The issue of political dynasty is a hot topic in the Philippines especially during the election period. After every election, the issue dies down only to be resurrected when the next election season comes. Philippines is probably the only country in the world in the 21st century with a well established political dynasty. Political families are well entrenched in their positions and it is normal to see a family controlling the political affairs of a city, province, and even in the national level.
Political Dynasty Philippine style
The term political dynasty is not really a new concept as it is only a variation of oligarchy known in political science books. But the Philippines is a unique country in a sense that the evils of political dynasty has been foreseen and actually incorporated in the provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which reads:
“The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” (Article 2, sec. 26, 1987 Constitution)
Even with a clear Constitutional provision against political dynasty, the problem of few families controlling the political affairs of the State continues and even managed to grow to unprecedented levels. The argument posited by those ignoring the provisions of the fundamental law of the land is that there must be an enabling law to make the provision legally binding. Without an enabling law clearly defining political dynasty and what are those acts that should be prohibited, they say it will stay as a dormant provision and cannot be implemented.
The proponents of political dynasty conveniently ignored the mandatory nature of the provision. The word “shall” in the provision is clearly a command to one and all including the legislative body that political dynasty has no place in the Philippine political landscape. Even with a clear command from the supreme law of the land, political dynasty still persists in the Philippines and a lot of people are baffled by this phenomenon. Why it exists in the Philippines can be traced to any or all of the following reasons:
It is the natural result of representative democracy
Absent any law that clearly defines and criminalizes acts of promoting political dynasty, it will naturally result in a republic where the political system is based on representative democracy. It is unavoidable that the electorate will look up to their political leaders and the loyalty can extend down to the latter’s family members. The representative and the represented develop a tie that can extend for decades.
Representative democracy has the tendency to develop an elite group of people controlling the government. Once they experienced power, they will try to hold on to it and propagate themselves. The only way it is possible to control power is to make sure there is continuity and establishing a political dynasty is the eventual result. There is also the tendency for people especially the Filipino masses to vote based on the popular names of politicians especially if they are known to have done something of value in the recent past. This is the reason why there are close relatives in the House of Representatives and more glaringly in the Senate.
It has something to do with political culture
The problem can be traced as early as the Spanish era when the colonizers appointed peninsulares and rich families to government positions. There is this part of the Filipino psyche to respect those who have better economic status in life as well as those who are educated so the Spanish conquistadores just made use of this opportunity. Some say this so-called respect can also be traced as far back as the establishment of Balangays (known today as barangay) where a community is ruled by a Rajah, Lakan or Datu. Whether it is true or not, it also shows the natural tendency of ordinary Filipinos to submit to and respect authorities and rich people.
It is about power
The sayings that “power begets power” and “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” are very true in Philippine politics. But the popular phrase coined by the uncle of Spiderman “With great power comes great responsibility” does not necessarily apply in the country. Politicians hold great power in the Philippines and this is one reason why they will try to do almost anything just to stay in power.
How can one make sense of the claim that their only purpose is to serve the people when it would cost millions and millions of money just to be elected to a public office? But since the argument is that the people should be the ones to decide whether they are fit for office or not, nothing can stop them from running again for public office. This is regardless whether family members sit in the same hall of Congress.
It is also about money and connections
It would cost a lot of money to be elected to a public office especially from the mayoral up to the national level. Who in his right mind would be willing to bet an entire fortune just to be elected to office given the costs involved? Politicians and those aspiring for an elected position are willing to bet all they have because they know it is worth as an investment. There is money when you hold public office and this is a given in the Philippines. Not only is there money but there is also the prestige, authority, and the opportunity to build connections to make more money in the process. Connections are important in the Philippines and politicians have the most of it.
There exists in the Philippines a bandwagon mentality where people tend to go for the candidate that is coming from a big name or family. If the candidate is more exposed and has more propaganda materials in both TV, broadcast, and print, they tend to become the favorite. There is this unwritten rule that one has to vote only for candidates that are sure to win or at least have a very good fighting chance to win. If a candidate is not among those coming from big families, he/she is seen as an underdog and very seldom does majority of Filipinos go for the underdog unless the ruling political clan does something really bad or commits a political suicide in the eyes of the people.
Unlike in the 60s to mid 80s, more Filipinos now are politically apathetic. The mentality is regardless of whoever gets into public office their lives will still be the same. There is this feeling of surrender so most people just want to go on their daily lives unaffected by political bickering they hear from politicians. Even those shouting to eliminate political dynasty are seen as opportunists because they are viewed as trying to present themselves as the better option. But once they get into power, they will do the same thing and nothing will change in the life of the people. It’s like the same old dog with a different collar that is why a good number of educated Filipinos just want to migrate to other countries and there find their luck.
Political dynasty is not an immortal creature in Philippine politics that is for sure. But it is impossible to eliminate it in the short term given the present economic condition of the country. Nothing can be expected from the elite ruling class because they are benefitting from the set-up. Business and political oligarchs are thriving with the present political setting so why would they rock the boat? Congress cannot be expected to pass a law that is tantamount to a political hara-kiri for its members.
The poor labor sector is marginalized and was de-fang about two decades ago so almost nothing can be expected from them. The poor working class people are just too busy trying to eke out a living so political dynasty or not, they will lead the same way of life. The middle class is too busy trying to make more money to reach elite status and aside from this, the Philippines has a very small middle class so nothing can be expected from them too.
There is a move to amend the Constitution by way People’s initiative and signatures are being collected for this purpose. This is an innovative provision in the 1987 Constitution where the people can directly propose legislation. Whether the proponents can gather enough signatures is not the bigger issue because the authenticity of those signatures will be definitely challenged in court by those in power.
Ultimately, the issue will be thrown back to the elite class. They have the money, the clout, and the power to rally the people against political dynasty. With the help of the Church, they cam make things happen. But as mentioned, this is too far-fetched at the moment. Why would they rock the boat?