Notes for

The Power Elite Model:

Urban Development in Thailand and the Philippines



Basic geography of Thailand

Early history

Constitutional monarchy

Thailand’s new “power elite”

Impact on urban development

Bangkok data

Chiang Mai data

Case studies of Bangkok

Early history of the Philippines

US influence

Patron-client relations in the post-war period

Comparisons with Thailand

Effect on urban development

Sources of information

Return to home page


The inter-tribal rivalry model was used in association with Indonesia and Malaysia to illustrate the following pattern of urban development:

v      Urban development in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur was dominated by the respective central governments, but the remaining cities in Indonesia and Malaysia continue to retain a strong regional identity and have resisted central government dominance.

v      The two capital cities are undisputed political and commercial centres, but they lack the cultural legacy that is generally associated with a “primate city”. 

v      Recent development of the capital cities shows evidence of the “constellation configuration” in the formation of satellite cities surrounding the capitals, but this has not yet become apparent with other cities in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The relatively stronger resistance to centralisation, and the resulting regional identity, was traced to the traditional kampong-based social structure and to the early forms of rivalry that arose from trading activities in the coastal regions.

The traditional social structure has also contributed to a greater degree of neighbourhood identity and local-area cohesion in the urban areas, compared to capital cities with different cultural influences.

The power elite model reflects rivalry within the social structure, rather than among or between such structures.  This often gives rise to patron-client relationships that influence the state apparatus and therefore influence urban development. 

An important contrasting feature of the new model is the tendency to use patron-client relations to secure personal gain or “booty” from the public sector.  These relations can be formed in a variety of ways, and they are different in Thailand as compared to the Philippines. 

The development of the “power elite” is therefore treated separately for the two case studies, but in both cases it represents a different form of centralisation in urban development compared to the other models that were examined.

Basic geography
of Thailand:

Area: 513,115 square kilometres.  This is to equivalent to 720 kilometres x 720 kilometres, but the dimensions are rather extreme with 1,770 kilometres from north to south and about 800 kilometres from east to west.

Cities: The capital is Bangkok with a population of about 10 million.  Other cities are:

v      Nakhon Ratchasima (2.5 million), which is 250 kilometres northeast of Bangkok on the western edge of the Khorat Plateau;

v      Chiang Mai (1.6 million) in the northwestern part; and

v      Songkla (1.2 million), on the Malay Peninsula.

Terrain: Densely populated central plain; northeastern plateau; mountain range in the west; southern isthmus joins the landmass with Malaysia.

Climate: Tropical monsoon.

Thailand occupies an important part of the Indochina peninsula, with the northern portion close to southern China. 

A series of parallel ranges, with a north-south trend, are located in the northern and western portions of the country.  Extreme elevations occur in the western ranges, which extend along the border with Myanmar.

Another mountain system exists in central Thailand and also has a north-south alignment.  At its southern extremity, this system has an east-west trend and extends to the eastern border.

Between the central and western mountains is a large alluvial plan that is traversed by the Chao Praya River, the main river in Thailand.  This central plain, together with the fertile delta formed by the Chao Phraya near Bangkok, is the richest agricultural land and the most densely populated section of the kingdom.

Early history:

Evidence exists of communities in Thailand using wet rice cultivation and bronze implements in about 4000 BC.  The current belief is that these early people consisted of Austronesians, Mons and Khmers and were probably influenced by the Chinese.

Migrations from southern China to Southeast Asia may have occurred in the 6th and 7th centuries and probably came by way of the Black River Valley in the northern Viet Nam and the northeastern part of the People’s Republic of Lao.  Migration from southern China definitely occurred in the 11th century. 

The latter migration brought a more definite link with the Chinese and the mixture of these migrants with the earlier settlers, particularly in the rice-growing regions, created what is known now as the Thais.  The Thai language is closer to Chinese than to the other ethnic groups, with elements of Cantonese and Hakka and some Tibeto-Burman influence.

Similarity in language is generally regarded as convincing evidence of ethnic ties.  The migration of people into and around relatively open areas, such as the Indochina peninsula, is typically complex and difficult to unravel when based upon evidence other than language.

The Indochina peninsula was not consolidated into an empire (or unified civilisation) until the early part of the 9th century when the Khmers occupied Cambodia.  Thailand subsequently became part of that empire.  In 1177, Angkor Wat, the centre of the Khmer Empire, fell to the northern Vietnamese and the region became more fragmented.

Thais date the founding of their nation to the 13th century.  According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai, which is in the central region between two mountain ranges.  The chieftains created a new Thai alphabet, which became the basis for the modern Thai language. 

This was a relatively localised kingdom, situated in the northern part of the alluvial plain, and was absorbed in 1350 by the kingdom of Ayutthaya, which was centred at the city, bearing that name, along the Chao Praya River north of present-day Bangkok.   

This kingdom established the first dynasty in Thailand that lasted from 1350 to 1767, ending with destruction of the capital by the Burmese.  The 400-year rule firmly established Buddhism as the national religion and a legal code based upon Hinduism and traditional customs.

