Notes for the next revolution
I will be presenting this paper at Dynamics of Change and Continuity in Philippine Political Economy: Martial Law and the Marcos Restoration on 24 February 2023.
Energy industry reform was one of the defining features of the Edsa Republic’s political economy. It involved the largest privatizations, the largest flows of fresh investment, and the most profitable arms of the largest Philippine conglomerates. As a marquee policy, it also offered a way for successive post-Marcos administrations to signal their commitment to their creditors, repudiate the state-directed orthodoxy of 20th century development thinking, and experiment with a doctrinaire form of neoliberalism.
Yet market rule broke many of its promises. Monopolization, high prices, and supply shortfalls remain, or have deepened. In abandoning grand, strategic public investment, and in prioritizing investor sentiment and creditworthiness over the quality and price of a modernizing good, energy industry reform saw neoliberalism at the household level, and likely contributed to nostalgia for the megaproject-focused approach last seen under the Bagong Lipunan.
This paper articulates a refusal against both the neoliberalization of energy under the Edsa Republic, and the surrender to “political will”, with its attendant risk of crony capitalism and authoritarianism, pushed by the Philippines’ new strongmen. I argue that electrification uniquely offers embedded lessons for disentangling public investment and commons formation from authoritarianism, debt traps, and development aggression. By listening to the expertise that had been cultivated within Napocor in the late 20th century, and in electric cooperatives in the early 21st, and by anticipating energy transitions and crises in the medium-term future, I aim to recuperate a latent developmentalism within the Philippine energy industry as a reservoir of possibility for the next revolution. I pay specific attention to efficiencies that cannot be discovered and/or distorted by the market, and to forms of resistance to centralized power that inhere within the Philippine energy landscape.