PHILIPPINES: Can we really dismantle political dynasties through legislation?

Thursday 22 May 2014

Date: 8 May 2014 Type: OpEd Source: Bulatlat.com Keywords: political dynasty

BY Benjie Oliveros

News agencies reported that a pending bill banning political dynasties has finally passed the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms and is due for plenary debates at the House of Representatives.

According to the proposed bill, a political dynasty exists when “two or more individuals who are related within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity hold or run for national or local office in successive, simultaneous, or overlapping terms.”

As a counter measure, the bill provides that “No spouse, or person related within the second civil degree of consanguinity of affinity, whether legitimate or illegitimate, full or half -blood, to an incumbent elective official seeking re-election shall be allowed to hold or run for any local or national elective office in the same election.”

The progress in this proposed measure came at an appropriate time as political dynasties have become more entrenched when the Aquino government came to power. A May 10, 2013 Interaksyon.com report quoted Ronald Mendoza, an economist at the Asian Institute of Management who has extensively researched dynasties, “While other countries also have famous political dynasties – such as the Kennedys in the United States or the Gandhi family in India – dynastic rule was more deeply ingrained in the Philippines.“

According to Mendoza, seven out of every 10 members of the House of Representatives belong to a political dynasty – defined as having other relatives in elected positions – with the figure climbing to 80 percent in the Senate.

Pres. Benigno Aquino III has a cousin in the Senate and sister Kris has sent feelers about her intention to run for local office in the 2016 elections; Vice-president Jejomar Binay has a daughter in Senate and his son is the mayor of Makati city; Senator Edgardo Angara’s son is now a senator; there are two Cayetanos in the Senate, aside from the fact that Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s wife is the mayor of Taguig city; former president and incumbent Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has two sons in the Senate.

The list goes on and on, and the situation is much worse in the provinces. It is perhaps only in the Philippines where a clan, the Ampatuans, accused of murdering 58 people is able to win seats again, despite having the clan patriarch in jail.

However, while the proposed measure intends to address a major national malady, it barely scratches the surface of the problem.

The bill addresses only the manifestation of the problem. Political dynasties have lorded it over national and local politics since the declaration of independence from US colonial rule. They are able to do so not only because two or more members of the clan run for office at the same time. Political clans are able to tighten their stranglehold in local politics because they hold the economic and political power in the provinces. In the provinces, they employ the very same private army, police and military forces, which they use to suppress peasants, to ensure that they win the elections by intimidation and massive cheating. They also use money, which they are able to squeeze out through unjust land rent, usury, and other exactions they impose on peasants who live and labor in their vast tracts of land, to buy votes.

And the reach of their influence goes beyond local politics. They could guarantee the victory of those running for national office in their provinces and thereby, able to get the assurance of national officials that their interests would be secured and promoted. Isn’t this how the Ampatuan clan is able to keep themselves in power?

Progressive call this as landordism and political warlordism, which is being perpetuated by the backward, pre-industrial, feudal character of Philippine society.

Added to this, there is a symbiotic relationship between political clans, big landlords who represent the local warlords in the provinces, and big foreign and local businesses. Political dynasties emanate from and/or are being propped up by local warlords and financed by big foreign and local businesses. Where else could one get the billions of pesos that are needed in one’s campaign kitty to be able to win in national elections? And big businesses are more likely to support candidates from the most “reliable” clans and those with the most chances of winning.

When these candidates win in national elections, the interests of local landlords cum warlords and big businesses are assured and promoted. In exchange, national officials are able to increase their wealth while in office through bribes for government contracts, the use of their political influence in getting laws passed, business contracts approved, and the grant of licenses for the operations of big business. Progressives describe this as profiting from government positions and call it bureaucrat capitalism.

Also, the hold of any political clan on the national government is largely determined not by the support of the people – because it is not the people’s interests that national officials promote in the first place – but by that of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. That is why an incumbent president would always appoint military officials who they perceive as loyal to them to key positions in the chain of command. The final blow to the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos and to former president Joseph Estrada came when the AFP withdrew its support to them.

But who or what prompted AFP officials to withdraw their support to their commander-in-chief? Who told Marcos to “cut clean”? Who turned the tide in favor of the Cory Aquino administration when the coup d’ etat against her appeared to be succeeding and RAM troops, helicopters, and jets were already attacking Camp Aguinaldo and Malacañang?

Since presidents come and go, who or which institution is constant in providing the AFP with guidance, training and support? Who is a constant member of the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Board and Security Engagement Board, and other bodies such as the Joint US Military Advisory Group? Who took the lead in formulating the Philippine Defense Reform Program?

Officials of the Department of National Defense and even the AFP are changed whenever a new president and faction of the ruling elite take over Malacañang. While representatives from the US Armed Forces and Department of Defense who sit in these bodies also change, the interests that they are protecting and the agenda they are pushing in the Philippines are constant no matter who sits as US president. It is the US Armed Forces that constantly provides guidance, training, and support to the AFP, and their hold has become even tighter with the recently-signed Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement between the Philippine and US governments. Thus, the hold of any political clan on the national government is also largely determined by the support of the US.

These show that removing the stranglehold of political dynasties in national and local politics requires more than just barring two or more members of political clans from running simultaneously for local and national offices. It would require a major overhaul of the country’s economic, political, and social structure, systems and processes.

However, the bill banning political dynasties is still a step in the right direction, if not mangled and diluted by political dynasties in the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Aquino government. #

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