The Burmese overlords were overthrown by a Thai general who proclaimed himself king.  He was subsequently executed by his ministers and the crown passed to General Pya Chakri, founder of the present dynasty of Thai kings, who ruled from 1782 to 1809 as Rama I.  A new capital on the present site of Bangkok was built during his reign.

The social organisation during the period had elements of feudalism.  The king was an absolute monarch but depended for support upon a relatively strong group of noblemen whose rights and privileges were granted by the king on a customary basis, rather than through a code of law.

There was apparently little or no formal social stratification below the nobility, apart from the status given to members of the king’s entourage.  The overall society was bound together through obedience to the king and through the natural moral law that is associated with Buddhism. 

Portuguese arrived in the 16th century.  The Siamese Empire (which was the name applied until 1938) included Laos and Cambodia at that time.

The British and the French established a presence in the 19th century, but Thailand remained free of European domination, partly through well-developed diplomatic skills and partly through a modernising program initiated by King Mongkuk (Rama IV) who reigned from 1851 to 1868.

Thailand nevertheless lost land as a result of European incursion.  The French forced King Chulalongkorn to give up Cambodia and all of Laos east of the Mekong River; and Great Britain acquired four states on the Malay Peninsula.

In addition, the Europeans changed the economic system from production for use to production for exchange.  A continuing debate among scholars focuses on whether the European colonial system was the major force for this change, or whether a significant portion of the Thai aristocracy anticipated the colonial interests and formed patron-client relations with a view to achieving personal gain.

It is nevertheless agreed that commercial activities began to flourish through the patronage of the Thai elite, and these activities occurred almost exclusively in Bangkok. 

Constitutional monarchy:

Thailand’s modern history is characterised by a substantial amount of political instability and this was generally associated with rapidly changing alliances and political intrigue. 

In 1932, a military and political coup transformed the Government of Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.  King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) initially accepted this change but later surrendered the kingship to his 10-year old nephew. 

The two people who were leaders of the resurgents were Pridi, a statesman, and Phibun, a colonel in the Thai military.  Phibun became the first prime minister and Pridi held various cabinet posts. 

During World War II, the Phibun government negotiated with France for a return of part of the land that was ceded in and after 1893.  Japan acted as mediator and relatively close relations between Japan and Thailand developed when the negotiations were successful.  A right of passage was granted to Japan for troops to be sent into Burma.

Thailand declared war on the US and Great Britain in 1942.  However, Pridi resigned in protest and formed a new party that won the election in 1944.  He became prime minister in 1946, but was forced to resign when King Ananda was assassinated in 1947.  There was no evidence linking Pridi to the death but he was nevertheless forced to flee to China.

Phibun regained power in 1948 and ruled in a dictatorial way until 1957.  Territory gained during World War II was returned to France and Great Britain.

In September 1957, Phibun's government was overthrown by a military coup led by Marshall Sarit Thanarat, commander in chief of the Thai armed forces.  A coalition government was formed in January 1958 under the premiership of Lieutenant General Thanom Kittikachorn.

Another coup in October 1958, again headed by Sarit, overthrew the Thanom government.  The constitution was suspended, a state of martial law was proclaimed, and all political parties were banned.  Thanom again became prime minister after Sarit’s death in 1963.

Elections at the municipal level were held for the first time in a decade in 1969, but a military government continued at the national level until student-led demonstrations resulted in the resignation of General Thanon in 1973 and a civilian government was appointed.

New elections were held in 1976, but later that year General Thanon returned from exile in Singapore and civil disturbances broke out.  This time an admiral gained control and installed a conservative government, only to remove it a year later. 

A military government remained in power until General Prem was elected in 1983, followed by Chatichai in 1988.  A military junta removed Chatichai in 1991, and installed an interim civilian government headed by Anand. 

Pro-military parties won the election with a former army commander Suchinda as prime minister, but this produced demonstrations calling for democratic reforms.  Anand was made the interim prime minister and new elections in September 1992 resulted in another coalition government with Chuan Leekpai as prime minister.   Democratic reforms followed. 

Chuan’s government collapsed in May 1995, and Banharn, leader of the Chart Thai Party became prime minister.  Less than a year later, the Banharn government faced accusations of corruption and Chavalit, another former general, formed a coalition government.  His inability to cope with the East Asian financial crisis brought the government down, with Chuan returning.

On 6 January 2001, billionaire politician Thaksin Shinawatra became prime minister when his two-year-old Thai Rak Thai Party won a landslide victory in the general election.  It was the first time in Thailand's history that a party had secured over 50 per cent of the seats in parliament. 

Political stability is not easily achieved, however.  Thaksin enlarged his majority by forming a coalition with the Chart Thai Party and the New Aspiration Party, putting Chavalit in as Deputy Prime Minister.  Chavalit is expected to retire from Parliament later this year and it is not yet certain who will replace him.

Thailand’s new
“power elite”::

Thailand’s political intrigue since 1932 had important implications for the role of the state in economic development and therefore on urban development.

