No meaningful change with dynasties around
President Duterte ran under a catchy slogan that reverberates even today among his supporters. “Change is coming,” his 2016 campaign proclaimed with great certainty, as if sounding the arrival of a magical cure to our many ills.
Indeed, if you had listened to his speeches without any background on the man, you would think him sincere as called out the oligarchs for their greed and chastised the “disente” for their supposed hypocrisy and inaction.
Two years hence, where has his campaign pronouncements have taken us? Well, nowhere. And no other recent event has made this unfortunate truth more evident than the announcement of candidates for the 2019 midterm elections. The same families will be vying for pretty much the same seats.
Worse still, the presidential family itself is expanding its political stronghold in Davao by fielding three of the President’s own children in the city’s local elections. That includes the political neophyte and one-time host of a travel show, Sebastian Duterte.
The unseemliness of this little family project becomes more splendid if you consider the familiar names being endorsed by Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the new Davao-based political party with the presidential daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte, as its head. Marcos, Estrada and Revilla — a quick glance at their ballot list could make one dizzy with irony.
Although problematic from the start, some had hoped that the federalist Charter change initiative under this administration could finally alter our political landscape for the good, by bringing about clear and strong constitutional provisions that would expressly forbid political dynasties without the need for a separate law (a notable weakness of the 1987 Constitution).
However, the process has been much slower than expected. Progressives have made their objections clear about the Frankenstein of a state that could be produced by a haphazard attempt to federalize the Philippines. On the other hand, the traditional politicians likely have their own motivations for either stalling or hijacking the process, again and always to safeguard their interests.
The draft Constitution penned by House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for instance, specifically removes the antidynasty provision, prompting worries from the constitutional commission itself.
Through all of these, we have not seen the same degree of fervor from the President on the issue of political dynasties, at least compared to other flagship issues of his administration like illegal drugs.
It’s not as if a new Constitution is the only way to push the antidynasty agenda. Lest we forget, the 1987 Constitution has already laid down the basis for an antidynasty law.
Imagine if Duterte had chosen instead to direct his political capital and will on this issue. He could have been the President that, among other things, would be remembered for signing a bill that once and for all outlawed political dynasties.
Alas, this is not the case, and we are left wondering what we have given up for mere lip service.
There is not much left to debate about the bane of political dynasties, though the shameless dynasties that pass on political offices like heirlooms would like us to believe otherwise. But this issue is like climate change. The longer we let people deny its extent and ill effects, the closer we bring ourselves to harm and decline.
In fact, the problem is growing like a hungry malignant tumor. A study by Dean Mendoza et al. shows that from 70 percent in 2007, the number of governors that belong to dynasties had ballooned to 81 percent by 2016. In Congress, 75 percent of the members were dynastic in 2007; by 2016, the figure had gone up to almost 78 percent. The same study also shows that the extensive chokehold of dynasties in our provinces and regions is correlated with poverty.
On top of these, countless research data and articles have been published that untangle the complexities of patronage politics in the Philippines, particularly as a scourge on national development. The only sensible thing to do at this point is for us to move the discussion forward from the “why” to the “how” and “when.”
Our role as critical voters is clear: Starve the dynasties of votes as much as possible in the next elections. However, the more crucial role still falls on the man in Malacañang, given his power and influence.
Does the President have it in him to see to it that political dynasties, including his own, will be banished from our political system and relegated to where they really belong — the pages of our history books?
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Kevin Mandrilla is a graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He works as a communications professional for the tech industry and writes occasional pieces about politics and culture in his free time.
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