In his State of the Nation Address 2020 on Monday, Rodrigo Duterte repeatedly lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon for allegedly “protecting oligarchs.” This was his rebuttal to downplay the oppositionist senator’s proposal to push for the approval of the Anti-Dynasty Bill. Instead of disclosing his categorical position on the controversial bill, he hurled tirades against the said senator whom he called a “hypocrite.” Duterte was obviously infuriated as the senator linked Duterte’s daughter and sons to the issue of political dynasties.
Philippine politics has long been dominated by dynastic families. This includes the Duterte dynasty whose members have been in various government positions in Davao since the late 1950s.
The dominance of political dynasties manifests the rottenness of the ruling political and economic system in the Philippines. It clearly reflects how those in power, big land lords, big bourgeois compradors and bureaucrat capitalists, perpetuate their dynasties through corruption, nepotism and patronage.
Political dynasties, do not only seek perpetuation of political power, but at the more basic level, seek to accumulate more wealth. Dynastic bureaucrat capitalists serve as agents of local oligarchs and big bourgeois compradors. They aggrandize themselves by using their positions to corner the biggest loot, bribes and cuts from government contracts. Dynasts use their political capital to promote their family businesses or those of their other relatives, friends and allies, as well as gain favors from contractors, loan agencies, foreign capitalists and banks.
Public economic resources, instead of benefiting the people, are diverted and concentrated into the hands of these political dynasties. Using their power, they fleece the people with taxes while giving back almost nothing in the form of social services. To perpetuate their rule, they use the law against their political and economic rivals. Most dynasts in backward provinces also happen to be warlords who maintain large private armies. They cultivate loyalties among military and police officers to protect their businesses and criminal syndicates and suppress anyone who challenge their rule.
The unremitting reign of political dynasties today manifests how bureaucratic capitalism has worsened under the Duterte regime. Corruption is rampant and can no longer be concealed by Duterte’s “I hate corruption” mantra.
The Duterte dynasty
Duterte himself is a dynast who accumulated both economic and political capital during his long stint as Davao City mayor.
Currently, three of Rodrigo Duterte’s adult children hold the highest offices in the city government of Davao, the second largest metropolitan area in the country outside Metro Manila. Duterte’s eldest son, Paolo, is its First District congressman, while his daughter Sarah is its mayor and youngest son Sebastian its vice mayor.
The Dutertes first entered politics in the 1959 when its patriarch, the late Atty. Vicente Duterte, was elected as governor of Davao. During his term, in 1965, he appointed his own son, Rodrigo Duterte, as his Secretary of the Department of General Services.
Rodrigo Duterte was appointed officer-in-charge vice mayor of Davao City by the Aquino regime in 1986 following the People Power Revolution. He was elected as mayor in 1988 and stayed in office until 1998. To circumvent the reactionary law on term limits, he ran as congressman of the First District of Davao City and won. He again ran for mayor in 2001 and remained in office until 2010, the year he ran as his daughter Sarah’s vice mayor, again to circumvent the aforementioned law. He again ran for mayor in 2013 and remained in office until his presidential bid was launched in 2016. As of today, Rodrigo Duterte has held positions in government for 32 consecutive years.
Duterte’s bureaucrat capitalist accumulation has heightened since 2016 when he assumed presidency.
Duterte launched his centerpiece campaign, the “war on drugs,” to conceal his real aim of eliminating rival drug syndicates and making them submit and pay for their protection. This campaign has been discredited after it was exposed that his son, Paolo, and his Davao associates, are themselves drug smugglers with the discovery of a P6.4 billion shipment of shabu from China in 2017.
Recently, during the onset of Covid-19 crisis, he invoked emergency powers to realign and amass nearly P3 trillion in public funds, and spend this without transparency and accounting in the guise of fighting the pandemic. His regime was also exposed to have procured grossly overpriced medical equipment from his minions’ favored Chinese and local suppliers.
Over the past years, Duterte allotted himself billions of pesos in so-called intelligence and confidential funds which he uses to bribe military officials and ensure their loyalty, and to fund his network of death squads.
He is using his position to monopolize for himself and his favored oligarchs fat public contracts and loans. Behind his claims of simplicity, Duterte continues to accumulate wealth which is secretly stashed in accounts of his cronies, operations of criminal syndicates, and reportedly, in Chinese banks.
He is also using his control of the national budget to consolidate his supermajority control of Congress which is also dominated by dynasties. He armtwists his foes and even allies to make them submit to his whims and consolidate his power. During the 2019 midterm elections, a number of politicians both from old and new political clans, pledged their allegiance to the Duterte regime, majority of whom now occupy various elective positions in different levels of the reactionary government.