Military-bureaucratic elite

From 1932 to the late 1950s, political and bureaucratic powers were fused.  This arose from the role of the military in establishing the constitutional monarchy and the role that military personnel played in the bureaucracy.

As a result, business had little or no direct influence or political leverage on government.  Elected officials either came from the military or had military connections.  Similarly, military personnel held key positions in the bureaucracy, intending, in many cases, to gain experience for subsequent cabinet appointments.

State institutions in Thailand at that time existed mainly for business interests, but those interests were subject to approval of the military-bureaucratic elite.  The progeny of the older Thai aristocracy became more diffused since the early part of the 20th century and did not represent an identifiable social class.

Client-patron relationship

When Marshall Sarit took over in 1957, economic growth was slower in Thailand than it was in neighbouring countries.  This was attributed largely to the unwillingness or inability of the military-bureaucracy to introduce policy changes.

Sarit reduced the influence of the military-bureaucracy by concentrating power in a smaller number of key advisors, referred to as technocrats.  Their main task was to hasten economic growth and for this they needed the cooperation of the business community.

The technocrats consulted with business interests and effectively treated them as clients (rather than as subjects).  The technocrats were the patrons.

Less stable government-business cooperation

A characteristic of a centralised patron-client network is that it remains stable by being exclusive.  This stability contributes to expediency in decision-making, but eventually impedes progress by fostering the interests only of those within the exclusive group.

The patron-client networks that emerged with Marshal Sarit therefore contributed more to economic development in the early stages of their formation, but did not succeed in maintaining that contribution over a long period.

After Sarit’s death in 1963, the patronage gradually shifted to members of parliament and more specifically to the elected leaders of Thailand’s political parties.  It was due mainly to the desire for greater influence by business interests that were excluded from the networks created by Sarit.

Political parties in Thailand centre on one individual – the party leader.  Disagreements within the party elite generally result in a breakaway group that forms a new party.  Business interests established alliances with those leaders, or with party members who had ambitions of becoming a leader.  It was essentially a picking-the-future-winners task.

Influence of the business community in government peaked with Chatichai, though Prem is credited with laying the foundation for this arrangement.  When that influence was considered to be excessive by the military, they stepped in and took over.

With Anand and Chuan, who were considered to be statesmen rather than wheeling-and-dealing politicians, the influence of the business community was reduced, but may be returning now with Thaksin as prime minister.

Impact on urban development:

Various stands of Thailand’s social and cultural history blend together to create a city that is one of the most fully “primate cities” of the world.  To summarise these strands:

First, since 6th century, and perhaps before, Thailand had a highly autocratic structure with generals who became kings by dominating rivals.  To maintain that dominance, it was necessary for the kings to secure continued loyalty from the Thai nobles, with whom opposition could otherwise be mounted.  Since the nobility did not want to forego the possibility of contesting the throne, they would not agree to a legal basis for royal succession.  This arrangement therefore comprised an early form of patron-client relations.

Second, the European influence in the 19th century altered the nature of production in Thailand and hence also altered the major source of wealth.  Patron-client relations were formed between the Thai aristocracy and the European traders. 

Third, the transition to a constitutional monarchy can be attributed to a number of factors, including the personal ambitions of were Pridi and Phibun, as well as the international hegemony that developed in the interwar period.  External patron-client relations were established between Japan and Thailand, but were not durable.

Fourth, during and for a period after the Second World War the state was dominated by a military-bureaucratic elite, who became the “patrons”.  Marshall Sarit changed this in 1957 by creating a group of elite public servants and advisors, referred to as the technocracy.  The patron-client relations evolving from them also became unstable and patronage was transferred to elected members of the Thai Parliament.

Fifth, the lack of tenure among political parties was an indication of the lack of stability in the new form of patron-client relations.  It also conveyed Thailand’s difficulty in establishing an institutional framework through which patronage could be monitored and maintained within acceptable bounds.

The gradual transition in Thailand from the patron-client relations to a partner relationship has become apparent during the past two decades.  The fact that the Thais were more entrenched with the clientelistic form, but began to move away from it as the industrialisation process accelerated could be taken as evidence that the earlier form of “booty capitalism” failed to meet the requirements of a globalised environment.

Nevertheless, the exclusivity associated with patron-client relations is generally sufficient to produce countervailing forces that contribute to instability through efforts to topple those in power.  Within the context of the power elite model, this desire to topple is based mainly on the desire to capture the “booty” away from those who are currently receiving it.

A major outcome of these shifts in patron-client relations is the inability to undertake long-term planning, either in respect of economic development or of urban development.  The shifts also led to a high degree of urban concentration in the Bangkok area, mainly as a result of the dominance of both patrons and clients in that region.  

Each of Thailand's 76 provinces, called changwats, are under the control of a governor appointed by the Ministry of Interior, except Bangkok Metropolis where the governor is elected by popular vote.  District (amphur) officials are also appointed.  Larger towns are governed by elected and appointed officials, and elected heads hold power at local levels.

