From ‘mambabatas’ to ‘mambabastos’
Exactly a hundred years ago to the day yesterday, my mother was born. Three years after her birth, her family was thrust into the maelstrom of public life when her father was elected governor of an undivided Misamis. There was no such Oriental or Occidental Misamis then; there was only one vast provincial territory. One can only imagine how backbreaking the work of a governor of a vast province was in an era of nil highways and bridges.
My mother was lucid when she left us less than two years ago with a trove of her observations of the national events of her time, and grandpa’s hectic foray into the politics of his era. He was a Nacionalista who was closely allied with the bloc of Sergio Osmeña Sr. that was to split from the Manuel L. Quezon bloc in 1922.
Among her many tales that left me wide-eyed with curiosity I have not forgotten to this day. Each time my grandfather ran for public office, the family never joined any of the rallies and sorties. “There were leaders on the ground who did that; our presence was not necessary,” my mother said with no hint of apology. I found that quite strange. Not only do immediate family members of political candidates today openly campaign, many of them are candidates themselves—sometimes with more than three of them—at the same time in the same election season.
Sometime ago, a student of mine narrated how he became the Sangguniang Kabataan chair in their town. His grandmother was the barangay leader and she wanted him badly to follow the same political path. But there was one, major obstacle: He was not yet 15 years old then and thus not eligible to run. Since the family was in power, no problem—his birth certificate was tampered to make him eligible. He ran on the basis of a falsified document. Worse, he was taught and learned to buy votes. He handily won at barely 15, so young yet so corrupt.
The prudence of a family’s noninvolvement in politics was perhaps an antidote to the birth of political dynasties. That virtue is lost in the present age. I do not hold any illusion that the politics of my grandfather’s time was puritanical. Those who succeeded him as governor were mostly his relatives, even as not one of them came from his immediate family. These were families who belonged to the landed elite of that generation.
I can only have a fertile mind to think that political patronage was then the norm. The elite was the political patron: What favors there possibly were—public office, jobs, contracts, subsidies and other valued benefits of the time—were they capable of dispensing to clients?
Forward to the present generation and it is not difficult to see what monstrosity our political elite has evolved into. Today, candidates for various posts have the same surnames and come from one family or clan, doing so with much aplomb and having no qualms about flaunting a scandal. Indeed, political dynasties are a scandal. They have even invaded partylists in a clever way to extend their power and benefits, fooling the electorate.
Let us not inveigle ourselves into thinking that political dynasties are driven by altruism or public service. The realpolitik goal is financial largesse, especially in this era of thick porcine lard. The more family members are enlisted into politics, the more public money to steal. There is no other equation.
Under the Duterte administration, the power of the purse is back, and as House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez candidly announced, “We continue to enjoy some entitlements to the funds.” That is exactly the “feedstuff” that gives allure to enlisting more family members for elective posts.
Dynasties arise because of stealing. Before we even start any talk of federalism, we must first excise the very basic menace to our democracy—political dynasties.
Should we be surprised why our elected representatives have become purveyors of the prurient in House hearings? In an era of political dynasty, the moral compass has long been thrown out the window.
From “mambabatas,” it is no wonder they have become “mambabastos.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.