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Commentary

Proscribing the political dynasty

02:05 AM August 17, 2015

IN HIS last State of the Nation Address, President Aquino called on Congress to pass legislation banning political dynasties. This task is warranted, as stated in Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Article XIII, Section 1 of the Constitution articulates the underlying principle why such legislation is imperative: “The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”

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Hence, the main task is for Congress to define the “political dynasty.”

The legislative proposals seem to emphasize two elements in a definition of political dynasty. One relates to what the degree of consanguinity or affinity would be disallowed by law. The emerging consensus on what that limit appears to be is within the second degree of consanguinity (i.e., parents and their children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren) or affinity (i.e., parents-in law, children-in-law, and possibly the siblings-in-law). This degree of relationship includes illegitimate children and half-blood siblings. Moreover, counting the number of relatives must start only with an incumbent official.

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The other element concerns what branch and level of government would be covered by law. The emerging consensus on the scope includes both national and local elective offices of the executive and legislative branches of government. There is also a proposal to apply the definition of political dynasty only if the number of elective officials from the same family is at least three. In short, only two relatives can be in elective offices at the same time.

Some well-known families are political dynasties, according to that definition. Here are examples:

  • Vice President Jejomar Binay and his children—Sen. Nancy Binay, Makati Rep. Abigail Binay and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay Jr.
  • Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada and his children—Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Joseph Victor Ejercito
  • Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos and her children—Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos
  • Senators Pia and Alan Peter Cayetano, his wife, Taguig Mayor Laarni Cayetano, and Taguig Rep. Lino Cayetano

But other well-known families in politics will not be classified as political dynasties, such as the Aquinos—President Aquino and Sen. Bam Aquino, who are cousins. Similarly, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez (including his wife, City Councilor Cristina Romualdez) would also not constitute a political dynasty because they are cousins; both are nephews of Rep. Imelda Marcos. Notice that the number of Aquinos and Romualdezes in elective offices is less than three.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, his daughter (Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte), and his nephews (Rep. Jose Christopher Belmonte and City Councilors Ricardo Belmonte Jr. and Vicente Belmonte Jr.) would not form a political dynasty. Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who succeeded her son (Juan Miguel Arroyo) to the post, and her younger son (Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo) would not be a political dynasty. Again, the number of relatives in elective offices is less than three.

Thus, the queries to Congress are the following: Would limiting the relationship to the second degree of consanguinity or affinity and setting a number to three elective offices be adequate to weaken and ultimately wipe out the political dynasties in the country? What is the goal of Congress—prohibit any form or regulate some political dynasties?

Perhaps, another item for Congress to consider in the law is appointive offices in the national or local units of government—that is, proscribing the “appointed political dynasty.” In fact, then Commissioner Hilario Davide Jr. made clear in the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 that “public service” refers to appointive and elective offices. So political dynasties can be made up of relatives in elective or appointive offices.

An immediate example of a “mixed-type” political dynasty is made up of Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and their daughter Julia Abad, who heads the Presidential Management Staff. Another example of that type is made up of Health Secretary Janette Garin, her husband Iloilo Rep. Oscar Garin Jr., and his sisters Rep. Sharon Garin of the party-list group Aambis-Owa and Guimbal Mayor Christine Garin.

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Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Quezon Rep. Vicente Alcala are siblings, as are Presidential Adviser for the Environment Nereus Acosta (also general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority) and Bukidnon Rep. Lourdes Acosta-Alba. But the two sets of siblings would not be considered political dynasties if the definition says that three is the minimum number from the same family.

Thus, a final query to Congress is: Would it make sense to proscribe the political dynasty for elective positions but not for appointive positions?

Yes, “the devil is in the details.” But looking into the details is the task of Congress. Therefore, Congress needs to think and rethink its definition of political dynasty.

Dr. Edsel L. Beja Jr. teaches at Ateneo de Manila University.

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