VAL G. ABELGAS: Reject political dynasties in May

President Duterte, the patriarch of what is currently the most prominent political clan in the country, said over the weekend political dynasties are “not bad” and will be in the Philippine political scene for many more years to come.

“Unless you change the whole picture, unless you change the constitution, unless you change the culture — then maybe you can. But if we stay like this, we will have dynasties. And dynasties are not bad,” he continued.

“But the provision in the Constitution about political dynasty, it will never push through no matter how hard they try,” the president added.

The President was referring to 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.”

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 in their respective constituencies, national officials and those seeking national positions, and businessmen operating or wanting to operate in their areas of control have to kowtow to these 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.

For example, the Dutertes have ruled Davao City for decades since Rodrigo was appointed OIC-vice mayor of Davao City – ironically, by President Cory Aquino, whose family he seems to hate so much – in 1986 shortly after the EDSA People Power Revolt. In the first post-EDSA elections in 1988, Duterte ran as an independent and won. Of course, long before that, his father Vicente of the powerful Duterte-Durano clan was mayor of Danao city in Cebu and was governor of the then undivided Davao, where Vicente and his family moved.

When the younger Duterte termed out after three terms as Davao city mayor, he ran for a House seat in 1998 and won. He ran for mayor again in 2001 and won his old seat. After he termed out again in 2010, he ran for vice mayor and Sara, his daughter who was his vice mayor, ran for mayor. In 2013, Duterte ran for mayor again with Sara as vice mayor. In 2016, Duterte ran for president while Sara stayed as mayor to again replace his father. In 2019, Sara was reelected mayor, with his younger brother Sebastian as vice mayor. His other brother, Paolo, was elected congressman.

But that’s only talking about the Dutertes of Davao City. 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 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 Philippine Congress at the time were 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 were 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 Cory Aquino’s ascension to the presidency in 1986, 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 replaced the Amorantos and Mathays, the Garcias replaced the Osmenas and Duranos in Cebu, etc.

Duterte was partly correct when he said that the constitutional mandate would never push through.

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.

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. But will it ever pass an anti-political dynasty law?

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.

Or better still, reject the undeserving members of these political dynasties in the coming elections and prove Duterte wrong.