Ties that bind and blind
The Maguindanao Massacre in November 2009 is the extreme example of why a family should not monopolize political power. With control firmly in place from the governorship down to the lowest posts that matter, free elections are an impossibility; with no checks and balances to oversee governance, corruption takes root and flourishes, one hand washing the other.
In his final State of the Nation Address, President Aquino linked his anticorruption drive to this phenomenon, saying: “There is something inherently wrong in giving a corrupt family or individual the chance at an indefinite monopoly in public office… I believe it is now time to pass the antidynasty bill.”
That proposed legislation seeks to limit the political power exerted by political families by prohibiting relatives up to the second degree of consanguinity to hold or run for national and local posts in successive, simultaneous, or overlapping terms. But, alas, Senate President Franklin Drilon has all but given up on it. “There was no more time to consider and approve it,” he said recently of the measure that has been languishing in Congress for close to 20 years now.
But then again, can the Senate (currently peopled by a pair of siblings and assorted official kin) or the House of Representatives (truly a den of dynasts) be expected to vote for the diminution, let alone the demise, of political dynasties?
A startling, but by no means rare, example of dynastic entitlement is Makati Rep. Abigail Binay’s declaration that if her brother, the suspended mayor of Makati, would be barred from seeking reelection, she would run in his stead. Meanwhile it has apparently been arranged that the three-term congresswoman’s husband, who has no political experience to speak of, would run for her soon-to-be-vacated post. The implication being that Makati can only be Binay turf, never mind that her sister is in the Senate and their father, the Vice President, is in the running for the presidency. (Once upon a time their mother warmed the mayor’s seat while their father waited out the period of prohibition.)
But that’s just one of the more visible families in the Philippine political landscape that, according to the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center, is dominated by dynasties. As many as 70 percent of elected officials in the Philippines belong to dynasties, the study said, among them the Ampatuans of Maguindanao who are charged with the murder of 58 people including media workers escorting members of another clan who had dared challenge their stranglehold on power.
Indeed, with powerful families controlling the resources and political capital in their areas, citizens are discouraged, often intimidated, from challenging their rule. Using patronage and bloodline politics, dynasties thwart the best, the brightest and most qualified for public office, and perpetuate themselves in power through the vicious cycle of using their office to siphon government resources through preferential agreements, special concessions and contracts.
“Evidence points to a direct association between the presence of political dynasties and higher levels of poverty,” argues economist and Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito.
Dynasties also endow their members with the delusion that they are above the law and can ignore even the basic decency expected of public officials. Again, examples of this are legion, with criminal and administrative charges proving to be no obstacle for dynasts to maintain their fiefdom by bequeathing, like a family heirloom, their political posts to assorted kin and in-laws. Think of the Marcoses, Estradas, Revillas…
How to begin to break the dynasts’ lock on political (and therefore economic) power? An antidynasty law will allow more Filipinos to participate in politics and governance, says the Philippine Institute for Development Studies. “Greater access by the people … regulates political dynasties [and] will further strengthen our democracy and promote inclusiveness,” it says.
Voters have to educate themselves on the candidates who presume to be their leaders. Seek out the service records and the platforms of governance. Look beyond the name recall, the burnished images, the photogenic progeny cynically mouthing “serbisyo” and “taumbayan” along with fluff. Go for serious debate and substantive platforms, not the old song and dance that traditional politicians are only too happy to provide.
It’s time to cut the ties that bind and blind.
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