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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Con-ass will create even fatter dynasties

EXPECT POLITICIANS to invoke their favorite but deeply flawed “Vox populi vox Dei” line.

Sen. Nancy Binay once sneered: “It’s the people who will vote.” Is it really the people who will vote? Studies show otherwise.

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Approximately 70 percent of our legislators come from political dynasties. Forty percent of them have ties to legislators as far as three Congresses prior. In the study by Pablo Querubin (holder of a doctor’s degree in economics, MIT) of New York University, 77 percent of legislators between the ages 26 and 40 are also dynastic, indicating that the malaise has metastasized to the second and third generations of political dynasties in the Philippines. Contrast that to the last US Congress where only 6 percent of members belonged to dynasties.

Dynasties restrict choice. Beatriz Paterno (“The Philippines Must Break the Power of Political Dynasties,” Global Anticorruption Blog, December 2014) describes how one family fielded a staggering 80 of its family members in the 2013 elections. Nancy Binay must be reminded that in the Philippines, votes are sold to the highest bidder—the fatter the dynasty, the bigger the amount for vote-buying. When suffrage is for sale, the voice of the people is not the voice of God. No rocket scientist is needed to figure that out.

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In fact, political dynasties devalue suffrage because they work against political inclusiveness. When power is concentrated in one family, political accountability becomes the next casualty.

Corruption and then impunity lie not far behind.

The study made by the AIM Policy Center (Ronald Mendoza [master’s and doctor’s degrees in economics, Fordham University], Edsel Beja, Victor Venida, David Yap) shows the correlation of political dynasties and their inimical effects on social development. Dynastic politicians tend to be more affluent than nondynastic politicians; legislators who belong to political dynasties also win by wider margins relative to those who are not clan members (more public money to steal and buy votes with?); on average they can be found on jurisdictions that have relatively higher inequality and poverty levels.

From 2004 to 2013, there was a 47-percent increase of Philippine dynasties. Provinces began with “slight” dynasties. By 2013, the dynasties became “fatter.” A dynasty is fat if there are multiple family members occupying various elected offices in the province during the same term, the sabay-sabay variety. The fattest dynasties or those with the most number of family members in elective office are seen to be concentrated in the poorest regions of the country.

Poverty breeds strong patron-client relationships. Voters vote according to utang na loob (debt of gratitude). It is not just meaningful choice that is taken away from the voter. Dynasties are hotbeds of corruption. They also undermine the rule of law.

Paterno relates: “After one representative was found guilty of murdering the sons of his political rival, his seat in the House was taken over by his wife, ensuring that the family name remained relevant long enough for him to seek reelection after the appellate court cleared him of all charges.”

Politicians regale us with political gobbledygook when arguing for dynasties. They actually lose sight of the ultimate aim. Passing the bill into law will allow more Filipinos to participate in politics and governance, thus effecting political inclusiveness through equal opportunity. Democracy is the one important dimension of an antidynasty bill.

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A study cited by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies notes that in Latin American countries with similar political climates as the Philippines, there was growing evidence of improvements in the democratic processes after reforms against political dynasties were introduced. Countries with antidynasty regulations are Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay.

Framers of the 1987 Constitution were initially divided on banning political dynasties. Prodynasty proponents cried antidemocratic, arguing that it disqualifies competent and honest candidates from political families. What was reached was an impressively educated consensus—the effect of excluding a dynast was deemed far smaller than the exclusionary effect of many political candidates from humble backgrounds who had the misfortune of not belonging to political clans. It is in fact one of the most propoor provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

Benigno Aquino III vowed to ban dynasties when he ran in 2010. His term’s recorded history tells us he abandoned that crusade. Now under a new administration elected as a harbinger of hope, it appears we are on the way instead to abandon all hopes. President Duterte’s announcement of a constitutional assembly to amend our Constitution will do exactly what we reasonably fear—perpetuate political dynasties. Legislators are not the solution—they are the problem. Federalism—the perceived cure to the Manila-centric malady ailing the nation—is secondary only to the need to pass an antidynasty law. Without it, expect dynasties to become fatter in federal states.

The same goes true for a Bangsamoro political entity. It is doomed to fail without demolishing the power of the feudal royal families and the ruling political elite that fuel socioeconomic poverty, as is also true elsewhere in the Philippine countryside. Federalism will be mere talk and no walk.

To break the gangrenous cycle of dynasties, one method remains—a constitutional convention where family members, consanguineal or affinal, of political dynasties will be banned from running. It will be a bitter pill to swallow for our thieving politicians, but who cares about them? What should matter is the ultimate good for the greater populace. The new constitution to be crafted can be more forthright and defining of the ban on political dynasties.

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TAGS: Con-ass, congress, Constitution, dynasty, opinion, politics
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