VAL ABELGAS: Political dynasties are anti-democracy

FRONTRUNNING presidential aspirant former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his runningmate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte during a caravan. Marcos and Duterte are projected to win the elections on May 9 if surveyes were to be the basis alone.

During the second Commission on Elections presidential debates last Sunday, Sen. Manny Pacquiao defended political dynasties, saying that as a democratic country and under the Constitution, all Filipinos have the right to run for office and it is the right of the people to choose who they want to vote.

The rights of politicians from political dynasties may be violated if they are prohibited from running for office, he said.

Of course, we understand where Pacquiao is coming from. Pacquiao has two brothers in Congress – Rogelio, who succeeded him as Sarangani representative when he run for senator, and Alberto (Bobby) who is representative of the OFW Family party-list.

But he was clearly wrong when he said to prohibit members of political dynasties would be a violation of their constitutional right. The 1987 Constitution was very explicit with regards political dynasties. Article II Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

The framers of the Constitution realized precisely that political dynasties are an antithesis to democracy because they prevent more qualified and more dedicated people from winning seats of power.

The problem is that Congress has not enacted an enabling law to enforce that provision of the Constitution. This, again, is understandable, but not acceptable.

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 the late 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.

But, again, 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.

Political dynasties have become so dominant in Philippine politics that in almost every town, city and province, it has become common practice for members of political families to play “rigodon” during elections and make a mockery of constitutionally mandated term limits.

Just take the example of Davao City, where the Dutertes have been alternately holding the positions of mayor, vice mayor and House representative for decades. The same goes for Ilocos Norte, La Union, Cebu, Cavite, Eastern Samar, Makati, Taguig, and nearly all provinces and cities in the country, even Pacquiao’s small Sarangani.

If there are more family members than there are local positions available, they would even put up party-list groups to accommodate more, or let the more popular ones to run for national office.

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.”

While Pacquiao was right in saying it would be unfair to prohibit a relative of a sitting elected official to run for office if he or she is sincere and competent, there is a need to control these political families from further expanding their reach and solidifying their hold on their jurisdiction.

It is when these political families become so powerful that they can do things that are contrary to the interest of the people they were elected to serve.

Statistics have shown that the poorest provinces in the country are mostly ruled by well-entrenched political dynasties. Many of these political clans enrich themselves and are unafraid to face consequences because they are confident they would prevail in elections because they have the money and the machinery needed to win. Because many of them belong to the moneyed class, they tend to protect their own rather than those who need more in terms of services. They also do their best to maintain the status quo because it is to their best interest, rather than institute changes to improve the lives of their constituencies.

We can’t expect Congress, which is dominated by powerful political families, to pass any law that would enforce the Constitutional ban on political dynasties. But we can do our part as voters by rejecting these political families, especially those running for congressional and Senate seats, in the May 9 elections.

Or we can just let them continue ignoring the Constitution, just as Pacquiaos, the Marcoses, the Dutertes, the Villars, the Garcias, the Ortegas, the Binays, the Evardonnes, and the others would want us to do.