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Voters must stop the political dynasties

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The 1987 constitutional provision is clear:  “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” This is Section 26 of Article II, which is entitled “Declaration of Principles and State Policies.” Yet up to now, 25 years later, the legislation required by this state policy has not been produced. And because there is no antidynasty law, the effect of the term limits imposed by the 1987 Constitution to equalize access to political office has been neutralized: Elected officials are merely replaced by members of their immediate family—wives, husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. Power is perpetuated.

At the same time, political parties, which were encouraged by the Constitution to widen the leadership base of the country, have been coopted by the political families to further entrench themselves in power.

The bottom line: These dynasties have not only proliferated but have also become more brazen in monopolizing political power. One example of what can be considered a political dynasty: Ed Angara, senator. Bella Angara (sister), governor. Sonny Angara (son), congressman. Arturo Angara (brother), mayor. Karen Angara (niece, daughter of Arturo), councilor. In the May 2013 elections, there will be a modified rigodon in Aurora:  Ed, who is “term-limited,” will replace Bella as governor of the province, Bella will replace Sonny in the House of Representatives, and Sonny will replace Ed in the Senate. It looks like Arturo and Karen will remain in place.

At this point, I must state that the Angaras I know—Ed, Bella, and Sonny—are certainly competent. And I must state that I am very fond of them. But it is that kind of monopoly of political power—the province of Aurora, by the way, has a population of 187,802 (2007 census), and, as of 2010, 111,211 registered voters—that is precisely what our Constitution (overwhelmingly ratified) is against.

Here’s another case: Jinggoy Estrada (son of former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada), senator. JV Ejercito (another son, half brother of Jinggoy), congressman. Guia Estrada/Ejercito (widely known as Erap’s No. 2), mayor. And in the 2013 elections, JV is running for the Senate to join Jinggoy, Erap himself is running for mayor of Manila, and maybe another family member will run. San Juan is the original power base of the Estradas.

The Cayetano family boasts of only three members in politics, but two of them (Alan Peter and Pia) are in the Senate and Lani (Alan Peter’s wife) is mayor.

The Binay family is a fourth example. At present, three are in politics—Jojo, vice president; JunJun (son), mayor; Abigail (daughter), congresswoman.  But plans are afoot to expand the family’s reach: Nancy (daughter) is running for the Senate, her “winnability” based only on the family name.

The vicious cycle here for the country and the powerless is that once a family member gets into public office, the accumulation of election money from public funds begins (with few exceptions) and grows bigger as other family members get elected. Membership in the legislature seems to be particularly lucrative (else why are both chambers so secretive about the allocation of their respective budgets?). The temptation is great and hard to resist. And even with no kickbacks on infrastructure projects, there are hidden benefits to being in power, like a road leading to family land or priority in connecting electricity, water and other amenities. Or family members getting appointed to public office. With kickbacks on infrastructure projects, the family wealth and election kitty grow by leaps and bounds. What chance do qualified and poor aspirants for public office have in this system? Not much, and eventually nothing, as the cancer in the system gets bigger. Public office morphs from public trust to private business.

Do these families provide public services? Certainly. Public office provides that opportunity. Certainly, their political leaders are happy. They get their share of goodies. As for those with well-meaning ambitions for elective office, especially in smaller, controllable constituencies, they usually settle for lesser positions or pursue other careers because the alternative to fighting the dynasty can be very costly.

Members of political dynasties give all sorts of justifications for their existence. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Their areas are connected with greater poverty and lower human development indices.

Political dynasties say that it is up to the voter to vote them in or not. And in this they are right,  because they will make no move to reduce, limit or prohibit themselves.

Well, I am a voter. And I say that if the legislators ignore the Constitution, if the political parties have become parties of convenience and self-interest, then we voters must take it upon ourselves to stop the political dynasties. And we can. How? Let me throw in a suggestion to start the ball rolling—and I invite like-minded citizens to give their own (because no one should have a monopoly on suggestions): that we pledge not to vote for anyone whose surname is the same as, and/or who is related to, an incumbent public official. No exceptions. No shading of principle.

Simple. Name recall turned on its head. There may be collateral damage, but the benefits to the country far outweigh the costs. And the message will be unmistakable.


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