The election season is turning out to be an unprecedented showcase of dynastic hubris, with members of historically well-entrenched political families indicating their intent to seek important posts with hardly any or a minimum of qualifications and track record of public service, or any record, for that matter, of competence and vision.
The pervasiveness of political dynasties is something that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has noted in its latest pastoral letter, which says that as in business, there are “monopolies in politics” that “breed corruption and ineptitude” and “limit the entry [of other players] that can bring in new ideas and offer better services.” The bishops included political dynasties among “a litany of storms” that faces the country.
Indeed, the list of national candidates read like a who’s who of leading clans who have made political offices their family demesne. Check a few out: JV Ejercito, Jack Enrile, Nancy Binay, Juan Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Juan Miguel Zubiri.
A study by the nongovernment Center for People Empowerment in Governance says there are at least 178 “dominant political dynasties” in the Philippines; these do not include local political clans. Of the total, 100 dynasties—or 56 percent—are “old elites,” the rest being “new elites” that have emerged since the 1986 Edsa uprising that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Of the Philippines’ 80 provinces, 94 percent have political dynasties, the study said.
Businessman Louis Biraogo had filed a petition with the Supreme Court to compel the Commission on Elections to prohibit members of political dynasties from running in the May polls. But the tribunal turned it down, saying the constitutional ban on dynasties is not self-executing and must have an enabling law passed by Congress. But Congress itself is dominated by political clans.
Even the family of President Aquino is not immune from this malady. The President is ostensibly not encouraging the senatorial ambition of his aunt, Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, whose earlier desire to become governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao was scuttled when he had the election there reset; yet he has not discouraged a similar aspiration of his cousin, Bam Aquino, and in fact included the latter in the administration’s Senate slate.
Unlike Cojuangco, who has at least served as governor of Tarlac and has two master’s degrees and a doctorate in history, Bam Aquino’s credentials are sorely wanting: Even his uncle Ninoy had a fairer estimation of himself when he chose to start his political career as mayor of lowly Concepcion town in Tarlac.
The young Aquino’s only background in public administration is having been chair of the National Youth Commission, one of those populist agencies under the Office of the President that was obviously appended to the bloated bureaucracy in order to show the government’s token concern for the youth sector. Now he wants to be catapulted to one of the highest offices in the land on the sheer strength of his family name and using the administration coalition machinery, which almost surely will be a beneficiary of indirect government funding. And he has the blessing of his cousin, the President. Blood is truly thicker than statesmanship.
Let’s not even begin to discuss the Binays, Enriles, and Estradas, or the local political clans notorious for their lock on their claimed turf.
Unchecked political dynasties are a bane to nation-building for they perpetuate feudalism. They are also a symptom of Philippine underdevelopment. Many of these political families come from backward and very poor regions and provinces, which heavily depend on the central government for their sustenance. Political clans generally make themselves channels for Manila’s beneficence and try to score kickbacks from public works and other projects along the way. In short, they make a family business out of dynastic politics. Ensured of funding support from Manila, they neglect programs to foster commerce and development in their territories, a task that requires vision, competence, and ethics, which they sorely lack.
It has been said in their defense that while they carry old names, many of the candidates are new faces who will inject young blood in the old body politic. But that apologia has been said before of today’s old fogeys back when they were running as young Turks: New politics is nothing but a mask for the old rotten system.