Land of political dynasts
The 1987 Constitution actually prohibits political dynasties—but a staggering 75 percent of the Philippines’ political elite come from politically entrenched families.
To the question of whether she would support the long-moribund antipolitical dynasty bill now being pushed in the Senate, Sen. Nancy Binay had a quick response: No, she would not, she said, because if doctors and lawyers are allowed to take after their parents in the choice of professions, why not the offspring of politicians? And besides, she argued, why limit the choices of voters? They get to make the final decision in an election, anyway, even if candidates are dying to get into public office. (“Eh kami, kahit gustong-gusto naming maging public official, for as long as the people don’t vote you into office, eh hindi ka magkakaroon ng posisyon.”)
It didn’t take long for an actual physician to respond to the senator’s analogy. As Dr. Toto Carandang of the Philippine General Hospital wrote in an open letter on social media, “we do not earn our degrees by popularity or democratic voting. We earn it.” Indeed. Medical personnel, along with those in most other professions, endure arduous years of study and preparation before they are given the license to practice, and only if they hurdle the qualifying examinations in their field.
No such examinations are required of politicians, only the capacity to present a facsimile of sincerity before the voting throng, the capacity to charm and say the right words before an expectant audience. To be fair, a number of politicians have recognized the need to prepare for public service, and thus take up courses in public administration, say, to better understand the legal and structural underpinnings of government, or kick off their political careers from the bottom rungs, to better get a handle on the gut-level grind of public governance.
Senator Binay, along with others like her in Congress, did neither. For many years she toiled in obscurity as a “personal assistant” to her parents as they took turns as mayor of Makati, before her father vaulted to the vice presidency on the strength of his trumpeted achievements as chief executive of the Philippines’ wealthiest city. She held no elective or appointive position in government that would have somehow prepared her for work as a public servant, let alone a senator of the realm. She had no known positions on any public policy, she articulated no argument on any of the burning social and political issues of the day. In short, she, along with others like her, sallied forth solely on the strength of who she was.
And in Philippine politics, who she was was in fact her ticket to the Senate, on her very first electoral try. Would she have picked up votes outside Makati had not her father been the VP, and had not his formidable, well-oiled war machinery heaved into action? Would people have taken so much as a second look at this virtual unknown, had it not been for her surname and all that came with it? Many others more well-known to the populace and who have accrued substantial political gravitas to their names—Risa Hontiveros, Teddy Casiño, among others—all floundered at the polls; Nancy Binay triumphed because of her being her father’s daughter.
Her argument that the choice should be left to voters, as in her case, neglects to mention that, with political dynasties, voters are left with hardly any choice. With power and influence concentrated in dynastic families for years, even decades, the electoral system is eventually skewed to favor them and their scions every time, their wealth and reach giving them undue advantage to harness the public will by feudal patronage, by vote-buying, or, if necessary, in certain areas of the country, by violence and harassment.
The “equal access to opportunities for public service” mandated by the Constitution has gone out the window, and the country is left with more of the same—the same surnames, the same faces, the same vested interests, the same historic ills.
Take it from how the members of the House reacted to the idea of the antipolitical dynasty bill being given a second reading: They threatened to walk out of the plenary, and so got the planned vote scuttled. It’s the nation’s turn to walk out for good from this corrupt and corrupting setup. Congress must pass the antipolitical dynasty bill, or let it die trying.
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