Abellanosa: Duterte and the oligarchs

Fringes and frontiers

MANY have cheered President Rodrigo Duterte for what they call his bravery and decisiveness in this issue involving Maynilad and Manila Water. Once more, the president’s gesture is seen as the victory of the people’s interest over the so-called business oligarchs. This perception is fueled no less by the president’s serious threat against the two water firms “that they can be liable for economic sabotage.”

Whether the showdown between President Duterte, Maynilad and the Manila Water would yield anything beneficial to the people, is something that remains to be seen. I am of the conviction that this word war will not lead to a solution to our water crisis. This whole thing is not of the objective to address the decreasing volume of our water. This is not an enterprise of scientists finding solutions, but of politicians and businessmen weaponizing their capacities. It is just sad that the terrain of their fight is a fundamental necessity: water supply.

Precisely why it is not good to take sides in this issue because it is not a war for the masses. This is a war between or among oligarchs. That the basic services and necessities in this country are for sale is apparently “not new.” Before President Duterte sat in his throne, water, electricity, transportation, medicine, and hopefully not the air we need to breathe, have been “for sale” from private individuals. And why not if one lives in a capitalist system where the “mode of production” is controlled by those who hold the capital?

All these discussions on legalities are scratches in the surface. The much deeper issue is how the government as the state’s agent (and not just the current president) should as a matter of economic policy, position itself in matters that affect the people’s most basic needs in consumption and daily production. There is reason why this issue with the two water suppliers cannot but be traced back to the administration of Presidents Ramos and Arroyo. But let’s be straightforward: isn’t our government (regardless of the one sitting in power) always in concession with the oligarchs?

The president can always max out his executive power and kill these two oligarchs. In fact, it is clear that he has the propensity to do so. This is what he signaled also to ABS CBN. But I won’t, in any way, praise the president nor give him all my salutes should he succeed disciplining these businesses that antagonize his administration.

The death of one oligarchy will lead to the emergence of another. Just a few days ago, the president talked about the possible endorsement of Manny Villar’s PrimeWater. Well, if the former senator’s services are better, then why not. But precisely, and this is the point, still the president is working out things within the logic of capitalism. Someday, it will be, as determined by the economic condition, a “history-repeating-itself.” Surely, and should Villar take over, there will be another problem and issue similar to what is happening between the current administration and the two water suppliers.

A rather radical solution is for the government to take over. Unfortunately, we have to wake up to the reality that the government is, like its opponents, an oligarchy. It is the home of the powerful few that runs this country on the basis of economic interests. Thus, I’d always remember what Professor Felipe Miranda of Pulse Asia once said: “this country is an oligarchy masquerading itself as a democracy.”

In itself, this system is hopeless.


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