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Monday, October 3, 2022

EXPLAINER: The Pros and Cons of Political Dynasty in the Philippines

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In the Philippines, where democracy has flourished for more than a quarter-century, the onset of political dynasties has presented a problem at the heart of electoral system.

A political dynasty is a clan’s monopolization of power from generation to generation, transforming public office into personal property, according to Teresa and Eduardo Tadem of UP Diliman.

The power of political dynasties, spanning from the highest to lowest echelons of government, has provoked numerous calls for amendments in the constitution. While the charter prohibits political dynasties under Article II, Section 26, it needs an enabling law to take effect. Nearly 34 years since its ratification, no law has been passed to cut off this longstanding issue.

The inclusion of term limits didn’t mitigate the emerging political dynasties mushrooming all over the country as clan members run to replace their kin when their time is up.

“Plainly put, and contrary to the claim of some politicians, the introduction of term limits was not able to meet its avowed objective of promoting more democratic political competition because of the failure to introduce other ancillary reforms (notably an anti-dynasty law) mandated by the charter,” a 2020 report said by researchers from Ateneo de Manila University and Asian Institute of Management.

The consequences of the charter’s inability to introduce more stringent reforms have led to “thin” and “fat” dynasties pervading the electoral landscape and dwindling competitive races.

“Thin” dynasties pertain to a family that succeeds each other one at a time, while “fat” dynasties are those that occupy multiple seats simultaneously.

“There’s still democracy when families choose to succeed each other only one at a time,” Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo School of Government, told a Senate hearing in 2019. “But when they capture many local positions at the same time, that is when unintended consequences pervade politics. Give a chance to others. Our democracy is not a family business.”

An analysis by Mendoza and a group of researchers found that the share of “fat” dynasties among all local officials rose from 19 percent in 1988 to 29 percent in 2019, with Maguindanao holding the highest percentage of “fat” dynasties among all provinces.

The analysis also showed that 80% of gubernatorial seats are occupied by politicians hailing from “fat” dynasties, from around 57% in 2004.

In an ABS-CBN News analysis published January 3, 107 candidates from 46 political families are vying for posts in Metro Manila, with the Aguilar-Villar clan fielding the most bets. Six of them are simultaneously gunning seats in Las Piñas – all incumbents – and the Senate – former Public Works and Highways Sec. Mark Villar, who’s currently No. 5 at the surveys.

Quezon City features the most political families contending against each other – 15, to be exact – including the Belmontes, Sottos, Bautistas, Defensors, Crisologos, Herreras, among others.

“Napakakaunti kasi ‘yung choices ng mga tao, ano? So parang may built-in advantage na for a very long time itong mga well-known dynasties. May name recall sila, may massive resources and organization, and napaka-costly ang tumakbo sa elections,” Dr. Temario Rivera of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said in an interview with TeleRadyo.

The ramifications of political dynasties

To an extent, the presence of political dynasties, especially the “fat” ones, contributes to the country’s underdevelopment as marginalized groups are unrepresented in public offices.

“[I]f the prevalence of political dynasties prevents the majority of the citizenry from effectively communicating their needs to the government, it could prevent the government from effectively responding to social and economic problems,” a 2012 study by Mendoza and other researchers said.

“The misrepresentation (or inadequate representation) of the excluded groups could skew poverty reduction policies and income redistribution mechanisms, worsen poverty and income inequality, and ultimately compromise the capacity of the government to provide the most necessary public goods,” they added.

In another Mendoza study in 2016, researchers found a positive relationship between poverty incidence and proportion of dynasties in provinces, though the multifaceted nature of poverty makes the results “difficult to isolate.”

While there is a negative relationship between average income and proportion of dynastic representatives per province, explaining that either dynasties have failed to raise average incomes during their term or voters with low average incomes tend to elect dynastic politicians.

And there is also a negative relationship between human development and the proportion of political dynasties in provinces, portraying either a low-income and low-education province electing dynastic politicians or dynasties themselves failing to elevate a province’s income, education and health statuses.

