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New Left Review I/169, May-June 1988


Benedict Anderson

Cacique Democracy in the Philippines: Origins and Dreams

About this time last year, President Corazon Aquino told a most instructive lie. Addressing the Filipino-Chinese Federated Chambers of Commerce on 9 March 1987, she described her appearance before them as a ‘homecoming,’ since her great-grandfather had been a poor immigrant from southeast China’s Fukien province. [1] Philippine Star Week, 8–14 March 1987. Doubtless her desperate need—given the Philippines’ near-bankrupt economy and $28 billion external debt [2] In July 1987 she estimated that debt payments would consume 40 per cent of government revenues, and 27 per cent of all export earnings for the following six years. The economic growth rate in 1986 was 0.13 per cent. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 July 1987.—to inspire feelings of solidarity and confidence among a powerful segment of Manila’s business class made some embroidery understandable. But the truth is that the President, born Corazon Cojuangco, is a member of one of the wealthiest and most powerful dynasties within the Filipino oligarchy. Her grandfather, putative son of the penniless immigrant, was Don Melecio Cojuangco, born in Malolos, Central Luzon in 1871. A graduate of the Dominicans’ Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the Escuela Normal, and a prominent agricultor (i.e. hacendado) in the province of Tarlac, he was, in 1907, at the age of 36, elected to the Philippine Assembly, the quasi-legislature established by the American imperialists in that year. [3] Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 February 1987; and information kindly supplied by Philippine historian Michael Cullinane. He ran as a candidate of the Progresistas, the most openly American-collaborationist of the parties of that era. The above article implausibly suggests that Melecio’s grandfather, a certain ‘Martin’ Cojuangco, was the real immigrant founder of the dynasty. One of his sons (Corazon’s uncle) became Governor of Tarlac in 1941, another (her father, Don José) its most prominent Congressman. In 1967, one of his grandsons (her cousin), Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco, became Governor of Tarlac with Ferdinand Marcos’s backing, and went on to count among the most notorious of the Marcos cronies. Another grandson (her younger brother), José ‘Peping’ Cojuangco, was in those days one of Tarlac’s Congressmen, and is today again a Congressman—and one of the halfdozen most powerful politicians in the country. Her marriage to Benigno Aquino, Jr., at various periods Governor of Tarlac and Senator, linked her to another key dynasty of Central Luzon. Benigno Aquino, Sr., had been a Senator in the late American era and won lasting notoriety for his active collaboration with the Japanese Occupation regime. At the present time, one of her brothers-in-law, Agapito ‘Butz’ Aquino, is a Senator, and another, Paul, the head of Lakas ng Bansa (one of the three main ‘parties’ in her electoral coalition); an uncle-in-law, Herminio Aquino, is a Congressman, as are Emigdio ‘Ding’ Tanjuatco (cousin), and Teresita Aquino-Oreta (sister-in-law). [4] Emigdio is secretary-general of the Lakas ng Bansa. José ‘Peping’ Cojuangco is chairman of another main coalition component, the pdp-Laban. A maternal uncle, Francisco ‘Komong’ Sumulong, is majority floor-leader of the House of Representatives. Nor was Corazon herself, on becoming President, quite the simple housewife of her election broadsheets. For thirteen years she had served as treasurer of the Cojuangco family holding company, which controls a vast financial, agricultural, and urban real estate empire. [5] Time, 5 January 1987.

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