Bangkok data:

opulation: 5,662,499

snapshot • Bangkok at a glance


overall score (max. 100)



average income US$



education spending per cap /$



unemployment rate %


ratio of house price to incomea



hospital beds per 1000 people



pollution - dust in air (µ/m3)


vehicles per km of city road



criminal cases per 10,000



TV sets per 1,000 people



inflation %


GDP growth $


average class size (primary school)


life expectancy


Av. commute time (min)


phones per 1,000 people


mobiles per 1,000

internet use per 1,000

Chiang Mai data:

Population: 1,448,548

snapshot • Chiang Mai at a glance


overall score (max. 100)



average income US$



education spending per cap /$



unemployment rate %


ratio of house price to incomea



hospital beds per 1000 people



pollution - dust in air (µ/m3)


vehicles per km of city road



criminal cases per 10,000



TV sets per 1,000 people



inflation %


GDP growth $


average class size (primary school)


life expectancy


Av. commute time (min)


phones per 1,000 people


mobiles per 1,000

internet use per 1,000

Case studies of

City studies, as prepared by the Asian Development Bank, have acquired a more or less standard format.


Our objective is to examine this format, comment on it and show how it is reasonably effective in compiling information that is useful for urban planners.


We will also pick up some detailed information about Bangkok.


The principal reference is Jeffry Stubbs and Giles Clarke (eds), Megacity Management in the Asian and Pacific Region, Volume Two: City and Country Case Studies.


Of particular relevance is Nathanon Thavisin and Ksemsan Suwarnarat, "City Study of Bangkok".

Background, trends and conditions

This is partly an "executive summary", giving at a glance the major development problems.

For Bangkok these problems are:

v      traffic congestion primarily caused by uncontrolled growth of private cars, a low ratio of land area to road network and a complex road system that has made it difficult for traffic enforcers;

v      unplanned physical growth that extends commuting distances and contributes to increased traffic volume across the city;

v      backlogs in the provision of infrastructure services that can be traced to the failure of the public sector to cope with the fast pace of private-sector-led development;

v      excessive levels of air and water pollution that have exceeded the natural absorption capacities;

v      environmental and accidental risks due to careless handling of goods, machinery and facilities; and

v      lack of practical guidelines for the authorities to enforce rules and regulations effectively.

It may also be noted that the tendency to establish closely-knit neighbourhoods, as we observed for Kuala Lumpur in particular, did not occur in Bangkok.  This can be traced to a number of factors, one of which is the more complex network of friends, associates and patron-client relations in Thailand that extend well beyond the local neighbourhoods.  As a result, Thais travel within the city to a greater extent.


Bangkok was founded as the nation's capital in 1782 by King Rama I and was referred to as "Krung Thep Maha Nakhon".  The location was selected partly because the bends in the Chao Praya River afforded a pocket of land for the palace and temples.

Much of the early traditions of the royalty involved barges and river travel.  The city is in a low lying and relatively flat area, thus allowing a number of canals to be constructed.

In 1932, after King Rama VII converted the absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, the Thai Administration Act and the Municipal Government Act turned Krung Thep into a province.

In 1972, the National Executive Council amalgamated the Metropolitan City Municipality and Sanitation Administration into the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). 

Beginning in 1985, the governor was elected by popular vote and the governor appoints four deputy governors.  An Assembly of Councillors consists of elected members, with each councillor representing 100,000 residents.

BMA continues to exist but for administrative purposes, a larger region (BMR) includes other nearby cities.  This is mainly for water supply and treatment.

Although the statistics have shown very clearly how Bangkok has grown in size and importance in the past several decades, the growth in the past few years has been even more striking.  The urbanised area of Bangkok in 1974 was more than twice the size of urbanised Bangkok in the early 1960s (the inner core of old Bangkok and Thonburi), when it began to expand in earnest.

By 1984, urbanised Bangkok included the fringes of surrounding provinces.  In the early 1990s, the area within a 40-kilometre radius of Bangkok Metropolis filled up quickly with housing estates, commercial establishments, and recreational areas such as amusement parks and golf courses.

The concept of Bangkok Metropolitan Region (BMR) or Greater Bangkok is fast becoming outdated, and will probably be replaced by the Extended Bangkok Metropolitan Region (EBMR).

Recent growth rates have average about 10 per cent per annum since 1988.

Socio-economic management

Socio-economic pressures on residents include:

v      social conflicts among the traditionalists, the contemporaries and the opportunists;

v      complexity of social interconnections that are greater than in most other cities of a similar size,

v      conflicts between legitimate homes and temporary settlements;

v      disorderly (unstructured) public activities;

v      accidental growth and existence;

v      excessive land values;

v      technology dependent high-rise buildings and high density living;

v      the aggression of motor vehicles, trucks and motorcycles;

v      the destruction of the landscape;

v      the weakness of families, relative to social groups or common-interest groups;

v      apparently senseless and colourless ways of life, as exhibited, for example, through seemingly aimless movements within the city;

v      the increasing proportion of homeless people; and

v      suffering of urban poor.

Environmental management

The biggest environmental problem is air pollution, but solid waste disposal is also pressing.