His closest allies include dynasts from the Cayetano and Aguilar-Villar families. He has also allied himself with the Marcoses and Arroyos, who are the most corrupt dynasts, to mobilize their political support and has acted in favor of the plunderers by absolving them of their crimes and releasing them from prison, and enabling them to rehabilitate their political dynasties at various levels of the bureaucracy.
The Cayetano dynasty
One of his closest allies in Congress is dynast and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano whose family has dominated Taguig City politics over the past decades. He ran as Duterte’s vice presidential candidate in 2016. He is Duterte’s most rabid lapdog in Congress who is responsible for pushing for his fascist and neoliberal legislative agenda. He is the second biggest contributor to Duterte’s election kitty.
He served as Duterte’s Foreign Affairs Secretary 2017-2018 prior to being elected as representative of Pateros-Taguig in 2019. He also became a member of the Senate from 2007 to 2017.
The Cayetano siblings have have perpetuated their rule in Taguig by swapping government positions over the past decades as representatives of Pateros-Taguig and the 2nd district of Taguig; and as mayor and vice mayor of Taguig City. Alan’s older sister, Pia, is an incumbent senator and a former congresswoman. He and his wife Ma. Laarni ran in different congressional districts last year and won in both, while his younger sibling Lino Edgardo is mayor.
The Cayetanos accumulated wealth with the conversion of Taguig into a business district in the mid-1990s under Ramos, with the sale of large parts of Fort Bonifacio and establishment of Bonifacio Global City. The wealth of the Cayetano dynasty grew alongside the influx of business establishments in Taguig and the increase of tax collections by the city.
The Cayetano dynasty emerged in 1984 when its patriarch, Renato Cayetano became a congressman, and later in 1998, a senator. Ironically, the late senator gained popularity for hosting and giving free legal advices in a late 1990s public service program in ABS-CBN, which Speaker Cayetano recently worked to shut down.
Last year, he was implicated in the anomalous procurement of a P50-million monument, satirically called “Cayetano’s Takore,” for the Southeast Asian Games cauldron erected in New Clark City.
The Aguilar-Villar dynasty
Members of the Aguilar-Villar family, aside from being part of a political dynasty, are also among the biggest real estate and big business oligarchs in the country and are notorious for using public office to advance their business interests.
Villar married into the Aguilar family which built their empire in Las Piñas City by monopolizing key local government positions since 1987. The Villars accumulated vast wealth through state-supported low cost housing projects under the Aquino and Ramos regimes starting from Las Piñas, later expanding to provinces across the country.
Prior to being a senator, Cynthia Villar became a congresswoman. His husband Manny was Senate president from 2006 to 2008 and Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1998 to 2000. Their son, Mark, is Duterte’s current Public Works and Highways Secretary whose wife, Emmeline, was also appointed as undersecretary of the Department of Justice. The appointment of the couple is a clear case of conflict of interest as they both have big business interests. The Villars are notorious for using government road projects to increase the market value of their real estate properties.
The Villar family owns Vista Land & Lifescapes which are known for landgrabbing and converting thousands of hectares of farmlands into subdivisions (Camella Homes, Lumina Homes) and huge malls (Starmalls and Vista Malls). Earlier in 2009, Manny Villar was probed for his Daang Hari project (also known as the Las Piñas-Muntinlupa-Cavite Road) which passes through his family-owned projects.
Last December 2019, Emmeline was also exposed to have been overseeing the review of the contract of two water concessionaires. The Villars own Prime Water Infrastructure Corp., which is notorious for acquiring and taking over local water districts.
Meanwhile, Mark and Emmeline’s daughter Camille is an incumbent congresswoman. Cynthia’s sister-in-law Imelda is also the incumbent mayor of Las Piñas City, while the latter’s daughter April is vice mayor.
Under Duterte, Manny Villar’s wealth skyrocketed from US$1.5 billion (P75.4 billion) in March 2017 to US$5.5 billion (Php288.3 billion) on March 2019. From being the 12th, he is now the richest individual in the country. Meanwhile, Cynthia Villar reported a net worth of P3.7 billion and was considered the richest senator, while their son, Mark Villar, reported P1.4 billion and is considered as Duterte’s richest cabinet official.
During the Covid-19 crisis, the Villars were among the oligarchs that got the contract to build the “megaswabbing” center at the Palacio de Maynila in Manila.
The Aguilar-Villar family is a known supporter of Duterte. Manny Villar’s political party, Nacionalista, is also allied with Duterte’s PDP-Laban.