POLITICAL DYNASTIES IN LOCAL POLITICS- A Lucrative Family Business?

By: Atty. Benji

Section 26 of Article II of the 1987 Constitution reads “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit “Political Dynasties” as maybe defined by Law”. Apparently, the enabling law that will define the parameters of the term “political dynasty” has been languishing in the archives of the House of Representatives for years, or even a decade now.

Can we expect the present members of the House of Representatives to seriously pass and approve a law that may compromise their political career in the future? Of course not! Because most, if not all, of the present congressmen and congresswomen must have came from family or families of seasoned politicians or political clans, or better still, “Trapos”, short for traditional politicians.

Dictionary has defined the term “dynasty” as succession of rulers from the same family or line; or a family or group that maintains power for several generations: a political dynasty controlling the state.

Political Analysts say the dominance of the clans has prevented the flowering of genuine democracy in the Philippines.

The only way to break up these political dynasties fast is to disqualify all present officeholders and their relatives, from mayor to president, from running for any office in the next elections. But that is not likely to happen, except under a revolutionary government.

For instance in the BICOL Region alone, political dynasties have been prevalent since time immemorial among the seasoned family of politicians or political clans, such as, the Andayas, Rocos, Villafuertes, Alfelors, Fuentebellas and Robredos of CAMARINES SUR. The Panoteses, Typocos, Timoners, Unicos and Padillas of CAMARINES NORTE. The Verceleses, Sanchezes, Alcantaras, Santiagos, Tatads of CATANDUANES. The Lagmans, Salcedas, Gonzaleses, Bicharas and Imperials of ALBAY. The Fernandezes, Espinosas, Butalids, Bacunawas and Khos of MASBATE, and last but not the least, the Gotladeras, de Castros, Gonzaleses, Encinases, Lees and the Escuderos of SORSOGON.

In the town of BULAN per se, political dynasties are also prevalent long time ago and up to the present time, we have the de Castro clan and the Gotladera-Gillego clan, (for the Gotladera-Gillego i.e, then ex-Mayors, Taleon and wife, Nena Gillego-Gotladera, and ex-Congressman Boning Gillego, a brother of Nena, and now, Olap, grandson of Taleon & Nena), and for the de Castro clan, i.e., then, Assemblywoman, Nene de Castro, ex-Mayors Luis de Castro, Vito de Castro and Guiming de Castro, and now, Rosa de Castro, wife of Guiming – all in the family affair, a family business and source of livelihood. And, I would assume that Vice President Kabayan Noli de Castro is not related to the de Castro clan of Bulan, neither Fidel Castro of Cuba too, he-he-he.

Atog ka, mapagalon rungkabon an “political dynasty” sa lado san local na politika, kay sira man lang baga an may mga (3Gs) Guns, Goons & Gold. Kaya pagnagbarakalan sin boto, permi na sira llamado sa eleksyon, kayang-kaya nira magbakal sin armas, o mag-hire sin daghan na mga bodyguards o mercenaries, etc…. Dahil sira an nasa poder, an panabot nira sira nalang an maykakayahan o karapatan magpugol san poder sa municipio o kapitolyo kaya hinihimo nira na hanap buhay an politika, habang nakaingkod sa poder, sulwak an mga kawarta, kaupod na duon an mga manglain-lain na pahanlas, porsiento, komisyun, kickback, jueteng payola, komisyun sa illegal drugs, illegal logging, o illegal fishing. Parasapasa lang sira san poder, pagkatapos san ama, sa asawa, sa mga bata, kamanghod, bayaw, belas, ugangan, hinablusan, singaki, sobrino, sobrina etc., balik gihapon sa pwesto an ama, baga lang san telibong, paikot- ikot lang.

Columnist Carlos H. Conde of the Herald Tribune, in one of his columns regarding Philippine political dynasty, wrote that ‘”For generations, political dynasties have dominated politics and governance in the Philippines. They are prominent and moneyed clans, like that of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whose father was also president and whose son is a congressman in Pampanga. Another son is also a congressman in Camarines Sur. (GMA brother-in-law, Egie boy Arroyo is also a Congressman in Negros. But, Senator Joker Arroyo is not related to her either by affinity or consanguinity.)

There are an estimated 250 political families nationwide, with at least one in every province, occupying positions in all levels of the bureaucracy, according to the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, a nonprofit group that advocates more grassroots participation in politics. Of the 265 members of Congress, 160 belong to these clans, the group says.

“These are the same families who belong to the country’s economic elite, some of them acting as rule makers or patrons of politicians who conspire together to amass greater economic power,” said Bobby Tuazon, Director of the center.

Analysts say members of the dynasties have developed a sense of entitlement regarding public positions, while many ordinary Filipinos accept the arrangement as inevitable, which makes it difficult to change the situation.

Political dynasties were an offshoot of the country’s colonial experience, in which the Filipino elite was nurtured by Spanish and American colonizers. Even after the country gained independence, in 1946, the largely feudal system persisted, as landed Filipino families sought to protect their interests by occupying public offices.

