February 2007
Local Bosses

Mob mentality

MOB as in the Mafia, that is. And from the looks of it, that is what’s prevailing in several cities and towns across our archipelago.

More than a decade ago, the PCIJ and the Institute for Popular Democracy published a book that took a long look at local politics just a few years after devolution. It offered five case studies of “bossism,” or that peculiar Philippine political animal that uses Mafioso tactics to carry out the plans of a local official that may include Mafioso-like operations such as jueteng. It observed that with devolution transforming local governments into “independent power centers,” local office had become even more enticing for anyone dreaming of wealth and having formidable clout.

As our just ended series showed, devolution has enabled some local leaders to craft and implement development plans that match the needs of their constituents. Our series this month, however, will explore how the same freedom made possible by devolution has been used by other politicians to entrench themselves in power and indulge in activities that may be beneficial to a few (including themselves) but debilitating to majority of their constituents.

Of course, warlords and gambling lords have long been part of Philippine local politics — although jueteng lords used to be just the financiers of politicians, and would rarely run for political office themselves. But in the brief shining moment that was Edsa I — whose 21st anniversary is coming up in two weeks — there had been hope that the era of strongmen had ended, both in the national and local levels. It didn’t take long, however, before the local bosses were back. For sure many of them had names different from those of the pre-1986 local lords. But their swagger was as arrogant as the bosses of before, as were their main interests: money and power, which they were determined to keep at all costs.

No politician will admit being a local boss, and it can even be that some local lords really do not consider themselves as such. The farthest most would go in describing themselves perhaps is that they are tough administrators. But it’s one thing to be tough, and another thing to be a bully. The latter has an added element of meanness, as well as a bloated sense of self.

In the coming weeks, we will be presenting political personalities who are at the very least perceived as being strong-willed, as well as the places over which they reign. Some of these personalities have been around for sometime now and have acquired images and reputations that are larger than life. You decide which ones are merely tough, and which ones merit the title of “boss.”