All in the family
Some three decades after the Constitution prohibited political dynasties “as may be defined by law,” and some three years after the first legislation to ban dynasties was enacted (a law prohibiting relatives of incumbent officials from contesting seats in the Sangguniang Kabataan), the open wound that is dynastic politics has only festered.
And it looks like the infection will grow worse in the 2019 elections; we may in fact already be seeing symptoms of sepsis in the body politic.
The number and prominence of family members running for political office in 2019 are staggering.
Consider the Cayetanos. Former foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano is running for the House of Representatives again, in the first district of Taguig; his wife, incumbent Mayor Lani, will run for Congress in the second district.
A prominent journalist’s candid reaction to the news reflected widespread public consternation: Does this mean the line that separates the two districts of Taguig runs right through their house?
Cayetano has since defended the couple’s decision in disingenuous terms: “It’s not unique, and it’s completely legal and moral,” he said.
But he could cite only one other example of a husband and wife serving in Congress at the same time. His defense was therefore misleading, because the circumstances remain highly unusual. (That was why their decision was headline news in the first place.)
Cayetano also argued that as long as the mandatory one-year in-district residence requirement was met, the candidacies were legal. (He said he lives in his family’s ancestral house in the first district while his wife lives in the second.)
But he did not offer an argument for the morality of their decision, because in fact it is morally dubious.
Why would a married couple live in separate houses, in the same city, if there is nothing wrong with their marriage?
What kind of damage will living separately inflict on that marriage?
Or, as seems likely, the couple will actually live in the same house but offer the legal fiction of separate legal residences merely to comply with the law — but how can this arrangement even possibly be called moral?
That Cayetano’s brother is running for the mayor’s post that his wife will vacate, and their sister will run for the Senate again, only proves that the Cayetano family’s election maneuverings are all about the consolidation of political power in the city they prefer to think as their own.
Or consider the cases of intense, even melodramatic, sibling rivalry — the most prominent examples being Makati City Mayor Abby Binay and her brother, the ex-mayor, Junjun, who will contest the mayorship of the city their father ran for almost two decades; and the half-brothers JV Ejercito, an incumbent senator running for reelection, and Jinggoy Estrada, former senator and current plunder-accused-out-on-bail.
But these cases reveal the true nature of political dynasties. The fact that neither the former vice president, Jojo Binay, nor the former president, Joseph Estrada, could prevail on their children to consider ceding is not an anomaly in the system; it is part of the system. It ensures that the mayorship stays in the Binay family, that at least one seat in the Senate is reserved for the Estrada family.
Or consider President Duterte and his children. Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte is running for reelection; her bohemian brother Sebastian (“Baste”) is supporting her by running for vice mayor. Their brother Paolo (“Polong”), the former vice mayor, is running for a seat in Congress.
“Ayaw ko ng (I don’t want a) dynasty, but we are forced,” the President explained. That’s a curious turn of phrase; why exactly is the Duterte family forced to control the most important offices key to Davao City?
In part, the answer must be similar to the objective of the Cayetanos, the Binays, the Estradas: political consolidation.
But the Dutertes also see elective office as an employment opportunity, a means of keeping busy. The President himself once served as spare-tire vice mayor, after his second three-term service in the mayor’s office.
Before an audience of businessmen, he explained Baste’s entry into politics in precisely those terms, as a job opportunity for a happy-go-lucky member of the family. “Walang ginawa ’yan sa buhay, mabuti mayroon na siguro kung i-vice mayor niya. (He’s done nothing in life; it’s good that he’ll have something to do if he’s vice mayor).”
Sounds like the sepsis will only get worse — unless the Filipino electorate votes down for good this toxic, deeply undemocratic practice.
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