By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter
Some are Smarter than Others
By Ricardo Manapat
Published by the Ateneo de
Manila University Press
I FIRST read Some are Smarter than Others, a book detailing the excesses of the Marcos Regime, as a freshman in an “elite” private university. It was out of print then, and the only copies to be had were in university libraries, at a few hundred dollars on Amazon, or a very battered copy at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ gift shop. Now with an annotated reissue, it will serve me now, as it did then, as an anti-Social Register. The last names in that book either directly assisted or collaborated with the plunder of the country, and were now sitting next to me in class. These are the last names I had to avoid. In the same classroom, there would be girls from indigent families who just so happened to be smart enough to be granted scholarships, while another set were there because, well, their parents and grandparents were “smarter than others.”
The book is in five parts: The Worship of Baal (a look at the wealth amassed by the Marcos Family), The Development of Crony Capitalism, The Relatives and the Cronies, The Overseas Empire (how the Marcos Family bought properties abroad through shell corporations managed by the individuals and families in Chapter Three), and finally, In Lieu of a Conclusion, written by its author Ricardo Manapat in the post-Marcos years.
You see, the story has always been told in fragments. Its first incarnation was a 48-page pamphlet in 1979 called The Octopus, written by Mr. Manapat who was an activist. Over 2,000 copies were made, photocopied day in and day out in an apartment, and disseminated by hand in offices and universities. Then, as now, it detailed the excesses of the Marcos family and their associates using receipts and documentary evidence. Mr. Manapat had to flee to the United States the following year due to threats to his life. His sister, in a webinar to launch the reissue of the book, recalled that even in the US, her brother was hounded by government forces, accusing him of terrorist activity via the April 6 Liberation Movement.
The webinar, “Oligarchy Then and Now: Manapat’s Some are Smarter than Others Reissued,” was organized by the Ateneo de Manila University Press and the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government, through the Ateneo Policy Center, and was held on Aug. 14. The speakers and reactors at the webinar, held over Zoom and available on YouTube, were Ms. Manapat; Calixto V. Chikiamco from the Foundation for Economic Freedom; Dr. Julio Teehankee from the Department of International Studies, De La Salle University; Dr. Paul D. Hutchcroft from the Department of Political Science and Social Change, Australian National University; Dr. Lisandro E. Claudio from the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley; and J.R. Gomez and Kara Angan, youth leaders from Ateneo de zamboanga University and Ateneo de Manila University, respectively.
Mr. Manapat returned to the Philippines from exile, publishing a longer book, no longer a pamphlet, in 1991, and was later appointed Director of the Records Management and Archives Office of the Philippines by President Fidel V. Ramos. He died in 2008.
The book’s title supposedly comes from a quote from Ferdinand Marcos’ wife, former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Responding to a question about her family’s meteoric rise to the top of society (despite being a poorer relation of the politically influential Romualdez family), she is said to have answered: “Sometimes you have smart relatives who can make it… My dear, there are always people who are just a little faster, more brilliant, more aggressive.” This quote was paraphrased by Mr. Manapat as the book’s title. It sounds almost like a shrug, a lazy response by the powers-that-be as to why they got to be there, and why everything moves this way.
The contents of the book explained why some lovely young ladies and gentlemen bristled during Political Science classes during my college years. As Honore de Balzac said, later popularized by Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: “Behind every great fortune, lies a great crime.” The book doesn’t just incriminate the Marcos family, but serves as an indictment of the upper class itself, which arguably, created the Marcos family’s rule.
There’s a funny story in Chapter 1, about the contents of the mansion Imee Marcos occupied before dropping out of Princeton: very expensive books had been relatively untouched, but a racy card game had seen some use. There’s an appendix including the jewels confiscated from Mrs. Marcos, and diagrams detailing the Manhattan skyscrapers the Marcoses owned. But then, the very next chapter details the movements of the pre-Marcos elite, just a degree lower than Mrs. Marcos’ own spending sprees. Mr. Manapat argues in the book: “Marcos’ corruption was not an aberration from the normal political traditions of the Philippines but was merely the best developed example of that tradition.”
Mr. Manapat, using archival evidence, goes back to the Spanish Occupation, the immediate postcolonial period, and the aftermath of World War II to find evidence of deep-seated roots of corruption. During the webinar marking the book launch, political economist Mr. Chikiamco even blamed what he calls the rise of the “rent-seeking oligarchs” (rent-seeking here defined as economic activities that bring income to an individual, but not to society in general) pre- and post-Marcos on the Bell Trade Act of 1946. More importantly, the book’s final chapter details a list of incompetencies and shortcomings by the Aquino government in relation to its failure to recover the wealth of the Marcos family, as well as other missteps by the Aquino government.
Incidentally, Mrs. Aquino’s maiden name, Cojuangco, appears in the book due to her cousin, the late Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco (whose dealings and association with the Marcos government are detailed in the book) but also because of her family’s extensive holdings. Mr. Chikiamko argues against Mr. Manapat’s own quote, “Is the fault in human nature?” when he confronts the persistence of corruption after the Marcos Years. Mr. Chikiamko said, “The fault lies not in ourselves, but in our history. We are just path-dependent. We are the creatures of our past.”
It’s been years since I graduated from college. The last names that were in that book are still very much out and about, in the galas and dinners I have to attend. I give them air kisses now, because I can argue with myself that their last names were in that book not through a fault of their own, but through those of their grandparents (or parents). Still, it doesn’t erase the fact that the Philippines isn’t in any better shape after all that. Mr. Chikiamko gave a reason for the continued suffering of the Philippines: “The rent-seeking system persists.” In the webinar, he detailed the country’s inward-looking economy, a protectionist constitution, the lowest percentage of exports to GDP, an oligarchy present in “mainly regulated service industries such as power, telecommunications, shipping, ports, and in other non-tradeables where their interest is in regulatory capture.” He spoke about the continuing dominance of monopolies, and continuing rural poverty, despite land reform. “In the political sphere, we only have formal democracy, but political institutions are controlled by political dynasties.”
The descendants of the ladies and gentlemen whose last names were in that book weren’t necessarily bad people. I’ve been to gatherings where avowed activists have to kiss a sister-in-law, a daughter of one the last names in Some are Smarter than Others. Still: with how business is run in the country, in the same way that a good person can come from a bad family, is there such a thing as a good oligarch? Dr. Julio C. Teehankee from the Department of International Studies, of the De La Salle University said at the webinar, “It’s not a question of good or bad political families. It’s always a question of good or bad systems. A system that allows for the monopolization of political power in the hands of a few families for centuries is actually a bad system. It’s all about building [good] public institutions.”
He ended: “Walang magsasalba sa ating sarili kung hindi tayo rin. Ang solusyon ay nasa kamay ng taumbayan; ito ay nasa kapangyarihan ng sambayanang Pilipino (No one will save us except for ourselves. The solution is in the hands of our people; it is within the power of the Filipino people.”
Some are Smarter than Others is available for P790 in physical and e-formats on the Ateneo University Press website (ateneo.edu/ateneopress/), Shopee, and Lazada. The webinar for the book’s launch is also available on Youtube: https://youtu.be/xooYMF8pC5A.