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With Due Respect

Dynasties, for good or for evil

Though laudably simple, traditional, and elegant, the State of the Nation Address of President Marcos Jr. evoked talks of dynastic politics yet again.

THE BUZZ WAS, OF COURSE, CENTERED ON THE MARCOS-ROMUALDEZ FAMILY, given that Martin G. Romualdez is a formidable speaker and the new senior deputy majority leader in the big House, neophyte Rep. Ferdinand Alexander “Sandro” A. Marcos III, could be the next gen’s president-in-waiting, and that in the small House is another powerful clan member, Sen. Imee Marcos.

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To be fair, the dynasts preceded the Marcoses. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, like her father Diosdado, became chief executive while her son, Mikey, was a representative. Benigno Aquino III was the son of another president, Corazon Aquino, who was the widow of Benigno Aquino Jr. who himself aspired to be president. Riding on the Aquino brand were three senators (Butz, Tessie, and Bam), several representatives, and local officials. Who knows, Vice President Sara Duterte may yet become president like her father Rodrigo.

Aspiring close relatives who however failed to land the plum post were former senator Gerry Roxas, son of president Manuel, and Serging Osmeña Jr., son of president Sergio Sr. Sen. Gene Magsaysay wanted to succeed his brother, the popular president Ramon. To my recollection, of the post-WWII presidents, only Carlos P. Garcia and Fidel V. Ramos did not sire a presidentiable. And to my knowledge, former Senate president Jovito R. Salonga banned his relatives from becoming public servants.

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OTHER POLITICAL DYNASTIES MAY NOT HAVE CAPTURED THE PRESIDENCY YET, but they certainly have attained enough clout to capture it. I am thinking of the likes of the Cayetano siblings, Senators Alan and Pia (scions of the late senator Rene) not to mention Taguig Mayor Lani; of half-siblings Jinggoy and JV (sons of president Joseph Estrada); of Senator Nancy and Makati Mayor Abby, children of former vice president Jojo and former mayor Elenita Binay; and of the dynamic Gatchalian brothers, Senator Sherwin, Representative Rex, and Valenzuela Mayor Wes.

Indeed, our political firmament is littered with many political stars, luminous and not-so-luminous. Many of them produced some of our brightest leaders, some the darkest. Are dynasties to be absolutely banned?

To be sure, Article II, Section 26 of our Constitution frowns on them in this wise, “The State shall … prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” Though a state policy, the bare ban is neither absolute nor enforceable by judicial action because the provision requires a definition by law that Congress has failed to pass.

VOCALLY, MOST POLITICIANS ARE AGAINST DYNASTIES. After all, who would not be against a constitutional policy? But, as in all matters—whether on the Constitution or on whatever else—the devil is in the details, for example:

Who are the relatives to be banned? Only direct ascendant-descendants (parents, children, and grandchildren)? Or also brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, and nieces? Only relatives by blood or also by affinity like spouses and in-laws? Only legitimate relations or also illegitimate ones like mistresses and out-of-wedlock children/grandchildren? Only full-blood or also half-blood and adopted relations?

What offices are included? Elective and/or appointive? National or provincial, city, town, and barangay positions, or all of them? Only within the same office like in the Senate, the House, the Cabinet, or all offices?

What geographical limits should be included? Only within the same province, city, town, or barangay? What time limitations, if any? Can relatives succeed retiring or term-limited officials? Should the ban be for relations running in the same election, or should it include future elections?

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Genes and environment play a great part in politics, as it does in the professions and in business. The early exposure of children, grandchildren, and relatives to the political careers of their families somehow educates and influences them for good or for bad. And they inherit names familiar to the electorate.

Political dynasties are not unique to our country. The United States has its own share of political clans, like the Clintons (Bill was president, wife Hilary was a US senator and a secretary of state), the Kennedys (Jack was president, brother Bobby was attorney general, and another brother, Edward, a multiterm US senator) and the Bushes (father George Sr. and son George Jr. were presidents while another son Jeb was a Florida governor). Note, however, that the US Constitution does not ban dynasties.

The above examples show that dynasty is not necessarily evil, depending on how it is defined, regulated, and used. Indeed, many institutions and inventions, like electricity, mining, guns, and political dynasties are not evil per se. They are in themselves neutral. To define and regulate dynasties so they can be used only for good, and not for evil, is the challenge to Congress.

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