Water resources

A large amount (about 40 per cent) of catchment water is lost through leaks.

Abduction of groundwater is associated with land subsidence.

Flood control

Tidal flows are a problem, in addition to flooding from rainfall into the river system.

Local area flooding occurs from inadequate drainage in certain low-lying areas of the BMA.

The water authority publishes flood risk maps, but enforcement is not managed well. 

Private developers may not heed the risks.


Pollution of the canals or klongs has been an on-going problem.  A modern sewage plant was initiated in 1990 and with it regulations about connections to the sewerage system were put into effect.

Large buildings are expected to use on-site treatment plants and community plants are being planned.

There is evidence that the authority is making use of the most cost effective methods of wastewater treatment.  This includes on-site aeration tanks that cost about US$100 per person.  The principal disadvantage seems to be the space requirements in an already overpopulated city.

Solid waste management

Solid waste management is becoming a greater problem, due to the increase in the amount of refuse and to the longer distances needed for disposal.  Private sector composting plants have been successful, but there is not enough of them.


The city suffers from the initial construction of buildings along the klongs, many of which were subsequently filled in as streets.  Thus, a complex set of lanes and "soi" exists.

Travel time for pushbikes is known to be substantially less than that for motor vehicles.

The increased distance for many commuters (too far for bikes), the focal point of the city's concentration (the "old" part of the city) and the absence of long-term planning for transport make it a chronic problem.

Many analysts consider this to be Bangkok’s major problem since air pollution is part of the transport problem.

Urban poor

Slums consist of low income housing (dense, small, irregular, owner-built temporary or semi-permanent dwellings) on land that is rented on a short-term basis.

Quality of the services is often low, due partly to the density and partly to the lack of permanency (increasing the risk of non-payment to the supplier of the services).

Half of the low-income housing is within 6.5 km of the CBD.

Between 15 and 20 per cent of the population has lived in slums since 1940.

Eviction and resettlement create new slums.

Existing rural areas frequently become slums as the city incorporates them.

City planning requires a reduction in the area occupied by slums since it could otherwise lead to a deterioration of recently developed areas.

Slums cannot be eliminated in Bangkok (and in other Asian cities) since some residents prefer to minimise the cost of housing even if their income permits better housing.

Land management

Thailand, and Bangkok, has not done well in land management.  There are several reasons for which, including poor coordination among the implementing agencies within government.

Complex land titling, procedures for land subdivision, system of taxes and private sector dominance in land development also contribute.

There are difficulties in government acquisition of land for public uses. 

Land titles are effectively land-use rights giving the holder the capacity to recover the costs of improvements.

Traditionally all land belong to the King.  Thai nobility were given the right to use the land in whatever way they saw fit. 

Once land-use rights were granted, they were rarely revoked.

Peace, simplicity and tranquillity were traditionally prized attributes and the Thai royalty was consistently reluctant to endanger this by upsetting the nobility.

Some of this reluctance is visible today in the Thai Parliament.

The lack of long-term planning in Thailand can be attributed to the relatively short tenure of elected governments.  Although this is changing for municipal governments, largely through an enlarging proportion of middle-class residents, the Ministry of Interior continues to exert influence on municipal affairs.

Since there is no effective control on land use in Bangkok, the development and urbanisation of Bangkok have brought about a haphazard, free-for-all pattern of land use. 

Residential houses are mixed with commercial buildings and factories, all of various shapes and sizes.  Until early 1992, Bangkok did not have an official city plan in operation, so a comprehensive city structure, zoning, building control, public utility layouts, and so on, could not be drawn up.

The municipal government has the power to regulate certain aspects of land use, building construction and zoning, but the system is piecemeal and not well integrated.

Horizontally, the city is spreading along the new roads that are opened up to accommodate the larger urban population and business establishments.  This is sometimes referred to as "ribbon development".

Vertically, high-rise blocks of units and business offices appear rapidly in the inner part of the city without much coordination with basic infrastructure such as frontage access, drainage, and waste management systems.

Government administration

In relation to the management of the extended BMR, The Thai Development Research Institute recommended that a new national-level committee be established and charged with the responsibility of setting policy within the extended BMR and managing it.

This could be an upgraded Bangkok Metropolitan Region Development Committee (BMRDC), which is already in charge of coordinating the urban policy of the BMR.  It was recommended that the Extended BMRDC (or EBMRDC) would be headed by the prime minister, and committee members would consist of high-level officials so that decisions that affect the responsibilities of various government agencies can be effectively implemented.

To be successful, the EBMRDC needs to be assisted by a strong secretariat that has the capability of (a) planning the integrated development of the EBMR; (b) coordinating with various agencies having responsibility for development within the EBMR; and (c) evaluating major infrastructure projects in the EBMR to ensure that they are socio-economically beneficial and are consistent with the desired development directions of the EBMR.

As was noted previously, Thailand has a high degree of centralisation in urban development.  The agglomeration into an EBMR would appear to represent an even greater amount of centralisation.  However, it is also important to remove the Ministry of Interior from supervision and control of local governments in Thailand. 

