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Sure way to break up PH political dynasties

“Political dynasty, while it is true everywhere in the country, is more pronounced in the Bangsamoro where you see practically the whole clan running the … local government unit. I call this … political enterprise or clan-inclusive government.”

These words were spoken by respected Mindanao civil society activist Guiamel Alim in a speech delivered at the Consolidation for Peace in Mindanao seminar-workshop in Hiroshima, Japan, on June 23, 2014. Oddly, Alim’s concern about the reign of “clan-inclusive” LGUs has been very rarely articulated in the congressional deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.

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Nevertheless, the issue of political dynasties is undeniably a national concern. And this problem is addressed by the 1987 Constitution in Section 26 of Article II: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Clearly, the scourge of political dynasties was not unknown to the framers of the Constitution. In particular, Jose C. Colayco, during the debates on this subject, stated: “One of the worst effects of political dynasties is that [they breed] graft and corruption.”

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Corruption is defined by the United Nations Development Programme as “abuse of public power for private benefit through bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud, or embezzlement”—all hallmarks of a political dynasty in the Philippines.

Interestingly, the prime mover of the inclusion of a provision on political dynasties, Jose N. Nolledo, provided a simple summation of why this pathology in Philippine politics needs to be eradicated: “It seems to me that the public office becomes inherited. Our government becomes monarchical in character and no longer constitutional.”

But this constitutional provision is viewed merely as a declaration of opposition to dynastic politics and not actually an executable prohibition against politicians of this pedigree. Correspondingly, Filipinos believe that for this constitutional proscription against political dynasties to have any practical meaning at all, an implementing piece of legislation is needed.

The basic theme of the antipolitical dynasty bills now pending in Congress is pretty straightforward: A candidate that is part of a political dynasty is disqualified to run for office if a comember of the dynasty is an incumbent.

Ironically, this approach may actually be in conflict with established democratic principles. Two prominent legal minds in the 1986 Constitutional Commission elucidated on this concern.

Blas F. Ople, now deceased, cautioned that any prohibition against running for public office may impinge on the right of suffrage:

“What I feel is an inner demand for logic and rationality so that this provision can be actually attached to some principles of equity without doing violence to the freedom of choice of the voters because they are entitled to as broad a freedom of choice as the environment can provide. And if they want somebody to run for office even if he is closely related to someone in office, do we have the right to curtail the freedom of the voters?” (Record of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, Volume Four, p. 762, Sept. 18, 1986)

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On the other hand, former Commission on Elections chair Christian S. Monsod argued that adding another hurdle for those aspiring for elected office contradicts the very idea of people power and can even be seen as unconstitutional:

“I just want to say that here we are in this assembly, extolling people power and saying that the people have a new consciousness, and yet not trusting that they will make the right choice. We want to put a section on political dynasty on the assumption that there will be violations of the Electoral Code, that people in power will use their office to elect their children. We cannot assume that certain sections of this

Constitution will be violated and then try to cover and

compensate for them in another section.” (Record of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, Volume Four, p. 939, Sept. 23, 1986)

Pertinently, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of

Quinto vs Comelec (G.R. No. 189698, Feb. 22, 2010) that the right to seek public office, “by itself, is not entitled to constitutional protection.” This doctrine is clear and succinct but it is very difficult to reconcile with an earlier determination of the high court in the old case of Aurea vs Comelec (G.R. No. L-24828, Sept. 7, 1965) that:

“Freedom of the voters to exercise the elective franchise at a general election implies the right to freely choose from all qualified candidates for public office. The imposition of unwarranted restrictions and hindrances precluding qualified candidates from running is, therefore, violative of the constitutional guaranty of freedom in the exercise of elective franchise. It seriously interferes with the right of the electorate to choose freely from among those eligible to office whomever they may desire.”

On one end, the high court is clearly for the constitutional protection of the right to run for public office because it is an integral component of the right of suffrage. But on the other hand, the high court has implicitly ruled that the right to seek an elected office can be divorced from the broader concept of elective franchise. And as a separate and individual right, it does not actually enjoy any constitutional guarantees.

Whether these two sides contradict each other is subject to debate. But these two rulings from the Supreme Court in conjunction with the critical objections of Ople and Monsod just confirm that addressing the problem of political dynasties may prove to be more intricate than simply enacting a direct prohibition law.

Some legal luminaries from Mindanao have suggested that the parliamentary form of local government espoused in the Bangsamoro Basic Law is the best antidote to political dynasties.

While there is some credence to this proposition, it is also a distinct possibility that the projected Bangsamoro Parliament would just become the new and more lucrative playground of the traditional political families in the region.

Indeed, the Constitution itself provides a clear hint that other remedial measures are available within the confines of the democratic process. Section 1 of Article II states quite emphatically that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.

Proceeding from this principle, it can be argued that the surest way to break the political dynasties’ stranglehold on the Philippine political system is simply not to vote their members into office. With the 2016 elections just around the corner, this is the solution on which all Filipinos should now be focusing.

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.

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TAGS: column, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, political dynasties
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