A WORD used to mean different things to different people will eventually become a "no-word," full of connotations, reflecting conflicting denotative meanings. This is exactly what President Rodrigo Duterte and his followers like Mike Defensor and Rodante Marcoleta did with the word "oligarch" and "oligarchy." Inferring from the published excerpts of the President and his cohorts' speeches, oligarchs are "elites who use their wealth and influence to further enrich themselves and oppress the poor." Duterte justified his attacks on the Lopezes, Ayalas and other old rich family corporations, big businesses, and media companies by asserting they are part of his fight versus "elites" who allegedly abused their powers. Does Duterte's passionate battle cry match his actions?

Barely two years as President, what we have seen in his praxis, as summarized in the big story of prestigious Nikkei Asia Review on December 4, 2019 is that, "Duterte promised to destroy the Philippines' elite, instead, he chose his own."

How successful is Duterte in keeping his promise? Other than the recent hit on the Lopezes, let's take the earliest victim of his warfare against the country's oligarchs -- Roberto "Bobby" Ongpin. Once one of the Philippines' richest men, Ongpin had survived and actually prospered from Cory Aquino's presidency and five other presidential administrations, allegedly by trading favors and greasing friendships.

Ongpin is filled with an arsenal of luxuries at his disposal -- a billionaire's island dotted with famous international theme villas, serviced by butlers, and accessible only by a fleet of private jets, and an exclusive club at the center of the capital's business district. Such an ostentatious display of fabulous wealth was one Duterte's target in his populist presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016. He took aim at the corruption and excesses of wealth-hoarding ruling families like Ongpin's, calling them "cancer on society," and "illustrious idiots who flew around in private planes while the Filipino people suffered."

Just four days into his term, Duterte unleashed his attack. "The plan is to destroy the oligarchs embedded in the government," he said. "I'll give you an example publicly: Ongpin, Roberto." Immediately, Duterte's declaration of war was felt in the Philippine stock market. Shares of Ongpin's public companies plummeted. By Duterte's second month in office, Bobby Ongpin had stepped down as chairman of PhilWeb, his online gambling company. The stunning downfall of the seemingly unbeatable tycoon, one who was a fixture in the Pinoy politics and business, sent warning signals through what he dubbed as the country's oligarchs.

Still, rather than sending a clear message to the country's business oligarchs, the Ongpin case left many knowing business analysts believing that Duterte has "simply opened the door to a new wave of business people and loyalists, who have been given access to political power and lucrative government contracts." In my previous column, I described this process as a move away from "Tisoy to Tsinoy Oligarchs." I would like to rephrase my statement -- it is Duterte's move to his own brand of 'Chino' cronyism.

In practice, Duterte has himself created a new oligarchy, changing the axis of political-economic power from imperial Metro Manila, and the traditional "Tisoy" oligarchs to provincial Tsinoys from Davao and Mindanao.