One of the highlights of the third and last Inquirer Senate Forum, held in Cebu last Friday, was the polite but pointed exchange between Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño and fellow third-termer Aurora Rep. Sonny Angara. Explaining the antidynasty bill he filed in Congress, which seeks to prohibit politicians within two degrees of consanguinity or affinity from running for office at the same time or in succession, Casiño said: “There are other families [from Aurora province] who have young and budding politicians and not just Angara alone.”
Angara stood up, asked to be recognized, and asserted that Casiño’s draft bill would not affect him at all since his father, Sen. Edgardo Angara, was retiring, then added: “I’ve always been in the shadow of my father but I’ve also served as part of the Congress for nine years,” the Cebu Daily News reported.
In point of fact, Casiño’s bill, first filed in 2001, would have prohibited the younger Angara from running this year, because it also bans members of the same family from succeeding one another in office. In political-dynasty terms, his father’s shadow looms large indeed.
More than in any other election since Edsa, the issue of political dynasties is front and center today; in large part this is because of the narrowest pool of viable senatorial candidates since 1995. If survey trends tracked by both the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia are reflected in the election results, the Senate that will convene on the fourth Monday of July may well feature a father and son, a brother and sister, and a pair of stepbrothers, plus a first cousin of the President’s and a daughter of the Vice President’s. That’s just five families, accounting for one-third of the entire Senate.
Controversy, however, does not mean that the Filipino electorate has soured on political families; indeed, many of the candidates running in the 2013 elections, not just in the Senate race but especially in the local races, enjoy what we can call equity of dynasty. Very many of them are leading in the opinion polls.
This apparent contradiction between general public opinion and local election choices is not a phenomenon unique to Philippine politics; electorates in other countries have recorded a high level of distaste for congressional politics, for example, but at the local level return the same representatives to Congress. The same dynamic is at work here: There is apparent support for the constitutional ban on dynasties in general; at the local level, however, and even in the Senate race, many likely voters have expressed their preference for specific candidates identified with political dynasties.
This state of affairs prompted Ang Kapatiran senatorial candidate Rizalito David to seek a wider ban on dynasties. At the Cebu forum, he said he found Casiño’s proposed limitation to two degrees to be too narrow. He bewailed the role two cousins from Cebu played in the passage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act [referring to but without naming John Osmeña and Sergio Osmeña III, who were in the Senate at the same time]. “They were the ones who approved the Epira law on power distribution and generation. That’s why the price of our electricity is so high,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
If passing an enabling law on political dynasties based on two degrees of relationship is difficult, however, think how much harder passing a definition based on four degrees (which is what would be needed to prevent first cousins from serving at the same time in the Senate) would be. David’s broader proposal seems to be counterproductive, at best.
A little over two weeks ago, we argued in this same space that “even a smaller-scale bill” based on a limit of two degrees “would be a real advance.” We are under no illusions that even such a limited bill would simply materialize in the last three years of the Aquino administration—or that it would, in Casiño’s hopeful phrase, “bury political clans and kill political monopoly.”
But all of us who have a stake in the future of the democratic project have a duty to seize every opportunity to broaden the democratic base. The controversy over political dynasties, and the increased attention paid to what dynasts say they will do about the need for an enabling law, should be used to push the antidynasty agenda further. Even politicians like Sen. Chiz Escudero, in the first forum, or ex-senator Migz Zubiri, in the third, said they will not stand in the way of such a law. Let’s hold them to that promise.