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.
It is many times larger than the average Manila home. Perched above Manila’s hypertensive roads, it gets better breeze, sunlight, and sight lines than the average Manila home; its floodlights consume more power than several average Manila homes.
The visuals of the average Manila billboard are also larger than the average Manila life—especially when they peddle condominiums, those new average Manila homes for the 21st century. They feature models with impossibly white, impossibly smooth skins, living impossibly carefree lives of minutes-away convenience from the best that the city can offer, all under impossibly blue skies.
From a messaging point of view, the average Manila billboard needs to be larger than life. It must, after all, be heard above the jostle of shoulders, the knots in our backs, and the blare of last night’s death toll—all before we heave and lurch our way onto the next billboard.
It then needs to tell, within the limits set by 216 square meters, convincing lies: small lies, about the life of grandeur possible within an eighteen square-meter unit, about how the baked air takes your breath away, or about the mysterious dues and fees that await.
Critical urban scholarship has an unstated canon. The core concepts of this canon had been developed in response to North/Western experiences by North/Western experts, have been circulated and universalized through knowledge practices with roots in Empire, and now exert a distortive influence on scholarship from and on, the global South.
In this paper I propose an epistemic sense of “countermapping”: naming the ways mundane practices of critical urban scholarship reinscribe the cartographic practices of Empire, and showing how key features of present landscapes of class power and dispossession may be better described by explicitly Southern modes of knowing.
Enclosed and deliberately-idled land is a persistent feature of urban Philippine landscapes. These are dispossessions: their presence means land is withdrawn from beneficial use, and they contribute to artificially-high land prices.
What kinds of places do contemporary mobilities of capital and labour create, and what kinds of place-specific capitalisms do they enable? This chapter addresses this question through an examination of the restructuring and rise of the largest Philippine-nationality conglomerates (PNCs) from 2001 to 2015, a period which saw the emergence of property development businesses as a core interest among these companies. It situates this development within two place- and period-specific sets of labour and capital mobilities: the continued growth of the overseas Filipino workforce and their inbound remittances; and the emergence of a foreign direct investment-driven, information technology-enabled business process offshoring industry in the country’s major urban centres, and a concomitant strengthening of domestic rural-urban migration flows. While PNCs had played only minor and indirect roles in facilitating these two developments, they have been the primary beneficiaries of demand for residential, office, and retail property which these movements of labour and capital have created.