KASAMA Vol. 12 No. 1 / January–February–March 1998 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Two events in the Third Quarter of 1997 emphasized the precarious condition of the Filipino working class under the Ramos administration. The first was the September 21, 1997 Prayer Rally led by Jaime Cardinal Sin and former President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino. The second was the decrease in the purchasing power of the Philippine peso.
by Dennis Estopace

The September 21 Prayer Rally was projected to the public as a measure to prevent the extension of Fidel V. Ramos’ term as Philippine president beyond 1998. Essentially, however, this rally revealed the conflicts building up between oligarchs. On the one hand, there are the old oligarchs represented by the Cojuangco family allied with the Roman Catholic Church. On the other hand, there are the neo-oligarchs represented by old Marcos cronies, new Ramos cronies, and the military-businessmen.

The confrontation between these two economic blocs can be traced to the following:

The rally revealed that the old oligarchs’ businesses are hurting more than profiting from President Ramos’ image-building economic strategy. Further, the rally revealed it is the new oligarchs (Lopez family, Lucio Tan, Tan Yu, etc.) that are benefiting from this strategy. Thus, extending the terms of President Ramos beyond 1998 would assure these oligarchs and their stooges in government policy and law-making bodies the opportunity to gain more power and more wealth until the next millennium.

President Ramos, however, cannot make the same mistakes his predecessor did, i.e. clip military power. He even strengthened his military network’s hold on power by appointing retired soldiers to key government posts and promoting member-soldiers of the Reform the AFP Movement (RAM).

Because President Ramos cannot risk his public image as a "civilianized military," he allowed Gen. Acedera to again fan an anti-communist hysteria and threaten to launch Martial Law within an hour.

The conflict between these oligarchs was cut short by the devaluation of the peso.

Multinational corporations and local business who feel the pinch of profit loss as December (an export boom month) nears, took matters in their own hands: they hoarded dollars.

Foreign investors and business enjoying the protection of the law began the speculative attack on the market. The oligarchs became busy defending their economic turf.

However, without a strong solid domestic economic base and due to the artificial appreciation against the US dollar of the country’s currency, the Philippine peso went to dangerous rates of above P30 to a dollar.

The Central Bank raised interest rates to finance government deficit, becoming a speculator in the process. This move by the CB affected banks and businesses that have overextended their loans. First to go was the Eyco Group, a conglomeration of appliance dealers. Second were foreign businessmen who pulled out their portfolios, further devaluing the peso. The Philippine stock market became vulnerable. It was also used as a launching pad for speculators to begin their attacks on other Asian financial structures heavily dependent on the US dollar.

Overall, the Filipino working class is held hostage by these conflicts between these big business interests. They are the ones who directly suffer from any fluctuation in the value of the peso that impacts on prices of basic goods.

But the progressive working class movements did not take all these events sitting down. In spite of, maybe even because of, the divisions within the Philippine revolutionary movement, independent groups, albeit with minimal membership, launched protest actions after protest actions.

One challenge for them is to further sharpen the conflict between these oligarchs through more organized actions on basic issues of survival. The other challenge is to make the contradictions within the working class and their movements less antagonistic and more ideologically sharp. Through this, the Filipino working class movement can become politically effective in bringing capital for their own use and not against the Filipino people.

"Sharpening Contradictions" was originally printed in T.N.T. July/Sept 1997, newsletter of Kanlungan Center Foundation, Quezon City.