Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Toward a More Comprehensive Analysis of Philippine Politics: Beyond the Patron-Client, Factional Framework

Academic journal article Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

Toward a More Comprehensive Analysis of Philippine Politics: Beyond the Patron-Client, Factional Framework

Article excerpt


Thirty years ago, a theory of Philippine politics emerged that until now remains the most influential among academics and is widely adopted by journalists, diplomats and other observers of the Philippines. Its argument, in brief, is that Philippine politics revolves around interpersonal relationships - especially familial and patron-client ones - and factions composed of personal alliances. I refer to this as the patron-client, factional framework (pcf, for short). It deserves to be influential; after all, patron-client and other personal relations are indeed significant in Philippine political life. These are also important features in many other countries; hence, the pcf framework developed for Philippine studies has contributed as well to comparative political studies.

A serious problem with the framework, however, is that it leaves out and obscures a great deal about Philippine politics. Moreover, the framework is so routinely used by scholars and other observers that it has become reified to the point that it itself has almost become Philippine politics, rather than being a useful perspective or interpretation for making sense of aspects of political life. Two other interpretations of Philippine politics, which I refer to as dependency and elite democracy, bring in features of the country's political life that pcf misses. Yet they too omit much that is vital, and they share with the framework an emphasis on personal and patron-client relations.

My central objection is that the pcf framework minimizes, even dismisses values and ideas, bases for organization and cooperation, and cleavages and frictions except those of a personal, familial, patron-client nature. Because other values, ideas, organizations, and conflicts are marginalized and deemed unimportant, Philippine politics and its society and culture generally are portrayed in a overly simplistic, untextured manner. And Filipinos for whom other dimensions do in fact matter are similarly reduced to mere caricatures of their fuller, more complicated selves. The main point I want to make is that the dominant, pcf framework is inadequate, as are the available alternatives. After elaborating what pcf is and what alternatives add, I'll look at elections - where pcf is supposed to be most applicable - then at a few other realms in the political landscape: politicians, political movements, and everyday politics.

Patron-client Relations and Factions

Mary Hollnsteiner, while trying to make sense of elections and related political events in a municipality in Luzon province, came to focus on family, kinship, and patron-client relations, which were the elements in rival factions and cliques.(1) Carl Lande, while trying to figure out the political party system in the Philippines, arrived at the same relationships within Philippine society:

. . . the Philippine polity . . . is structured less by organized interest groups or by individuals who in politics think of themselves as members of categories, i.e., of distinctive social classes or occupations, than by a network of mutual aid relationships between pairs of individuals ("dyadic" ties . . .). To a large extent the dyadic ties with significance for Philippine politics are vertical ones, i.e., bonds between prosperous patrons and their poor and dependent clients.(2)

Patron-client relations, kinship networks, other personal followings, then, are basic units within political activity and organizations. They, in turn, compose "factions", the other important building block in political organizations, beginning at the local level. Typically, a local faction

. . . is a loose combination of a number of . . . family constellations with a rather large and prosperous family constellation at its core and smaller or less prosperous ones at its periphery. Within each family constellation a strong web of kinship ties binds related families together into a cohesive group. …

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