ARE Filipinos trapped in a vicious cycle of voting for political dynasties?

The Philippines has been ruled by “familial” politicians—such as the Aquino-Cojuancos of Tarlac, the Marcoses of Ilocos, the Binays of Makati, the Ejercitos of San Juan, the Macapagals of Pampanga—for generations.

Political scientist Dante Simbulan, in his study of elites of Philippine politics, listed 169 powerful clans in 1963.

In 2007, the Citizens Anti-Dynasty Movement lowered the number to 119, indicating how politics is being monopolized by fewer, condensed dynasties.

The latest tally by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a non-government organization showed that 54 percent of political dynasties belong to the so-called “new-elites” who emerged after the 1986 People Power Revolution. It said that 80 provinces in the country are dominated by political dynasties.

Why political dynasties thrive

Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution says: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Yet, a study by the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center showed that 68 percent or 115 lawmakers from political dynasties comprise the present Congress.

Political dynasties limit opportunities for new politicians to emerge, said Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez.

But most people tend to vote for names they are familiar with, because they are drawn to the stability of these names, he said.

“You have those people who are so comfortable, because they cannot look beyond,” Jimenez told the Varsitarian in an interview. “They are contented with substandard service.”

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Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. compared elections to movies.

“People are more likely to side with the action stars, the more popular ones,” he said in an interview.

Defining dynasties

Some blame the vague constitutional provision and the lack of implementing laws.

Deputy House Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III said in an interview there is no consensus on a definition of political dynasty, urging congress to first define the term to come out with legislation that would implement the constitutional provision.

“The Supreme Court has been throwing out petitions because there is really no clear definition. That is why my position is we should not be afraid to enact a law. They should not skirt the issue,” Tañada said.

However, Christian Señeres, a senatorial candidate under the Democratic Party of the Philippines, said in an interview that the term political dynasty is already “self-defined.”

“An unbroken chain of administration should be a vital point to consider to label one as a political dynasty,” he said.

Señeres pointed to one precedent.

In a hearing of the Senate Electoral Reforms Committee in November 2012, Sen. Sergio Osmeña III said that if a relative of an incumbent official wins in a different locality, it should not be considered a political dynasty.

Tañada, whose father and grandfather were also politicians, echoed Osmeña, saying these are “political families,” not dynasties.

Movements against dynasties

Two petitions?one filed by a group led by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. and another by senatorial candidate Ricardo Penson filed before the Supreme Court came to an end.

Independent senatorial candidate Ricardo Penson filed a writ of mandamus to prohibit political dynasties, which the Supreme Court junked a month later, because of the lack of an enabling law.

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Tañada said many bills against political dynasties are stuck in Congress, because many lawmakers are unwilling to touch them.

“Even if I agree with it, some congressmen will not, because they themselves are part of political dynasties,” Tañada said.

Pimentel said the proposed anti-dynasty bill during his time as a senator was well-received by his fellow lawmakers in the Senate, but was not approved by the House.

“The lobby against the bill was strong in the House,” Pimentel said.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has come out with a pastoral statement signed by 120 bishops, condemning political dynasties two weeks before the start of the campaign period for the mid-term elections.

“Political authority exists for the common good. It is not to be exercised for the sake of private and family interests or simply for the interests of a political party,” the statement said.

‘Dynasty of service’

Senatorial candidate Juan Edgardo Angara of Laban Demokratikong Pilipino is unfazed with criticisms of his family’s dynasty.

The son of outgoing Senator Edgardo Angara and nephew of Aurora Governor Bellaflor Angara-Castillo admitted to being a product of a political dynasty but was quick to defend himself, saying dynasties are not necessarily bad.

“Not all political dynasties are subject to corruption and personal interest. rather, ‘benign’ dynasty [could] work for the common welfare of the country,” he said in a chance interview during Rundown: The 2013 Senate Elections Forum held in the University of the Philippines-Diliman last Feb. 7.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate Maria Lourdes Binay, the daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, agreed.

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The Binays, whose stronghold is in Makati, are a “dynasty of service,” she claimed.

Another UNA candidate, Joseph Victor Ejercito, son of former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada, said the people should have the last say.

The Ejercitos or Estradas have ruled over San Juan since 1963.

Faculty of Civil Law professor Victoria Loanzon said the government has been monopolized by political families.

“It has become a family business. They use it as an opportunity to enrich themselves,” she said in an interview.

Echoing Loanzon, Pimentel said political dynasties promote family interest rather than genuine public service.

But it’s also a case of lower expectations.

Jimenez said the Filipinos are stuck in a cycle of voting for the trusted personalities because these political dynasties know how to get the approval of the masses.

He added the voters’ lowering of standard results in an equally low standard of service.

“[The Filipinos] trust that when they need a whole chicken, the whole chicken will be available. In the meantime, they will be contented with the wing. That’s one of our problems. We’re contented with that kind of service,” Jimenez said. Kristelle Ann A. Batchelor and Gracelyn A. Simon

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