Published on September 20, 2016.
On Monday, one of the honorary chairs of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry stirred some controversy when he spoke on President Duterte’s war on drugs. CNN’s Claire Jiao tweeted two of businessman Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr.’s statements. First: “Foreign investors go to a country for income. They don’t care if 50% of Filipinos are killing each other.” And second: “We have declared a war on drugs. The deaths are just collateral damage. We have to accept it.”
The current chair of the country’s largest business association, Benedicto Yujuico, expressed the same view. Jiao tweeted the PCCI executive’s statement, too: “Most Asian gov’ts think our war on drugs is good. It’s the Western nations bringing up human rights.”
All these make for dismaying reading, because in a previous life I worked closely with PCCI staff, and in the late 1980s even sat in on a few PCCI board meetings, when it was under the leadership of the redoubtable Aurelio Periquet Jr. I found the directors amiable, public-spirited, forward-looking—not the crass caricature that their recent statements make Ortiz-Luis and Yujuico out to be.
But their views are shocking in historical terms, too; they are exactly the kind of views businessmen held when Ferdinand Marcos was preparing to declare martial law. In 1971, Marcos noted in his diary that he had met with the businessmen Andres Soriano Jr. and Sebastian Ugarte. “I explained that the fight against the oligarchs was not against bigness but against the use of bigness to oppress our people and intimidate the public officials for more financial gain.” Then he wrote: “He (unclear, but probably Soriano—JN) seemed relieved but still worried about anarchy. I had to assure him when I called him back alone that if the situation deteriorates, I may have to use my extraordinary powers like declaring martial law. He seemed relieved and said, ‘You would be surprised at the number of people who would welcome it.’”
When Marcos, after years of planning to extend his time in office, finally imposed martial law, he cheerfully noted in his diary that he was receiving positive feedback and was getting the hero’s treatment. We should be clear: In the beginning, there was public, business, and American support for Marcos’ brand of “constitutional authoritarianism.” (That’s one American intervention President Duterte seems to be silent on.) In time that support eroded, because of the killings and the ostentatious lifestyle of the new oligarchs, because of the flight of businessman Dewey Dee and the near-collapse of the economy, because of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and the recalibration in American strategy.
But the Marcos regime lasted as long as it did, not only because Marcos’ Ilocanization of the military had turned it into a pliant tool, but also because many businessmen believed political stability was in their best interest; the Americans, too, found his anticommunism appealing.
John F. Doherty, SJ, studied the rise of the new economic elite during the martial law years. In 1982, in “Who Controls the Philippine Economy: Some Need Not Try as Hard as Others,” he identified some 81 families, aside from the Marcoses, who controlled the New Society. He classified them into three groups.
The first group: “the Martels and Disini (their in-laws), Velayo, Benedicto, Enrile, Cuenca, Silverio, Abello, Tanseco, Tantoco, Ozaeta, Oreta, and Floirendo. The rise to power of this group seems to be related to their connections with the First Couple. Before martial law, few, if any of them were well known and none of them were among the traditional elite. Most accumulated their fortunes under martial law.”
The second group: “also favored by the administration, comes from the ranks of the pre-martial law elite. The business interests of this group have also grown significantly since martial law was declared, though they had substantial resources to begin with. This group includes the Sycip-Yuchengco family, the Yulos, Elizaldes, Aboitizes, Alcantaras, J.B. Fernandez, Nubla, Palanca, Concepcion, and Siguion-Reyna.”
The third group: “like the second, is part of the pre-martial law elite. However, this group is not clearly and strongly identified with the First Family. They are not in the inner circle, so to speak. They have managed to hold their own under martial law but they have to endure periodic harassments and threats to their business interests. They appear to go along, to keep the semblance of loyalty, because if they do not, they realize they could go the way of the Lopezes, Jacintos, and Todas who lost their empires. This group would include the Zobel-Ayala family, the Sorianos, Madrigals, Olondrizes, Ortigas, Laurels, and the sugar bloc in general. Perhaps this segment of the old elite is too powerful for the Marcos regime to take on directly, but periodic harassments manage to keep them loyal on the surface at least.”
This is not a complete list. For instance, Soriano, by way of Enrique Zobel, “lost” SMC to Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. But Marcos by 1982 had gamed the system and its economic interests so thoroughly many businessmen would have gladly accepted Marcos’ secret, if his diary entry from Sept. 28, 1972, had been more widely known: “The legitimate use of force on chosen targets is the incontestable secret of the reform movement.” Unfortunately, reform for Marcos meant perpetuation in power.