Monday, April 23, 2018
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Sounding Board

Political dynasties

There is a rising clamor for a law against political dynasties. Without a law implementing the constitutional prohibition, the end of dynasties is nothing more than a consummation devoutly to be wished. This, in fact, is true of practically all the provisions in Article II’s Declaration of Principles and State Policies. They need implementing laws. The big question is: What are the chances that an anti-political dynasty bill will become law?

This is not a novel question. The constitutional provision itself was a subject of debate in the 1987 Constitutional Commission. The political dynasty provision was authored by Commissioner Jose N. Nolledo. A similar provision had already been rejected under the article on local governments, but Nolledo entertained the hope that the Constitutional Commission might still approve one because, as he said, “It seems to me that the resolution asking for a provision in the Constitution is very popular outside but does not seem to enjoy the same popularity inside the Constitutional Commission.” He was also faintly hoping that Congress would do what the commission would not do. Hence his impassioned plea:  “And so I plead with the members of the Commission to please approve this provision. . . .  [W]e leave it to Congress to determine the circumstances under which political dynasty is prohibited. The commission will not determine hard and fast rules by which political dynasty may be condemned. But I think this is a very progressive provision and, in consulting the people, the people will like this provision. I hope the commission will hear the plea of the people.”

The thrust of the constitutional provision is to impose on the state the obligation of guaranteeing equal access to public office. Although the provision speaks in terms of service, it is meant to be a blow in the direction of democratizing political power. Nolledo had the support of Commissioner (now Comelec Commissioner) Rene Sarmiento, who explained the rationale of the provision thus:


“By including this provision, we widen the opportunities of competent, young and promising poor candidates to occupy important positions in the government. While it is true we have government officials who have ascended to power despite accident of birth, they are exceptions to the general rule. The economic standing of these officials would show that they come from powerful clans with vast economic fortunes.”

But strong contrary views were also expressed. Commissioner Christian Monsod’s was brief: “I just want to make the motion to delete Section 20 [now 26], first, because it has been argued and debated fully in the Article on Local Governments and this body has already made a decision on the same point; and, secondly, for the reasons I have stated, that I do not think we should curtail the right of the people to a free choice on who their political leader should be.”

Commissioner Blas Ople for his part argued that what were called “dynasties” were in fact not the causes of social evils but the result of socio-economic imbalances. He concluded that the commission should address these socioeconomic imbalances instead.

He also noted that even under present conditions, less privileged citizens have succeeded in establishing themselves politically. He added: “In my own province there are no longer any dynasties. There are other provinces where you find the word ‘dynasty’ probably misapplied to a distinguished family, let us say, to the Cojuangco and Aquino family in Tarlac or the Padilla family in Manila and Pangasinan, or the Rodrigo family in Bulacan, or the Laurel family in Batangas, and the Sumulong-Cojuangco family in Rizal, the Calderon family in Nueva Vizcaya, and Peps Bengzon has been calling my attention to the existence now of a Bengzon line of political officeholders in Pangasinan. This is not to say, Mr. Presiding Officer, that the Philippine society has been immobile. We see lots of evidence that, in fact, people disadvantaged by the accident of birth have indeed risen through their own efforts to become successful competitors of entrenched political dynasties in their provinces and cities. I can sympathize with Commissioner Nolledo’s concern about dynasties because he comes from a province which tends to be governed by political dynasties. Is that not right, Mr. Presiding Officer?”

The argument that the electorate should be left free to decide whom to choose is not without validity. Partly for that reason, the meaning of political dynasties has been left for Congress to define. But since Congress is the principal playground of political dynasties, the realization of the dream, that the provision on political dynasties would widen access to political opportunities, will very probably be exhaustingly long in coming.

There is pending in the Senate, since 2011, Senate Bill 2649 authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Her “Explanatory Note” pretty much sums up the arguments expressed by others for the passage of such a bill. But the bill still languishes unattended. Will a constitutional amendment by referendum and plebiscite, as suggested by Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes, succeed in drafting a provision that defines what political dynasty means? But amendment by initiative and referendum has had its own problems.

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