With Due Respect

Options to stop political dynasties

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“The state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law,” so the Constitution (Art. II, Sec. 26) solemnly declares. Despite repeated clamor, this provision of our Charter, like its many other “principles and state policies,” remains unimplemented to this day. How then can this provision be enforced and political dynasties ended, or at least regulated? There are four possible options: legislative, judicial (and quasi-judicial), sovereign and political.

Legislative action. The “no-brainer” option is for Congress to enact a law defining what a political dynasty is, what offices (elective and nonelective) are covered, who may enforce the prohibition, and other details. While some senators and congressmen have perfunctorily filed bills covering these topics, not one has been seriously deliberated upon. To my knowledge, no such bills have been reported for second reading in the Senate or the House of Representatives.

Realistically, such measures cannot be expected to be approved at this time. After all, many legislators have relatives—parents, children, siblings, and even grandparents—who serve simultaneously in Congress and in other offices.

Tired of waiting for congressional action during the last 25 years, some citizens have filed judicial petitions to compel the Commission on Elections to enforce the constitutional prohibition by denying due course to certificates of candidacies of close relatives.

Judicial and quasi-judicial actions. However, I think these petitions are legally untenable because the Comelec cannot legislate. Note that the Constitution prohibits political dynasties, “as may be defined by law.” True, the Comelec has the power to issue rules and regulations. However, such rules merely implement statutes. Without a law defining political dynasties, implementing rules have no leg to stand on.

How about a judicial petition for mandamus to compel legislative action? I am afraid such recourse would also be iffy because courts can command the execution only of a purely ministerial act, which jurisprudence defines as “a simple, definite duty… a precise act accurately marked out… If the law imposes a duty but gives the officer [upon whom it is imposed] the right to decide how or when it shall be performed, the duty is discretionary and not ministerial.”

Under this test, I doubt that courts will direct Congress to pass an enabling law since the duty is not clearly defined and precisely marked out.

Obviously, the constitutional ban on dynasties is not “self-executing,” unlike, for instance, the term limits on congressmen (three consecutive terms) and senators (two consecutive terms). Here, the courts and the Comelec can disqualify candidates using the bare, but clear, certain and specific constitutional limits without need of an enabling law. Otherwise stated, unlike the dynasty ban, term limits are self-executory.

Sovereign action. Probably frustrated by legislative inaction, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. promised to start a people’s initiative for an antidynasty law. Now, this is very novel. No law in our country has been approved via a people’s initiative.

However, there had been two unsuccessful attempts to change our Constitution via this process. In Lambino vs Comelec (Oct. 25, 2006), the Supreme Court struck down a people’s initiative to convert our presidential system to parliamentary on the ground, among others, that an initiative can be used only for simple and easy-to-comprehend matters, not for changing “basic principles, or several provisions” which “a deliberative body with recorded proceedings is best suited to undertake.”

Although this ruling involved Charter change, I believe that, by analogy, the same reason stopping a Charter revision can be used to restrain a people’s initiative for an antidynasty law. Being controversial, such a proposed law will need a deliberative body in which the proposal can, to borrow the language of the Lambino decision, be “drafted, defined, articulated, discussed and agreed upon in a mature and democratic debate.”

Political action. The fourth option, political action, may be the most doable under the present circumstances. Simply stated, let the people decide by voting down candidates who belong to the same family. Those who believe in this proposition can form political movements like the “Kamag-anak sa Politika Aayawan Lahat,” or “Kapal.”

Others may use television, radio, newspapers, Internet and social media like Facebook and Twitter. US President Barack Obama effectively used the social media in his reelection bid. His young campaign organizers penetrated the voting population so systematically and so effectively, converting what was predicted to be a close poll into a one-sided Electoral College triumph.

If indeed our people want to stop members of political dynasties from occupying government positions simultaneously, they can demonstrate their will in the 2013 elections by voting down the “magkakamag-anak.” Should such a message be evident in the elections, I am sure relatives in other branches of government will also be foiled.

Let the 2013 elections then be a sort of referendum on the issue. Let the people speak loudly through their ballots. Let the antidynasty advocates take this challenge. And if they win, the new Congress will surely heed the people’s mandate by promptly enacting a law defining and banning political dynasties.

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