Dynasties, pro and con
Nancy Binay Angeles, a senatorial candidate with a seemingly secure slot in the surveys of voters’ preferences, seems to me to exemplify both the necessity and infamy of family influence in Philippine politics.
First of all, I don’t think anyone would dispute the fact that Nancy would not have made it to the United Nationalist Alliance slate were it not for her father, Vice President and UNA stalwart Jejomar Binay. If we recall, Nancy was a last-minute replacement for another political scion, Joey de Venecia, son of former Speaker Jose de Venecia. When De Venecia suddenly pulled out, citing business priorities, the UNA leadership pulled out Nancy’s name from out of thin air. Before then, few people knew who Nancy was, even if she had served her mother (when Ms Binay was Makati mayor) and then her father as a personal assistant.
How else could anyone with such a thin resumé as Nancy have made it to the slate of the main opposition party for a national post? She herself admits her lack of experience, which she uses to explain why she refuses to debate and has to concentrate on door-to-door campaigning given her “last-minute” entry into the race.
Certainly, her maiden surname has a lot to do with her political fortunes. And her candidacy and almost-sure entry into the Senate should serve as an inspiration for all the “unknowns” with moist eyes for a Senate seat. Without the family connection, I doubt if she would have even been considered for barangay captain or city councilor.
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To be fair, Nancy is not the only “poster child” of the political dynasty issue in this year’s elections.
True, the Binays exemplify to an almost embarrassing degree the importance of family ties in local and national polls. “Binay” has been almost synonymous with the City of Makati since after the Edsa Revolt in 1986 when Jojo Binay was appointed OIC mayor and seems never to have vacated the seat since. When term limits forced him out of office, his physician wife Elenita ran in his place. Their son Junjun, who had served as a city councilor, is the incumbent mayor, while another daughter, Abigail, is the city’s congressional representative. The patriarch, meanwhile, stunned the nation when he beat leading candidate Mar Roxas (now interior secretary) for vice president in 2010.
There are other dynastic exemplars running alongside Nancy. JV Ejercito, who is also doing well in the polls, could very well join his half-brother Jinggoy in the Senate; Alan Peter Cayetano, a reelectionist, will be rejoining his sister Pia; Jack Enrile hopes to occupy the seat beside his father, Senate President Manong Johnny; likewise Sonny Angara, who excuses himself from the dynasty tag by saying that his father Ed Angara is retiring. Bam Aquino, a first cousin of P-Noy, is technically not covered by the scope of any proposed antidynasty law, but he’s still seen as part of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan, as is Tingting Cojuangco, another candidate who happens to be P-Noy’s aunt. Migz Zubiri also belongs to a political family, although its fortunes even in their home province of Bukidnon seem to have waned. Koko Pimentel is likewise a political scion, although his father, former senator Nene, retired before Koko’s foray into senatorial politics. Former senator Jun Magsaysay, by public consensus viewed as a decent person and effective public servant himself, walks in the shadow of his illustrious father, the late President Ramon Magsaysay. And even JC delos Reyes, of the low-profile Ang Kapatiran Party, must confront the dynasty issue since his maternal uncle, Dick Gordon, is himself running for senator under UNA.
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But in a political setting where political parties have lost their clout and meaning, wrote Randy David in his column last Sunday, families “have remained the main fulcrum of our political
It is from their own families that politicians draw their closest advisers and successors, mainly because these people, by virtue of blood and upbringing, can be trusted to maintain a family’s heritage, good name, or at least its interests, wealth and power. It is also the extended family that provides much of the campaign kitty that political parties can only partially cover.
On the other hand, growing up within a political clan, joining in campaign sorties, sitting around the dining table where information and analysis is shared every evening, getting to know the political players in one’s town, province, region and nation, is an excellent “university” for the budding politician. There is no gainsaying the value of a respected or just familiar political surname.
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Of course, we’re talking about democratic politics here, and not a royal lineage or monarchic transition.
And I do agree that our growth as a nation, our debut as a politically mature country, depends to a large degree on broadening the pool of aspiring politicians. Why should the lineup of choices for those seeking seats in Congress—and even in local governments—be limited to those with family networks and connections? We are a nation of over 90 million, and it boggles the imagination, indeed, that the number of qualified applicants for public office should be limited to a few families and clans.
While one’s heritage counts a lot in the shaping of one’s philosophy in life and personal ethics, family origins could also very well determine one’s class loyalty, view of the world and opinion on issues as diverse as reproductive health, poverty alleviation, agrarian reform, industrialization, law and order and even foreign affairs. What we need at this time is diversity, not just of beliefs and ideologies, but also of the experiences and world views—and families—that shape them.