Of Strongmen and the State (Abstract)

Caroline S. Hau


John T. Sidel
Capital, Coercion, and Crime: Bossism in the Philippines
Stanford, U.S.A. / Stanford University Press / 1999

Patricio N. Abinales
Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine Nation-State
Quezon City, Philippines / Ateneo de Manila University Press / 2000

This essay reviews two recent examples of scholarship on “strongman politics” in the Philippines. These books take issue with academic and popular acceptance of the explanatory power of “traditional” patron-client relations (Sidel) and identity politics (Abinales) in shaping the Philippine political landscape. Sidel uses the concept of “bossism” and Abinales the concept of “strongmen” to re-analyze the link between “state” and “society,” underscoring the legacies of the historical process of American colonial state formation. For these scholars, state-formation did not develop separately from the rise of strongmen, but laid the groundwork for the emergence and consolidation of strongman power. Furthermore, because both draw their case studies from outside the capital city of Manila, they explore the complex relations between the local and the national, thereby illuminating the web of power relations that define politicking and representation.

But these works diverge crucially on the question of strongmen’s relationship to their constituents and their use of “coercive pressures” (in the form of violence and electoral fraud). Abinales sees the blurring between the official and the personal as a form of governance itself, where Sidel sees a predatory state that is a creature of predatory bosses who are part of a complex network of bosses. Such divergence in interpretation brings sharply into focus the following issues: What kind of responses are possible for Filipino strongmen and the rest of the population? To what extent does scholarship itself impose limits on understanding the complex nature of political power in post-colonial Philippines?

Caroline S. Hau
Caroline S. Hau is Associate Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University.

Read the full unabridged article HERE

Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. Issue 1 (March 2002). Power and Politics