The scourge of bureaucrat capitalism

in Editorial

Through the years, the Filipino people complained of and protested against corruption in government. Every administration, without doubt and without exception, has been weighed down by corruption cases from the lowest to the highest level of public office. The only difference is in the amount of wealth and power amassed by those in position.

Corruption and bureaucrat capitalism is commonly understood as one, though the latter is more than that. Bureaucrat capitalism is the use of high public office to enrich oneself. In a way, it is a form of capitalism—with high public officials using their power and control of the government bureaucracy and enterprises, access to public funds, and the use of the country’s resources as capital.

The big compradors in public office—the highest and most powerful bureaucrat capitalists in Philippine society—include the president and some cabinet members. These high public officials collaborate with their cronies—family and friends—in the private sector or those called big compradors. They form or become part of the ruling clique, with the President emerging as the chief among all (see article Duterte: The worst ever).

In his lecture on the “Basic Problems of Filipino People” Prof. Jose Maria Sison explained, “They (families and cronies) personally benefit from the grant of concessions to exploiters of natural resources in the public domain, alienation of public land, franchises for the operation of public utilities, contracts in infrastructure building and related speculation in real estate, purchase contracts of the government, loans from state banks and insurance systems, endless perks and privileges through multiple positions and directorships in fund-rich government corporations.”

Prof. Jose Maria Sison corrected the notion that former dictator Ferdinand Marcos used his political power to industrialize the country. On the contrary, Prof. Sison explained, “all the enterprises that he (Marcos) and his cronies grabbed or built were big comprador enterprises dependent on imported equipment, construction materials, components and consumer manufactures as well as agricultural production and mining for export.”

Changing the president and the people around him does not end corruption and bureaucrat capitalism. Bureaucrat capitalism persisted even after the 1986 people power uprising, nor will it end with Duterte. Bureaucrat capitalism is undoubtedly one of the three basic problems in Philippine society, explicitly tied to feudalism and imperialism. The reality is that bureaucrat capitalism is so ingrained in the rotten system of semicolonial and semifeudal Philippines that no less than a people’s revolution could bring it down and effect real change in society.

Historical roots

Historically and currently bureaucrat capitalism has become a scourge of the Filipino people.

When the Philippines was still a colony of the US it needed reliable allies to advance its interests in the country. So bureaucrat capitalism is practically a handiwork of imperialist US. It found them among the principalia (local elite) of the old Spanish rule. The US colonial government made them pensionados while being “trained on governance” to lead the neo-colonial State. The US was then preparing to grant bogus independence to the Philippines and needed loyal docile puppets of the US. In exchange, the US showered them with favours, such as loans to the reactionary government and investments. It also trained and enhanced the arms and equipment of the reactionary armed forces and assured the reigning regime of support for as long as it was not a liability to the US.

What arose was a bureaucracy represented by big bourgeois compradors and landlords. They managed to rise to power through bogus electoral exercises where money, goons, guns, and influence by the US were decisive.

Obviously, up until today the government is run like a personal business enterprise. They use the machinery and resources of government for their political aggrandizement and economic interests. They extend the benefit to their relatives and friends under their political patronage. All these are at the expense of the people, who dutifully pay their taxes and other exactions for licenses/permits, services, etc.

Corruption and plunder

Graft, corruption, and plunder are among the obvious features of bureaucrat capitalism, swallowing up the whole government bureaucracy. Bribery is a norm. For every law, executive order or decision, including those of the courts, big sums of money lead to the pockets of corrupt officials. Allotting a large percentage of funds for public works for corruption is considered SOP (standard operating procedure). Many of these SOP are established part of the bureaucracy and strengthened by law.

Political patronage is very much ingrained, especially in public works projects. Relatives and friends of government officials bag hefty projects for considerable profit. Corrupt bureaucrats enact laws and implement projects and programs for the benefit of their crony-bourgeois compradors/landlords. These include land reform laws and building of roads, seaports, airports, dams and bridges. These cronies enjoy and served as dummies of bureaucrats for mining concessions and business corporations. They also corner huge public lands that they turn into subdivisions, condominiums and malls.

Lawmakers appropriate for themselves huge amount of funds from the government budget, for example the Priority Development and Assistance Fund (PDAF), a discretionary fund no different from the old “pork barrel.” They just keep on changing its name to deodorize it and deceive the people. The revelation by a whistle blower of the Janet Lim Napoles’ ghost projects funded by the PDAF and the list of legislators who shared from the loot had opened a stinking “pandora’s box”. This disgraceful and contemptible plunder of billions of pesos of the people’s money had exposed Congress and outraged a nation. Yet, years after, the plunderers went “scot-free” and even ran for public office again.

Bureaucrat capitalists also gain from government debts, dollar allocation, price control, import-export control, illegal entries and naturalization of foreign nationals, concessions in mines, ranches, timberland, stock market manipulation, disaster relief and rehabilitation funds. They engage in money laundering and stash their loot in Swiss or other foreign banks.

These bureaucrats are leeches who suck out the lifeblood of even the poorest and marginalized sectors of society. They grab the land from settlers, as well as the ancestral domain of indigenous people, through manipulation of registry and titles.