This control is exerted principally by means of its fiscal authority.  City governments need greater revenue and expenditure autonomy in order to serve the needs of their respective populations. 

The main obstacle seems to be the entrenched attitude of the Ministry of the Interior in trying to hold on to the power to control local governments.  In terms of urban development, this represents another form of patron-client relations that has persisted over a relatively long period of time.

Until there is a genuine change in the autonomy of city governments in Thailand, management of the urban areas will continue to be slow and indecisive.

Early history of
the Philippines:

The first people in the Philippines, referred to as the Negritos, are believed to have come to the islands 30,000 years ago from Borneo and Sumatra.  Land bridges presumably existed at that time.

Subsequently, Austronesians came from the south in successive waves from about 200 BC.  These Malayo-Polynesians settled in scattered communities, which were ruled by chieftains. Tagalog, the most common language within the Philippines (originally from an ethnic group called the Tagalogs) is similar to the official language in Indonesian and Malaysia.

There is evidence of Chinese merchants and traders arriving and settling in the 9th century AD.

The Philippine archipelago was influenced by the Indonesian kingdoms and the southern islands of the Philippines experienced the introduction of Islamic religion in the 14th century.  The Austronesians remained the dominant group until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.

Magellan was the first European to discover the Philippines in 1521 and it became part of the Spanish Conquest in 1564.  The islands were named after Phillip, the King of Spain.

Spanish influence became substantial, particularly with a strong central government and direct participation of the dominant religious orders.  The Austronesians in the archipelago were ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism but the influence did not blend easily with Malayo-Polynesian customs.  This cultural intrusion was more dramatic in the Philippines than that experienced in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Spanish colonisation consisted of a relatively small number of government administrators, together with a substantial military force and churchmen (priests and monks).  Spanish nobility acquired land in the Americas, but relatively few journeyed to the Philippines.  Hence, Spaniards-in-residence in the Philippines were predominately male. 

Inter-marriages occurred, with ethnic Spanish families rising to the top of the social structure. The term Filipino originally denoted a person of Spanish descent born in the Philippines and was comparable to the term Creole in the Spanish-American colonies.  The term was subsequently applied to the Austronesians who were converted to Christianity, and this comprises the bulk of the Philippine population.

The original Filipinos nevertheless created a social legacy.  Within the Spanish colonial system, with inter-marriages performed and recognised by the Church, Filipinos obtained land-grants and became a landed gentry. 

Discipline in the treatment of peasant farmers who worked the land was imposed by the Catholic Church and, with the conversion of the peasants, the church inculcated a strong sense of family responsibility.  This ended the Austronesian tradition of the kampong as the basic unit in the social structure, and created a distinct break away from the customs that persisted in Indonesia and Malaysia. 

As a result, the social structure was remarkably stable in the Philippines, with a highly paternalistic attitude displayed by the landed gentry and a strong sense of loyalty toward the gentry on the part of the peasants.  This represented a form of patron-client relations.

US influence:

The US gained control after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

At that time, the US acquired Cuba as a protectorate along with Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.  A payment of US$20 million was made for the Philippines.

Filipinos resisted the transfer of power and until recently the hostilities were referred to as "the Philippine Insurrection".  In the both the US and the Philippines it is now referred to as the Philippine-American War (1899-1902).

American colonisation of the Philippines is sometimes characterised as having been mildly indifferent.  This can be attributed to several factors:

v      As a result of the considerable distance between the Philippines and the continental US, the territory did not comprise a strategic interest until the interwar period. 

v      The territory was administered by the Department of the Interior, which had more important tasks within the continental US.  As a result, the number of colonial administrators was relatively small and failed to provide a “model” for government administration.

v      Although the US administrators were dissatisfied with the lack of a separation between the church and the state, which was a legacy of the Spanish, they were generally unwilling to openly oppose the influence of the Catholic Church.

The administrative reforms initiated by the US colonial powers were therefore relatively subtle.  They attempted to remove social class distinctions in both education and the public service.  The first was successful in raising the level of literacy, but the second was generally counter-productive to the future development of the Philippines.

Entry into the public service was based upon open examinations, but the public service itself remained unstructured in terms of a code of conduct and a system of organisational loyalties.  As a result, patron-client relations between public servants and the landed gentry were easily formed, as there was no obvious alternative.

Although the scale of investment by US corporations in the Philippines was relatively low until after World War II, a culture of trade was nevertheless established under US administration.  Major exports from the Philippines consisted of sugar and cane furniture. 

Manufactured goods were imported from the US, thus representing the more typical type of colonial trading system.  However, the volume of this trade was substantially less than that associated with Puerto Rico and Hawaii which were much closer to US markets.

Loyalty on the part of the Filipinos was nevertheless transferred fairly quickly from the Spanish to the Americans and invasion by the Japanese in World War II was fiercely resisted.  This external factor interrupted American efforts to achieve a relatively smooth transition from colonial rule to autonomy and then to independence. 

These efforts were further complicated after the war by the shift in US concern to Northeast Asia following the emergence of Mao Zedong in China and the Korean War.  As a former colony, the Philippines failed to retain tariff concessions on sugar exported to the US and received less in the way of foreign aid than Taiwan or South Korea.

