President Aquino should get serious about pushing the antidynasty law. He brought up the subject at his last State of the Nation Address, saying in Filipino that there is something inherently wrong in giving a corrupt family or individual the chance at an indefinite monopoly of public office.
Those are fighting words, considering the context. The top two officials of the land, after all, can be referenced in terms of political dynasties. The President is a product of the Cojuangcos and the Aquinos, whose storied merger has made their family members some of the most entrenched, powerful and well-known in the nation’s political landscape. That dynasty has produced two presidents in a span of 14 years, and a long list of mayors, governors and lawmakers, as well as sundry government officials appointed to their posts as much for their pedigree as for their supposed qualifications.
Vice President Jejomar Binay, who is fighting corruption charges, heads a political dynasty that includes his wife and three of their children, and he has gone on record to say that a public official’s term should be “to sawa”—or as long as possible.
The President was also speaking before the two chambers of Congress—then as now the bastion of political clans dominating their bailiwicks for generations. These clans are in the business of producing ever more offspring raised from childhood to eventually succeed their parents in “public service,” allowing them, over time, to corner every political position within reach and further solidifying their hold on power.
A 2013 study by GMA News Research based on the list of proclaimed winners in that year’s polls by the Commission on Elections turned up staggering numbers: “At least 55 political families will have each controlled an elective post for 20 to 40 years straight when their scions’ fresh terms end in 2016. At least one political clan, the Abadillas, will have governed the town of Banna in Ilocos Norte for 43 uninterrupted years by 2016. At least nine political families will each have held a post for more than 30 years uninterrupted. At least 45 other political clans will each rule over an incumbent post for more than 20 years straight by 2016.”
A 2007 piece by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism also highlighted research by political scientist Dante Simbulan that surveyed Philippine politics from 1946 to 1963. The study showed that 169 political families alone have collectively produced 584 public officials, among them seven presidents, two vice presidents, 42 senators and 147 congressmen.
Would Congress vote against its members’ self-interests by passing an antidynasty bill? A day after the President’s Sona, it was made clear that no such effort, not even a token one, would be forthcoming from the House, where an antidynasty bill has been mothballed at the committee level. A raft of congressmen, many of them officials of the ruling Liberal Party and dynasts themselves, quickly disavowed the President’s push, for reasons ranging from lack of time (“Realistically, I don’t think we have enough time to devote on the bill,” said Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.) to the notion that passing such a bill would be a curtailment of the people’s right to choose their leaders (“There is no precedent in any republican democracy of such limitation on the universal right of suffrage. When is a family considered a political dynasty? There is no consensus at this time,” said Cebu Rep. Joseph “Ace” Durano).
Lack of time is a specious argument—Congress can act speedily if it wants to—and the “undemocratic” charge even more so. It’s simply disingenuous to say that it’s the voters anyway who make the final decision on whether to elect, or reelect ad infinitum, members of a political clan to power. The reality is that the prolonged concentration of power and resources in their hands tilts the balance in their favor. According to the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, “since 1903 to the present, dynastic candidates have had about 30 percent greater chance of winning over nontraditional rivals.”
The President’s exhortation that it’s time the Philippines had an antidynasty law according to the 1987 Constitution will remain hollow without the requisite follow-up work by Congress. The proof of the pudding, in this case, is in the voting—whether lawmakers can rise above themselves to finally do something that benefits the nation, and not just their families. Let the show of hands begin—so history can separate the grain from the chaff.
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