“Humihirap ‘yung lugar at nawawala ‘yung development push, nagkakaunder development particularly if you are outside Metro Manila,” Mendoza said in an interview with CNN Philippines in November. “Pag sabay-sabay, nagkakaroon ng weaker checks and balances. Nagkakaroon ng impunity, corruption, even violence.”

With dynasties concentrated among local posts, “small dictatorships” are birthed, trumping checks and balances, eliminating political opposition, embezzling the government coffers and diminishing the quality of governance.

The 2009 Maguindanao Massacre serves as the epitome of political dynasties’ unchecked powers as the Ampatuans transformed into bare Satan to eliminate their opponents, the Mangungudatus, leaving 58 people dead, including 34 media personnel. More than a decade after that tragedy, Maguindanao remains to be enmeshed by the trappings of a few elite families.

At the end of the day, without sufficient choices, the voters are inevitably defeated in this phenomenon in Philippine politics. Political dynasties have successfully enculturated parochial governance at the local level, leaving the electorate to endure the clans’ greed for power that results in slow economic and societal progress.

Image from www.indybay.org

In defense of political dynasties

“[D]ynasties are not bad.”

This was the recent remark of President Rodrigo Duterte, patriarch of the Duterte dynasty, in November when discussing the proposed reforms to curb political dynasties.

He recalled the time when he was choosing a successor as Davao City mayor, saying barangay leaders opted for his children to replace him.

“When I stepped down as mayor, I had three terms, I told the people, I called the barangay leaders, ‘It’s time to choose who would replace me…’ Even the leader of our group, Hugpong, unanimously they wanted Inday (Sara Duterte). Then for congressman, majority of the barangay captains wanted Pulong (Paolo Duterte),” he said.

The idea of continuing public service is what’s driving family members to succeed each other in local posts, as stressed by La Salle history professor Jose Victor Torres.

“Gusto nila magserbisyo para sa bayan, so on and so forth, so ang mangyayari ay wala nang katapusan yung serbisyo. Dito nagsisimula yung ideya na kailangan kong ituloy—ang mga sinasabi nating dynasties,” he said.

Electing officials from political clans would also mean driving voters to talk more about the issues, rather than the individuals themselves. This was the assessment of a strategist from the Democratic Party during the 2016 U.S. election season when it seemed that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, both associated with ex-presidents, would capture their party’s nomination (Donald Trump would eventually be the Republican nominee).

“With the trust of institutions at an all-time low in public opinion, voting for someone who knows the job well may be an advantage,” Mary Anne Marsh wrote for The New York Times. “Voters won’t focus on the dynastic aspect of their candidacies, but rather on the direction they want for the country and whom they trust to get the job done. Just like any other election.”

Dr. Bernardo Villegas, an economist and a framer of the 1987 constitution, wrote in a Manila Bulletin piece that “a good number of commissioners – not politicians themselves – raised serious objections against dynastic prohibition.” The following arguments in support of political dynasties are as follows:

  • Competent candidates may be unfairly barred from running just because of their political ties.
  • Prohibition may inhibit the right to be voted for.
  • Equal access to run for office must be accorded to all citizens.
  • The emergence of political dynasties is only a symptom of a deeper socioeconomic problem.
  • Political dynasties can address shorttermism, “the inability of political leaders to formulate and implement long-term solutions to long-term problems.”

Some dynastic politicians defend their presence in the political landscape, noting that their dealmaking process is inclusive of all sectors, regardless of party or status.

“Yung aming performance, very inclusive naman kami, di lang particular sa Castelo family or sa mga affiliation natin sa partido or kasamahan. It’s more of we also consult others, and even yung ating hindi man kakampi sa ngayon, we also listen to them kasi eventually, at the end of the day, kailangan talaga dito collective effort, group effort,” Rep. Precious Castelo of Quezon City said.

Others, like Sen. Nancy Binay, said that elected officials are always the subject of the people’s will.

“Kahit sinuman ang nagnanais manilbihan bilang isang politiko – popular ka man o ordinaryong Pilipino – ay dumadaan sa proseso, bukas sa pagkilatis at kritisismo. We all subject ourselves to the will of the people. At the end of the day, nasa taumbayan ang kapangyarihang mag-halal o magtanggal,” the senator, daughter of a former vice president, said.

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