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Editorial

PH in the grip of political dynasties

/ 05:10 AM March 13, 2018

The 1987 Constitution is blunt about the bane posed by political dynasties. Art. II, Sec. 26 says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

The Consultative Committee appointed by President Duterte to review the Constitution as part of the Charter change efforts of his administration likewise thinks so.

The 20-member committee has voted to regulate political dynasties by prohibiting relatives of incumbent officials up to the second degree of consanguinity (relations by blood) and affinity (relations by law) to run for public office.

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The committee’s consensus is that the “extent of the domination by political dynasties … have led to bad governance, created monopoly of political and economic power, bastardized democracy, stunted socioeconomic development, and contributed to poverty.”

However, the committee’s proposals are merely that — recommendatory. Congress as a constituent assembly may choose to ignore the committee’s action points altogether — as it has ignored the various antipolitical dynasty bills filed over the decades, all of them eventually moldering and dying in the self-serving legislative mill that remains caught in the unyielding grip of the Philippines’ sprawling dynastic families.

Overweening self-entitlement is what drives these families to think that they have a natural right to public office.

Take Imee Marcos, who hinted recently about seeking a seat in the Senate, saying her family had discussed the matter because her brother Bongbong’s election protest was taking some time to resolve: “Napag-usapan na ito sa pamilya namin dahil itong protesta ni Bongbong is taking forever.”

The efforts of the late dictator’s heirs to put the Marcos scion and namesake in the vice president’s post having failed so far, they think it’s expected of them to have that imagined slot reserved for them in national politics filled up by another blood member.

The sense of entitlement is acute: Heaven forbid that a political slot be ceded to anyone else; if the son can’t hack it, then the daughter must step up.

According to a study by Prof. Rolando Simbulan of the University of the Philippines, that dynamic happens across much of the country, with 73 of the 81 provinces of the Philippines under dynastic control.

Another study — by Dean Ronald Mendoza et al. of the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government — as cited by Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito, highlighted the particular insidiousness of the Philippine experience: “Cross-country comparisons suggest that the Philippines has been unusually more prone to political dynasties than other countries … with 75 percent of lawmakers belonging to dynasties as of 2013. In the United States, the figure was 6 percent, while it was 10 percent in Argentina and Greece, 22 percent in Ireland, 24 percent in India, 33 percent in Japan, 40 percent in Mexico, and 42 percent in Thailand.”

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Leveling the playing field and ensuring more equitable representation in political life are crucial to a healthy republic, but the framers of the 1987 Constitution fell short in enshrining that principle by leaving the crucial task to lawmakers — the very products of that very rotten system.

True to form, the political heirs have only used their family perches to strengthen and expand their hold on power.

As the Ateneo study pointed out, in the 8th Congress (1987-1992), 62 percent of legislators had relatives in elective positions; that number went up to 66 percent by the 12th Congress (1998-2001), and 75 percent in the 14th Congress.

Even the party-list system, designed to democratize representation in Congress, has been hijacked, with one of every four sectoral representatives (14 of 56) now also coming from dynastic backgrounds.

Any whole-scale amendment of the Constitution must start with one basic but radical scalpel work on the system: the long-delayed ban on political dynasties.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, charter change, Consultative Committee, Inquirer editorial, political dynasties
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