Patron-client relations in the
post-war period:

The first Filipino president, Manuel Quezon, was elected in 1935 when the Philippines became a self-governing commonwealth (but not an independent nation).  Independence was granted in 1946. 

The “green revolution” that occurred after World War II, as a result of more intensive research and development of hybrid plants, chemical fertilisers, pesticides and agricultural machinery, resulted in a decline world prices for agricultural exports.  Like other developing countries, the Philippines recognised the need to industrialise and became the first Southeast Asian nation to do so successfully.

The success can be attributed mainly to the capacity of the landed gentry to exploit the new agricultural technology.  The scale of farming with the relatively large landholdings enabled the technology to be used more effectively, as compared to the much smaller holdings in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Perhaps more importantly, the wealthier status of the landed gentry in the Philippines enabled the technology to be purchased more easily.  The resulting benefits created a substantial surplus of agricultural output and increased by the wealth and family savings of this group of Filipinos. 

As noted above, however, the “green revolution” resulted in declining export prices and the wealthy families realised that the windfall in income could not be maintained through rural activities.  They therefore became the new industrialists in the Philippines.

These industrialists sought protection through tariffs and quotas to allow their manufacturing activities to develop.  This intensified the patron-client relations that were initiated during the inter-war period between the landed gentry and the public servants.

The system of government in the Philippines was more or less imposed by the colonial administrators and followed closely the American system of two houses of congress and a popularly elected president.  As mentioned previously, the transition to independence, and the full development of state institutions to maintain such as system was interrupted and was generally incomplete at the time of independence.

As a result, patron-client relations dominated the political system.  The wealthy Filipino families competed against each other in industrial production but maintained considerable cohesion in restricting political influence to members of the wealthy-family group.  This ultimately led to an oligarchy. 

The wealthy families generally dominated the upper house of the legislature.  The lower house and the popularly elected president tended to reflect voter dissatisfaction with the previous administration.  This is illustrated by the following list of presidents and their respective agendas:

Ramon Magsaysay (1946-1957)

v      land reform started

v      interfered with landed gentry and lost election

v      emphasis on redistribution income and wealth in favour of the poor

Carlos Garcia (1957-1961)

v      favoured Filipino-first policies

v      used import substitution to promote domestic industry

v      industrial development promoted

v      emphasised redistribution of income in favour of big business

Diosdado Macapagal (1961-65)

v      sought to expand Philippine ties to its Asian neighbours

v      implemented domestic reform programs

v      promoted an open economy and laissez-faire policies

v      opened manufacturing to foreign enterprises

v      sought redistribution of income in favour of labour

Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986)

v      promoted state intervention

v      attempted to “pick the winners”

v      declared martial law in 1972

v      began a process of political normalisation during 1978-81, ended martial law in 1981

v      re-elected to a 6-year term that would have ended in 1987

v      retained wide arrest and detention powers during the 1980s

v      corruption and favouritism contributed to a serious decline in economic growth and development

v      pushed for redistribution of income in favour of his cronies

Cory Aquino (1986-1992)

v      installed as president when a civilian-military uprising forced Marcos to flee after an election that was characterized by widespread fraud

v      she was the wife opposition leader Benigno Aquino, who as assassinated in 1983 and helped to form the United Nationalist Democratic Organisation (UNIDO)

v      revitalised but did not fully reform democratic instititutions

v      promoted non-confrontational politics

v      concentrated on easing the foreign debt

v      made an effort to keep MNEs in the Philippines

v      prevented income distribution from getting worse.

Fidel Ramos (1992-1998)

v      held positions in Marcos’ government, but resigned when allegations of corruption became widespread

v      served in the Aquino government and was picked as Aquino’s successor

v      concentrated on economic efficiency

v      privatised many of the government enterprises

v      attempted battle with the oligopolies

Joseph Estrada (1998-2001)

v      vice president under Ramos, but had different party affiliation

v      won a landslide victory

v      returned to a more flamboyant style of presidency

v      generated concerns about a return to cronyism and corruption

v      perceptions of weak governance, lack of policy direction

v      legislation proceeded more slowly compared to Ramos' government

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2001 – present time)

v      formerly a senator and became Vice President in the May 1998 elections

v      is the 8th president after independence and is the daughter of Diosdado Macapagal, the third president after independence

v      main support is from upper and middle class voters

v      has the backing of the military and former president Ramos is a strong supporter

v      policies are not yet clear, but is currently committed to a reform of the tax system and will probably put poverty alleviation and distribution of income on the agenda to avoid continuing social unrest

Although the political system is more stable than in Thailand, this can be attributed mainly to stability among the power elite, which consists of wealthy families whose social and economic status can be traced to the landed gentry in the Spanish colonial period. 

The swings in government policy, as is apparent from the attention given by successive administrations to dismantle the structure created by their respective incumbents, can be attributed to the incomplete set of democratic institutions during the American colonial period.

