The Elitist Segment of the Filipino Society

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”.

The Evolution of the Deeply-rooted Elitist Political and Economic Dominion that Controls the Philippines

The Evolution of the Deeply-rooted Elitist

Political and Economic Dominion that Controls the Philippines

By Apolinario Villalobos

When the Americans took over the reins of authority over the Philippines from the Spaniards, they saw the convenience in using the existing peasant-tenant relationship. This approach was used by Jacob Schurman who was appointed by the then, President McKinley, to head the Schurman Commission which subtly used the Filipino elite in laying down the groundwork for an effective control of the population in 1899.

In Negros, however, the job of the Americans was made easier by the local elite and landlords who did not wait to be prodded. They took the initiative of organizing a provisional government with the obvious objective of protecting their vast holdings and interests. Among them were Juan Araneta, Jose Luzuriaga, Leandro Locsin, Demetrio Larena, ang Agustin Montilla. They took the effort of contacting the Americans who were busy in their subjugation operations in Luzon and Visayas regions. Finally, on February 1899, representatives of the elite Negrenses succeeded in touching base with the military government under Gen. E. Otis, who eventually, created the Visayan Military district with Gen. James F. Smith at the helm, as the island’s Governor.

As pockets of the Aguinaldo-led resistance movement under the Malolos Revolutionary government were still present in Negros, open hostilities eventually ensued between them and the American-supported Negros elite and landlords, with the latter eventually prevailing.

The same pattern of partnership or collaboration between the elite/landowners and the Americans was also employed in Luzon with Baliuag (Bulacan) as the starting point. The successful takeover of towns by Americans, finally led to the capture of Aguinaldo in 1901, in Isabela. Unfortunately, the effort of the Americans using the mentioned strategy did not succeed in Mindanao. Meanwhile, the organizational plan for the subjugated towns was prepared by a Committee headed by the American-appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Cayetano Arellano.

For the central government’s Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, the American-controlled Philippine Commission, appointed prominent personalities, still from the elite stratum of the population. Very prominent was the Chief Justice Cayetano Arellano, a law professor of the University of Santo Tomas, practicing lawyer and with strong inclination and conviction about the belief in the “sovereignty of the United States over the Philippines.” Other renowned members of the elite society who took political center stage were: Manuel L. Quezon, Manuel  Roxas, Gregorio Araneta, Benito Legarda, Osmeῆa, Jose Laurel, Jose Abad Santos, Elpidio Quirino, Benigno Aquino Sr., Claro M. Recto, Camilo Osias, Emilio Tirona, Juan Sumulong, Pedro Gil, and Ruperto Montinola, among many others.

The Americans were wise in using the elite for their orchestrated control of the Luzon and Visayas regions, and parts of Mindanao. The said group had the fear of losing their privileges and security of their interests, in view of the growing clamor of the masses for the redistribution of land since the later part of the Spanish regime, and they saw an opportunity in cooperating with the Americans in exchange for such objective. They also had an historical distrust of the masses, whom they viewed with disgust, being uneducated and whom they alleged to be dwelling on dubious moral values. Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and Cayetano Arellano were specially, vocal about these views.

The hideous strategy of the Americans with the strong cooperation of the elite not only widened the gap between the peasants and the landlords in the Visayas and Luzon regions. The landlords became richer as they broadened the extent of their haciendas while the peasants became more impoverished as they suffered the same fate under the Spanish landlords that included the friars.

Meanwhile, the control of the three branches of the central government by the elite families, resulted to the “blooming” of political dynasties. The already securely- entrenched political families were joined later on by their financially- struggling allies who became rich when they also, entered the political arena.

Today, the economic and political dominion that controls the country is distributed among the historic political families and landlords, native and mestizo business tycoons who have tract records in supporting the political dynasties that move heaven and earth to perpetuate their hold on political reins of the country, and the new breed of rags-to-riches political “geniuses”. It is an inhuman conspiracy that not even hell can equal!