In six weeks, we will know if Filipino voters will repudiate the election of members of political dynasties to senatorial and congressional offices and more than 17,000 provincial and municipal posts all over the country.
In a pastoral letter issued on Jan. 29, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Philippines (CBCP) for the first time in its long history of interventions in Philippine politics denounced political dynasties—those powerful and influential families that have ruled the country since the inception of democracy in 1935 under the Commonwealth government.
The Catholic hierarchy lambasted the spread of political dynasties as one of a “long litany of storms” that visited the country in recent memory.
The pastoral letter came two weeks before the official start of the campaign for the May 13 midterm elections, highlighting political dynasties as a central issue in the balloting, even more important than the reproductive health law being pushed by President Aquino that has divided deeply the Church and the Philippine state.
The statement was overarching and spared no partisan political group, and with it, the Church put its influence over its lay constituency on the line in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
According to an Inquirer report, a tally by the nongovernment Center for People Empowerment in Governance put at 178 the number of “dominant political dynasties” in the Philippines.
Of the total, 100 dynasties—or 56 percent—are “old elites,” with the rest being the so-called “new elites” which emerged out of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.
These data alone indicate the tenacity and deep-seated roots of the dynastic tradition in Philippine politics.
Of the 80 provinces, 94 percent have political dynasties, the center reported.
The CBCP letter said:
“Political authority exists for the common good. It is not to be exercised for the sake of private and family interests or simply for the interests of a political party. When political authority is exercised merely for these narrow interests, it betrays the reason for its existence. Moreover, such situation breeds corruption and inhibits general access to political power which is a fundamental mark of democracy.
“Therefore, we denounce the continued existence of family political dynasties and the continuing delay of passing a law to implement the constitutional provision banning political dynasties.”
The letter said lawmakers had to define the mandate of the Constitution for an enabling law that would ban such dynasties, a condition that “breeds corruption and ineptitude.”
If Congress is unwilling to act on such a law, the Church would back the holding of peoples’ initiative provided for in the Constitution that would push for an enabling law against political dynasties, it said.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma told reporters that since the May elections were fast approaching, a law against dynasties was too late.
“It will be up to the electorate to vote or not for members of dynasties,” he said. “We raised the issue so that people will think about it, and what we also want to show is that we are one with them and understand their longing, hopes and dreams.”
While it did not identify which candidates should be elected, the pastoral letter was clearly telling the people that the dynasties were wrong and “will not help our country.” The bishops called on their constituency to make a conscience vote.
In issuing the pastoral letter, it was clear that the bishops were aware that the odds were stacked against them. President Aquino has refused to certify as urgent the passage of the antidynasty bills that have been pending in Congress for the past 25 years.
One of the pending bills is House Bill No. 3413 introduced by Representatives Teddy A. Casiño, Neri Javier Colmenares, Rafael Mariano, Luzviminda Ilagan, Antonio Tinio, Emerenciana de Jesus and Raymond Palatino.
It says “the extended family… has found its pernicious effects in the public arena which has become the exclusive domain of influential families and clans. Such families have become so well-entrenched in Philippine politics they have monopolized political power and public resources at all levels of government.”
The bill cites Article II, Section 26 of the Constitution which states, “The state shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibits political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
As a means to give force and effect to the social justice provisions of the Constitution, which provides for the diffusion of economic and political influence, the bill says “it is necessary that the political arena be leveled by opening public office to persons who are equally qualified to aspire on even terms with those from politically dominant families.”
In response to the CBCP statement, Malacañang blurred the issue by saying a distinction should be made between “good” and “bad” political dynasties.
Caught in dynastic pincers
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said, “It should be clear what political dynasty means … Not all dynasties are bad; not all dynasties are good.”
He stopped short of declaring in what category the Aquino dynasty belonged (from the late Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., former President Cory Aquino and down to the incumbent President). He defended the inclusion of dynastic heirs in the Team PNoy senatorial lineup, saying they had “proven themselves” in public service.
Mr. Aquino is fielding his own cousin, Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, who is totally inexperienced in public service, and other relatives of dynastic politicians, as follows:
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, son of a former senator and brother of incumbent Sen. Pia Cayetano; Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, son of former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr.; Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, son of incumbent Sen. Edgardo Angara; and former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of Sen. Manuel Villar.
As a plague on both houses, the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, is fielding candidates who are members of family dynasties: Rep. Jack Enrile, son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile; Rep. JV Ejercito, son of former President Joseph Estrada; and Nancy Binay, daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Whichever ticket wins control of the Senate, there is no escape from the dynastic families. We are caught in their pincers.