Under the current system in the Philippines, graft and corruption will persist.

Prof. Sison elaborated, “(the) acts of graft and corruption involving the violation or circumvention of the law or even the legalization of what is illegal and immoral can be restrained to some extent and within a certain period by criticisms from the opposition party that has loyalty to the ruling system and expects to take its own turn at engaging in graft and corruption. But very often, the competing factions of government officials can compromise among themselves and take their shares of the bureaucratic loot at the expense of the people. Even the biggest plunderers already convicted and in prison know how to pay for their freedom and proceed to gain more power and wealth.”

Involvement in criminal activities

Still, with insatiable greed, bureaucrat capitalists engage in illegal and criminal activities such as smuggling, drug trade, gambling, kidnapping for ransom, bank robbery, prostitution, gun-for-hire, etc., in collusion with criminal syndicates, drug lords and gambling operators. They are either directly involved or served as protectors of these criminal activities, the proceeds from which, glut their coffers to the brim as these are one of the biggest sources of their income. In fact they are accountable for the proliferation of criminality and anti-social activities as well as the spread of immorality in the country.


Puppetry and treachery

As puppets of the US, bureaucrat capitalists have served their masters well. Unequal and oppressive agreements and treaties, such as the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) were like prize trophies. These agreements give the imperialist US the right to continue its control and exploitation of the Filipino people.

In addition there are also grant of incentives and privileges, mining concessions, and land use for plantations. Economic zones for foreign business enterprises are allowed to take advantage of cheap Filipino labor. This is apart from existing oppressive labor laws—contractualization of labor and restrictions to union organizing and strike—as incentive to both foreign and big bourgeois compradors’ businesses. Adherence to the imperialist neoliberal policies of liberalization (retail, finance, etc.), privatization (strategic utilities such as water and power) and deregulation (especially of the oil industry) practically and permanently nailed the people on the cross. Prices of commodities and services skyrocketed and local investors lost their business or opportunities.

Apart from the US, another imperialist master is being served. National patrimony is also being surrendered to China. Government’s inaction is as clear as day on China’s encroachment in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). This despite the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in favour of the Philippines’s claim to WPS as a Philippine Economic Zone and that China has no historical rights to it.


“Bureaucrat capitalism is the basis of local fascism,” stated Prof. Sison.

“More than any other section of the capitalist class they (bureaucrat capitalists) are in the best position to take initiative in acquiring despotic powers in fascist dictatorship in order to protect the wealth that they have already accumulated and to increase it further through the exercise of said powers,” he expounded.

Employing the dual tactics of terror and deception is a means to hold on to power and reinforce their rule.

Bureaucrat capitalists make use of the fraud election process to show a semblance of democracy as well as to earn legitimacy for their rule.

Likewise, by controlling the education system and the dominant mass media, they spread erroneous ideas about freedom, human rights, development and good life. They advance the idea that change emanates from within, with the person’s discipline and lofty ambitions, such that self-love is foremost. They divorce the individual from society. Marcos the dictator, during his time, even popularized the call “revolution is in the heart.” Bureaucrat capitalists impress the ideas of subservience and veneration to the ruling class and its imperialist masters. On the other hand, they continue to disparage the revolutionary movement and keep the people away from the revolutionary path.

To conceal their dubious intent, bureaucrat capitalists deluge the people with reformist ideas such as profit sharing, federalism, charter change, human security. They would appropriate public service projects in their names, e.g. Malasakit Centers that are well-funded while public hospitals and health centers have inadequate medicines and facilities and far-flung barrios completely neglected of, even just, primary health care.

However, when challenged, bureaucract capitalists resort to fascism in all its brutal forms as the masses dissent, act and advance their own struggles. This is the ultimate defense to shield themselves and their imperialist benefactors, their power and wealth, from the people’s wrath. In so doing, they bolster the repressive instruments of the reactionary State (the military army, the police, courts, jails and laws) to wield them against their adversaries.

For its part, the US beefs up the capacity of the reactionary army and police through training, provision of arms and equipment, and use of drones for surveillance and attacks. Likewise, the Philippine military operational plans are patterned after the US Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Guide. It is not surprising how assiduously the police would protect the US Embassy, and how violent and vicious were the dispersal of peaceful demonstrations and rallies held there.

The reactionary government turns rabid when the dissent is growing and the people’s revolution is advancing. It unleashes its most violent and brutal attacks not only on the Red fighters but also on progressives, activists, as well as innocent civilians. It passes laws or uses and twists existing ones to carry out, with impunity, raids, arrests, harassments, intimidation and extrajudicial killings.

Fascism is not a sign of the reactionary government’s strength. It is a manifestation of its weakening power and waning hope. Fascism intensifies in a desperate bid to stem the masses’ unrest and the surge of the people’s democratic revolution.

The bureaucrat capitalists have never learned their lesson. The people united will never be defeated. Ultimately, bureaucrat capitalism shall be swept in the tide of the people’s revolutionary fervor as the reactionary state is overthrown and the people’s democratic government shall rise in its stead. ###

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On April 24, 2023, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)
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