The devotion to dismantling substantially hindered the economic development of the Philippines and resulted in “losing the lead” within Southeast Asia.  The desire to persist in this counter-productive activity can be traced to the patron-client relations and to the strong desire of the wealthy families to retain the status quo. 

Comparisons with Thailand:

The nature of the patron-client relations in the Philippines differs substantially from that in Thailand, but the overall importance of these relations and the extent to which they are both a product of and a contributing factor to the social structure is much the same.

An illustration of this is the way in which the Chinese were effectively assimilated within the respective social systems.  Although the Thais had a closer relation to the Chinese, as result of the proximity to China, the perceived need of the Chinese to become an integral part of the social structure is also evident in the Philippines.

Manila was an important port in the trade between China and Mexico beginning in the 16th century.  Chinese seamen and merchants established an economically important community in Manila and in Cebu during that period. 

Upon observing the strength of the social structure, and the nature of the patron-client relations, many of the Chinese converted to Catholicism and Buddhism in the Philippines and Thailand, respectively, inter-married and changed their names to conform to the local practices.

There were other factors that influenced this assimilation, but the features of a rule by the dominant elite, combined with the greater capacity of the Chinese to become “clients” in the Philippines and Thailand, nevertheless acts as one of the distinguishing characteristics in comparison with Indonesia and Malaysia where the Chinese retained a more traditional identity.

Additionally, we noted above that in Thailand from 1932 to the late 1950s, political and bureaucratic powers were fused.  This did not occur in the Philippines, mainly because the US colonial administration established a public service that remained independent of the military.  Nevertheless, during the same period, the Philippine bureaucracy was more closely aligned with the landed gentry than with elected officials.

Effect on urban development:

Manila is located on central Luzon Island, on the eastern shore of Manila Bay, at the mouth of the Pasig River, just west of Quezon City.  It is the commercial, administrative, and cultural centre of the Philippines and is therefore classified as a “primate city”.

The Manila metropolitan area, or Metro Manila, officially called the National Capital Region, comprises an area of 636 square kilometres and includes Manila proper, Quezon City, Pasay, Caloocan, Makati, and the municipalities of Las Piñas, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinglupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasig, Pateros, San Juan del Monte, Taguig, and Valenzuela.

A small Muslim settlement named Maynilad was located in the vicinity of present-day Manila when the Spaniards arrived in 1571.  The city's name, shortened first to Maynila and then to Manila, is thought to have been derived from a flowering shrub that once grew extensively on the banks of the Pasig River.

Mountains surround Manila on three sides, with the fourth open to the sea.  The bay is picturesque and was understandably an easy choice of the Spaniards for their prime location.

Manila is by far the largest metropolitan area in the Philippines, and the second largest in Southeast Asia after Jakarta.  About 12 percent of the population of the Philippines is concentrated in the Manila metropolitan area.  As a comparison, the population of the nation's second largest metropolitan area, Cebu, is only about one-eighth that of Manila.

The metropolitan area has experienced rapid population growth through substantial rural-to-urban migration after World War II.  During the 1960s and 1970s annual rates of population growth in metropolitan Manila approached 5 percent, compared to national growth rates of less than 3 percent.

While the overall growth rate slowed to 2.8 percent during the 1980s (compared to the national rate of 2.3 percent), most of the outlying suburban areas of metropolitan Manila grew much more rapidly.  Manila proper actually lost population to the suburbs during this period.

This rapid population growth led to overcrowding, traffic congestion, pollution, and housing shortages.  By some estimates, for example, between one-quarter and one-third of the city's population lives in slums and squatter housing.  At the 1990 census, Manila proper had a population of 1,601,234, and the metropolitan area registered 7,948,392 people.

Intramuros, the original city founded in 1571 by the Spaniards, is located on the southern bank of the Pasig River.  It includes examples of 17th-century Spanish architecture and an encircling wall that was begun in 1590.

Near Intramuros is the port area and Rizal Park, which was designed by the American architect and urban planner Daniel H. Burnham.  Roxas Boulevard, which runs along the bay is the location of many of the older buildings and landmarks.  Newer suburbs include Quezon City, Pasig, and Makati.

The urban poor live in numerous slums and squatter areas that appear throughout the peripheral areas, and in some older areas of the city.  Tondo, located north of Intramuros and close to the North Harbour area, is considered to be one of the largest slums.  Squatter settlements are also visible in the landfill portions along Roxas Boulevard.

Sources of information:

U.S. Department of State’s background notes are useful for current summaries of information:

Asiaweek’s data on major cities in Asia is also useful:

Other useful references include the following:

Jeffry Stubbs and Giles Clarke (eds), Megacity Management in the Asian and Pacific Region, Volume Two: City and Country Case Studies, Asian Development Bank, 1995.

A United Nations publication is also useful, for which several chapters are available at:

Global influences on urbanization trends,

Urban population, settlement patterns, and employment distribution

The international dimension of the changing urban system,

The internal dimensions of the changing urban system,

The urbanisation of Bangkok: Its prominence, problems, and prospects,

Other references are included on the outline for the subject.


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