The Elitist Segment of the Filipino Society
by Apolinario Villalobos
Before the Spaniards came during the 1500s, the inhabitants of the Philippine Archipelago were living according to the norms of the “datu system”. The “datu”, being the wealthy and landed ruled over the rest of the members of the community. For protection, lesser “datus” came under the rule of the “Sultan”. Within the communities, the lower members were further classified into different levels, such as slave and serf.
For their convenience the Spanish colonizers, adopted the “datu system”, so that communities were ruled through their respective “datu”. Some prominent Spaniards who were part of the colonizing expeditions were awarded portions of land under the “encomienda system”, although they, as “encomenderos” were mandated by the Spanish king to take care of the natives, referred then, as “casiques” who were within their domain. Later on, even the “datus” became victims of the system when their lands were eventually appropriated for inclusion in the encomiendas. In exchange for their “noble authority” as “datus”, they were given privileges. This system was prevalent in Luzon and Visayas where until today, plantations still exist.
When the Philippine Archipelago was ceded by the Spaniards to the Americans by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, signed in December 10, 1898, the encomienda system had become well-entrenched in the culture of the Filipinos. Spanish encomenderos intermarried with natives and their mestizo offspring took over the ownership of vast tracts of land. The Americans who saw the effectiveness of the encomenda system, continued its use, although, the task was not easy in some parts of the archipelago.
While the encomenderos of Panay and Negros Islands, practically, offered the administration of their communities to the Americans, in exchange for which, they shall be allowed to maintain ownership of their lands, in Luzon and Mindanao, imposition of authority had to be made forcefully and bloodily due to skirmishes that ensued.
The heat of liberalism felt by the educated natives during the latter part of the Spanish rule was intensified when the Americans came because of the educational system and liberal administration that they introduced. From then on, educated Filipinos competed with the landed elite in hugging the limelight in the political arena.
The misfortune that befell the sugar industry, however, eased out the landed gentry, almost totally, from political scene which is now occupied not only be the educated segment but by the adventurous who view politics as a lifetime career….personalities who, in time became the so-called “traditional politicians” (trapos). They usually start their political career as barangay, municipal or city councilors, moving up to the position of vice-mayor, mayor, governor, congressman, senator…and still aiming for the highest political position in the land.
Today, the Filipino elite, aside from the heirs of hacienderos, also includes educated native Filipinos and naturalized foreign business tycoons who consistently maintain their position in the list of the “Who’s Who” of the corporate world, and the “trapos” who became rich overnight, thanks to politics, because some of these “tycoons” have actually been or still are dummies of the rich “trapos”.