Disempowering political dynasties

>> Wednesday, April 6, 2016

By Val Abelgas

Three news articles that appeared in the past week highlighted the sorry state of our political system – the prevalence of political dynasties all over the country.

One news item reported that 542 candidates in the local elections are assured of victory because they are running unopposed. Most, if not all, of these unchallenged candidates are members of entrenched political dynasties. The most prominent of these unopposed candidates are former President and two-term Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Macapagal-Arroyo clan of Pampanga; and Gov. Imee Marcos of the Marcos clan of Ilocos Norte.

The Macapagal-Arroyos of Pampanga and Negros Occidental have produced two presidents (Gloria and Diosdado Sr.), one vice president (Gloria), one senator (Gloria), three congressmen (Ignacio, Diosdado and Mikey Arroyo) and vice governor in Cielo Macapagal-Salgado.

The Marcoses of Ilocos Norte have produced a president – Ferdinand, who ruled for 20 years – two governors (Imee and Ferdinand Jr.), senator (Ferdinand Jr.), two congresswomen (Imelda and Imee) and their other relatives (the Barbas and Keons) have also dominated Ilocos politics for decades.

Another prominent political family is that of former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada of San Juan and Manila, who, however, is being challenged by former Mayor Alfredo Lim.

The Estrada-Ejercitos have produced one president (Joseph), one vice president (Joseph), four senators (Joseph, Dr. Loi Ejercito, Jinggoy and JV Ejercito), five San Juan mayors (Joseph, Jinggoy, JV and Guia Gomez) and two Pagsanjan mayors (ER Ejercito and wife Girlie), Laguna governor (ER Ejercito), Quezon board member (Gary Estrada), and one councilor (Jana Ejercito).

The second news item that showed how entrenched political dynasties are is the story on the proclamation rally of Rep. Abigail “Abby” Binay, who is running for mayor of Makati. The entire Binay clan – Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is running for president; Sen. Nancy Binay, dismissed Mayor Junjun Binay, the matriarch former Mayor Elenita Binay, and Abby’s husband Luis Campos, who is running to replace his wife as congressman. The proclamation rally became a family affair just as Makati has become the Binay family’s fiefdom.

The third news item showed the powerful Garcia clan of Cebu holding a press conference where the Garcias announced that they were junking Binay, whom they had endorsed just one week earlier, because the Vice President attended the political rallies of the Garcias’ political rivals in the province.

Political dynasties have been described as “machineries of power that seek to perpetuate their own bloodlines and expand their reach.” One reason political dynasties have continued their domination in their respective political territories is that because of their positions of power and influence, national officials and those seeking national positions, and businessmen operating or wanting to operate in their areas of control have to kowtow to these powerful political clans.
And because these elite families have both political and economic control over their provinces or cities, people outside of their circle of influence who are otherwise more qualified, more honest and more dedicated to render public service are unable to win elective positions.

“The problem with elite politics is there is no program or platform, it’s all power,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the advocacy group Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms.

“A lot of these political dynasties feel they own the seats that they occupy and it’s theirs to bequeath, to whoever family member they see fit,” anti-corruption group Transparency and Accountability Network executive director Vincent Lazatin said. “It is very disturbing.”

It is indeed disturbing. Consider these facts from Wikipedia:

• From 1995 to 2007, an average of 31.3% of all congressmen and 23.1% of governors were replaced by relatives. Of the 83 congressmen elected in 1995 to their third term, 36 of them were eventually replaced by a relative in the succeeding elections.
• In a study done in 2012 by economists, it was estimated that 40% of all provinces in the Philippines have a provincial governor and congressman that are related in some way.
• A 2014 study done by Prof. Querubin of the Department of Politics in New York University indicated that approximately 70% of all jurisdiction-based legislators in the current Congress are involved in a political dynasty, with 40% of them having ties to legislators who belonged to as far as 3 Congresses prior. It also said that 77% of legislators between the ages of 26-40 are also dynastic, which indicates that the second and third generations of political dynasties in the Philippines have begun their political careers as well.

For decades, political dynasties have ruled Philippine politics. With the ascension of the late Corazon Aquino to the presidency in 1986 after the EDSA People Power revolt, it was hoped that democracy would be given a total rebirth, including the opportunity for non-traditional politicians and non-members of entrenched political dynasties to get elected.
But while some old dynasties went down with the Marcoses, the revolutionary government of Cory Aquino only gave rise to new dynasties. For example, the Binays replaced the Yabuts of Makati, the Revillas, Maliksis and Abayas replaced the Montanos in Cavite, the Belmontes replac ed the Amorantos and Mathays, the Garcias replaced the Osmenas and Duranos in Cebu, etc.

Since then, moves have been made to implement Article II Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution that states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Three bills have been filed in the House of Representatives that have since been consolidated into one (HB 3587) in December 2013. The bill applies the definition of political dynasty only if the number of elective officials from the same family is at least three. In short, only two relatives can be in elective offices at the same time.

The Senate bill (SB 2469, filed by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago in 2011, is more restrictive, allowing only one member of the family to hold office at any given time.

Both versions prohibit the immediate succession of a candidate related within second degree of consanguinity to an incumbent. Both, however, aim to control — rather than abolish — political dynasties.

While it is also unfair to prohibit a relative of a sitting elected official to run for office especially if he or she is competent, there is a need to somewhat control these political families from further expanding their reach and solidifying their hold on their jurisdiction.

In the interest of democracy and to allow more people to be given the opportunity to serve in an elective position, Congress will have to do its task of defining the parameters of political dynasty as embodied in the Constitution.
It is close to improbable that Congress would pass an anti-political dynasty bill considering that 70% of them are themselves members of such dynasties, but the people must continue to put the pressure on our legislators because the sooner these political clans are disempowered, the closer the country would be to achieving social justice and inclusive economic growth.(valabelgas@aol.com)


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