Oligarchies

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Last week my sister encountered internet problems at her home. Of all the services that have become critical for households during this pandemic, the loss of internet access can be a crippling affair so she was understandably turning desperate as she sought ways to get her service back online.

During her appeal for help at the family group chat, the discussion turned to the need for a 3rd telco to break the current duopoly that hasn’t exactly been giving consumers much of a choice. Internet and cellphone service providers give us decent service most of the time at tolerable prices but there is so much room for improvement that it is but natural for the outcry for another player to encourage competition and benefit the consumers.

It was during that group chat rant that I made a comment ruing that the only way a 3rd or 4th telco can happen is if a crony oligarch steps in and that was when I realized just how messed up our country has become.

ABS CBN had just been denied a franchise, killing its service, which for our less privileged countrymen who don’t have internet, is as important as internet to their homes and sanity during this pandemic. The decision of 70 of our so-called representatives in Congress to effectively shut down one of the biggest news and entertainment networks in the land also threatens the livelihoods of an estimated 11,000 employees of the network all over the country. This includes all the employees of ABS CBN Bacolod whose operations will stop due to our government’s decision to deny the network a franchise despite utterly failing to find legal and logical justifications.

Given that development, any businessman who was considering doing any sort of big business such as a new telecom network in the Philippines would’ve immediately shelved any plans to do so if they haven’t established themselves as cronies of the people currently lording over the country. After all, even if the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Securities and Exchange Commission, Department and of Justice had testified before congress that all the alleged violations of the TV network didn’t have any basis; the 70 congressmen who were loyal to the commands of whoever is pulling the strings in this country still decided to play blind executioner and swing the axe. We have come to the point that congressmen don’t even care about getting caught misrepresenting their constituents anymore and that does not bode well for our poor Constitution if and when they decide to lay their grimy hands on it.

After witnessing that gruesome murder of a giant broadcast network that had no violations serious enough to warrant the filing of any charges by any government agency, it is clear that those who aren’t protected by the unholy mantle of cronyism shouldn’t dare do business in this country.

Unless the nation gets more crony oligarchs, those hoping for more telecom companies are out of luck. We should consider ourselves fortunate to still have 2 telecom networks and we can only hope that the upcoming 3rd network can provide a service decent enough to be considered competition. We should also pray that its owner isn’t influential enough to call for the utter destruction of pesky competitors based on the flimsiest of reasons when the telecom market and competition proves too tough to break into.

The good news is that based on experience, our country has enough people who have the potential, the ambition and the lack of unnecessary moral baggage to fill this need.

It’s frustrating to know that we have come to the point that all our hope in any relief from this third world life now lies with our ruling class and their cronies. That’s what we deserve for simply watching as the weaknesses and loopholes of the law was weaponized and their sheer power to get rid of critics and competition consolidated as the group in charge forced their will upon almost every facet of this country.

It started in government, when the executive department switched stewards. For better or worse, whatever values and principles the principal of that department holds have been fully absorbed by all public servants in that particular branch of government.

The legislative department’s lower house, emphasis on lower, fell without putting up a fight. Their subservience, which they dubbed a “supermajority” to the one who holds the power has been on display for years. 2020 only highlighted their efficient butchering of ABS CBN and the amazingly quick passage of the much-maligned anti-terror law whilst the rest of the country was still massively struggling with COVID-19. The upper house was a little bit tougher to subdue but after the imprisonment on trumped up charges of a sitting Senator, the rest mostly wore their muzzles. Those that misbehaved and didn’t cooperate every now and then were easily kicked out by the mid-term elections that were powered by unlimited funds for more obedient allies, making a seven hour vote counting glitch seem like overkill.

The judiciary resisted for a bit, until they ironically used the bastardization of the law to kick out an uncooperative Supreme Court chief justice. Once that was achieved, the word “supreme” was eventually replaced by its marsupial equivalent. Nowadays, nobody bothers wasting time running to the SC for relief because Filipinos already know which side most of those justices will always take.

Now, it’s the oligarchy’s turn to bend the knee and the example made of ABS CBN should’ve sent the message loud and clear to any and all oligarchs: past, present and future; who were still in denial. To be fair to most oligarchs, these families are usually experts in playing the game and find ways to stay in play regardless of who is in power so this situation shouldn’t be new. The only difference now is the rules of engagement have never been more clear to all current and wannabe oligarchs. Those who want their business and billions to remain intact should learn to stop making things difficult for the ones in power after this particularly graphic demonstration on the use of that awesome consolidated power. What is important is understanding they can all make billions or trillions at the people’s expense if everyone is on the same page.

For those of us who are none of the above, there is no need to worry because government agents will not bother us as long as we stay quiet and refrain from terrorizing whatever is left of their consciences. We will still have internet, maybe even a decent 3rd telco. ABS CBN and its 11,000 former employees will find ways and means to survive because the Filipino is damn resilient. Anyway, there will still be news and entertainment coming from other more pliable sources. Water will flow from our taps and electricity into our homes. The police will protect us from terrorists, real and imagined. China is our friend. What more do we want?

If you come to think of it, those of us who play their cards right, pick the winning side and make friends with the right people could even be oligarchs one day. As long as you have the right values and principles (or lack thereof), nothing will stop you from getting what you believe you deserve.

Resistance is futile. Join the empire?*

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October 2020
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