Analysis

How dynasties rig power in Senate polls

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The lineups of the two grand coalitions contending for control of the Senate in the May 2013 midterm elections highlight the abominable rigging up by political dynasties of the distribution of power in the chamber through the polls.

From whatever perspective you view the rival tickets—the administration coalition’s so-called “powerhouse” machine and the purported “opposition” United Nationalist Alliance (UNA)—there is no way of escaping the reality that the two coalitions do not offer alternatives for change in leadership or in public policy, at least in the Senate. The candidates of both tickets were recruited from social and political categories, among which are members of political families in power for four decades since Ferdinand Marcos installed his dictatorship in 1972, a few political veterans now seeking to return to power, reelectionists seeking another term, scions of retired or retiring elected officials, and a handful of younger-generation individuals hankering for public office.

The issue that this column wishes to raise is: Has the distribution of political power been democratized through regular elections since the 1986 People Power Revolution, whose successor government under President Cory Aquino produced the 1987 Constitution, which proclaims, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law”? The key phrase here is “equal access to opportunities for public service.”

From the names drafted into the senatorial tickets, there are grounds to argue that the two coalitions rigged the selection process by tilting the choices heavily in favor of political families long embedded in power, not only on the national level from President Aquino down to members of both chambers of Congress, but also on the local level, including governors and mayors. The tickets excluded nonelite candidates. A scrutiny of the two lineups reveals the hand of political families whose interventions have virtually reduced the constitutional ban on dynasties to a scrap of paper.

The administration’s National Unity Party (NUP) alliance—made up of the President’s Liberal Party, the Nacionalista Party and Eduardo Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition—carries candidates of elite political families: Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, cousin of the President; Sen. Francis Escudero of the Bicol Escudero clan; Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano of the Cayetano family; Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, son of outgoing Sen. Edgardo Angara; former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr.; and former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of outgoing Sen. Manuel Villar.

On the UNA side, we have those with dynastic family names, including Representative Milagros Magsaysay and former Tarlac Gov. Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco of the Cojuangco clan that owns Hacienda Luisita. To fill up the 12 slots, UNA has selected Sen. Gregorio Honasan, of coup d’etat fame and the right-hand man of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, together with reelectionist Sen. Loren Legarda, Escudero, and Grace Poe-Llamanzares, daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. The last three have also been drafted by the administration ticket as common candidates in an awkward arrangement of divided loyalties that have raised eyebrows over how this would ever work out without pulling down those riding on two horses.

This common-candidate scheme is an adaptation of the “guest candidate” recruitment in the pre-martial-law 2-party system under which either the Nacionalista Party or the Liberal Party drafted extremely popular politicians to run as its presidential candidate, as in the case of the switch of then Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay from LP to NP as “guest candidate.” This gamble on political turncoatism or opportunism was vindicated. Magsaysay won the 1953 election by a landslide.

The 2013 midterm polls will not include a presidential election. President Aquino, whose term ends in 2016, has no direct stake in 2013. Still, the issue demands some clarification: What divides the administration coalition and UNA? What are we electing the administration’s candidates or their opponents for? In the administration ticket, only three candidates are LP members—Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Jamby Madrigal and Bam Aquino. This reveals the hollow structure of LP, the lead party in the coalition.

At the proclamation of the coalition’s senatorial ticket at Club Filipino, President Aquino underscored the importance of having key allies in the Senate to ensure the passage of his legislative agenda for the remaining years of his term. He said the coalition would echo his reform agenda during the campaign. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, an LP official, told reporters that the campaign would emphasize the theme “Kapag walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

But that’s a slogan. It’s not a concrete program or platform for economic progress. The Malacañang spokesperson said: “Our senatorial lineup has chosen the [straight] path of the President.”

The President then hit the UNA: “The critics are with [the opposition]; those willing to cooperate are with us.” But the UNA secretary general, Rep. Tobias Tiangco, said the senatorial election should be a contest between candidates “pushing similar reforms, not a battle of bitter enemies.” He said the UNA “is a coalition of two major political parties whose support for the reform agenda of President Aquino is beyond doubt.” Where then does the opposition come in? This would make the election a farce, or a referendum for the performance, whatever it is, of the administration.

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