It is important to stress that the relationship, although based reciprocity, is neither even nor necessarily favors one side over the other. Circumstances often dictate which of the two sides (i.e. patron or client) held all the cards during the relationship. For example, clients would become beholden to their patrons if their patrons literally took care of them cradle to grave; hence, they would feel obligated to “bring home the bacon” of votes and the like come election time. Alternatively, patrons would be constrained to give into their clients especially when in office because of the support their clients give them during elections. This is what Wurfel means when he says that public trust sometimes has to take second fiddle to personal obligations in Philippine political culture.
  • Patrons (and clients) see patronage ties as a means of expanding their fictive kin. You must recall that in Philippine society, patterns of obligation and trust are fundamentally based on who one considers “close,” including of course the family. The compadre system, of which patronage is part, enables one to expand his/her “political family.” As a corollary, it should be clear why clients need only one patron: a patron more or less covers all his/her client’s needs. More, failure to do so would mean that the patron might lose his status as such and thus his client’s loyalty (remember the pragmatic nature of Philippine politics). From this, we might also glean that it takes significant amount of resources to be a patron. This is partly the reason why Philippine politics is generally dominated by select political families and dynasties – precisely because only they have the resources to pull it off. This also explains, in part, why Wurfel says that public trust plays second fiddle to private interests: once in office, patrons must sometimes resort to making use of official resources to meet clientelistic obligations.
  • The bottom-up approach, as espoused by Doronila, does not contradict the traditional view of Philippine politics. Rather, it seeks to point out the inadequacy of the traditional approach by highlighting the other end of the equation.
  • Civil society sometimes takes over state functions where the state cannot deliver. Precisely in the context of Doronila’s New Paradigm, the point is that there are cases where the state is reduced to ineffectiveness because of the infighting between political families and trapos . Hence, civil society steps in to take over and cater to those sectors marginalized by lack of state action.
  • Guns, Goons and Gold: Perspectives on Philippine Politics

    1. 1. Guns, Goons and Gold: Perspectives on Philippine Politics
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>Two perspectives for understanding Philippine politics: </li></ul><ul><li>Top-down (traditional) approach </li></ul><ul><li>“ The view from the bottom ” </li></ul>
    3. 3. The Top-Down Approach <ul><li>Emphasizes the key players in Philippine politics </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Political Families, Dynasties, Clans… </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Explains their dominance in the Philippine political arena </li></ul><ul><li>“ Trapo ” = Traditional Politics </li></ul>
    4. 4. The Patron-Client Relationship <ul><li>Characterized by reciprocity between Patons and Clients </li></ul><ul><li>Padrino system: patrons perform a variety of functions or favors for their clients </li></ul><ul><li>Clients give their loyalty to their patrons, especially during elections </li></ul><ul><li>Akin to a Feudal relationship </li></ul>
    5. 5. <ul><li>Patronage is a means of expanding one’s “ fictive kin ” </li></ul><ul><li>Patrons generally take care of their clients cradle to grave </li></ul><ul><li>Because of the wide range of services offered by the patrons, clients only need one patron </li></ul>The Patron-Client Relationship
    6. 6. The Bottom-Up Approach <ul><li>Recognizes the dominance of political elites </li></ul><ul><li>Emphasizes the role of civil society and countervailing social forces </li></ul><ul><li>Premised on the fact that the Philippines is a weak state </li></ul><ul><li>Reflects a fundamentally middle-class phenomenon </li></ul>
    7. 7. Weak v. Strong <ul><li>Strong State </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A state that is capable of effectively implementing policy and efficiently delivering services autonomously </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Weak State </li></ul><ul><ul><li>A state that is incapable of delivering services and is often captured by vested interests </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. Civil Society <ul><li>Civil society caters to marginalized sectors . </li></ul>Society Scope of State Policy
    9. 9. Civil Society <ul><li>Civil society is said to assume some state functions where the state cannot deliver </li></ul><ul><li>Civil society has also been known to influence policy (e.g. EVAT, Party-list, etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>As such, civil society represents another check and balance to the dominance of political elites (e.g. EDSA I &II) </li></ul>
    10. 10. Other Perspectives <ul><li>“ Bossism ”  James Sidel </li></ul><ul><li>“ Booty Capitalism ”  Paul Hutchcroft </li></ul><ul><li>Cacique Democracy </li></ul><ul><li> Benedict Anderson </li></ul><ul><li>( Etc ) </li></ul>
    11. 11. Further Reading <ul><li>Doronila, A. A New Paradigm for Understanding Philippine Politics . Pasig City: Asian Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1998. </li></ul><ul><li>Timberman, D. A Changeless Land: Continuity and Change in Philippine Politics . Manila: Bookmark, 1991. </li></ul><ul><li>Wurfel, D. Filipino Politics: Development and Decay . Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. </li></ul>
    12. 12. -end-