When he was president in the 1970s and 1980s, Ferdinand Marcos blamed the political dynasties for what was wrong with the country and promised to dismantle them. He did, but then replaced them with new ones that he controlled. These families persist to this day.

Because Filipinos tend not to vote according to class, ethnicity, religion or even ideology, the Filipino family has become “the most enduring political unit and the one into which, failing some wider principle of participation, all other units dissolve,” Brian Fegan, an American anthropologist and historian, wrote in the book “An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines.”

“Continuing clan dominance is a product of the seemingly immutable and unequal socioeconomic structure, as well as the failure to develop a truly democratic electoral and party system,” said Julio Teehankee, a political science professor at De La Salle University in Manila.

The system is a vicious cycle, one that prevents the expansion of the base of aspirants and candidates for representation, Teehankee said. The result, he added, is a political system dominated by patronage, corruption, violence, and fraud.

Apart from violence, election fraud sparks the most concern during elections. According to the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, “fraud recycles the political dynasties and keeps them in power.”

“It breeds generations of cheaters and manipulators, corrupt politicians, mediocre executives, bribe takers, absenteeism in Congress,” the center said.

The Asia Foundation, which has been monitoring elections in the Philippines for decades, said in a report that “confusion, inefficiency, corruption and cheating damaged the credibility of elections and cast doubt on the democratic legitimacy of elected officials” in the Philippines.

Apart from contributing to corruption, the rule of political dynasties has other detrimental effects for Filipinos, according to several studies by watchdog groups, including the Center for People Empowerment in Governance.

For example, a family in power might not finance government projects in areas controlled by its rivals. In many cases, those in power would withhold government services, like health care, and offer them only during election periods. The repair of roads and bridges often takes place only during the election season, and a governing politician would make sure that voters know who was behind the repair.

Likewise, veteran political columnist Antonio C. Abaya wrote in one of his newspaper columns that “the Charter Change is being promoted as a cure-all for all the ills of this unfortunate country. It is not. Under the present circumstances, shifting to the parliamentary system, without first overhauling the political system and without first rewriting the rules of electoral engagement, will not result in any meaningful change.”

“Without first making these preliminary changes, the predatory “trapos” who now control the present presidential system will wind up controlling the future parliamentary system”, Abaya added.

Will the parliamentary system dismantle the political dynasties? Of course not. Why would the political dynasties, which have acquired their political clout and fabulous wealth under the presidential system, do anything to diminish that clout and reduce that wealth under a parliamentary system? It would be counterintuitive.

“As far as I know, the 1987 Constitution frowned on political dynasties, and there are or have been only-God-and-the-congressmen-know how many bills filed in Congress precisely to dismantle political dynasties, in support of the constitutional spirit. But none of these bills have ever prospered into law. They are all languishing in some dank and dusty congressional archive, never to see the light of day”, Abaya continued.

“Even under President Aquino, the principal inspiration of the Cory Constitution, the Cojuangco and Aquino dynasties flourished… So did the Estrada dynasty during and after the presidency of Erap, and the Arroyo and Macapagal dynasties under the present dispensation. Politics in the Philippines have become a lucrative family business and the fastest route to fabulous wealth”, said Abaya.

“The present presidential administration has had all the chances to pursue a serious anticorruption campaign at the highest level, involving the biggest fish. But it has chosen not to. It is inconceivable that it would suddenly do so under a parliamentary system,” Abaya said.

The more than 100 graft cases against the Marcos family have been pending for almost 20 years, and yet there has not been a single conviction. The plunder case against Joseph Estrada has been dragging on for more than four years, occasionally punctuated with offers of “reconciliation” if Erap would only accept exile abroad…… (Subsequently, Erap was given executive clemency of pardon by GMA, our government prosecutors were busy gathering evidence to prosecute Erap for plunder, then, less than a year after his conviction, GMA granted him pardon…, weird?)

Another political columnist Girlie Linao said during the last May 2007 elections that, per reports she received, in a southern Philippine province, a Muslim politician and his three wives are all running for public office in upcoming mid-term elections in May.

Up north, a husband and wife tandem are seeking re-election for mayor and vice mayor of a town in Nueva Ecija province, while the wife of the incumbent governor of the eastern province of Masbate is running to replace her husband.

All over the Philippines, husbands, wives, sons, daughters and close relatives are on the campaign trail in hopes of getting elected on May 14, when Filipinos vote for 12 senators, more than 200 congressional representatives and some 17,000 local officials.

In some areas, family members are facing off with each other for the same positions, while people from only one clan are running for every possible elective posts in their bailiwicks.

“Politics has become a family affair in this country – not in the wholesome sense, but in a way akin to the Cosa Nostra,’ newspaper columnist Ana Marie Pamintuan lamented, referring to the Sicilian mafia.

For decades, wealthy and famous families have dominated politics in the Philippines, concentrating power to the elite, promoting corruption and resulting in abuses.

While the Philippine constitution prohibits political dynasties, an enabling law that would implement the ban is still pending in Congress, and many of the country’s lawmakers oppose it because they too come from political clans.
Other long-entrenched political clans include the families of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and former president Corazon Aquino.

In the past decade, the country also saw the rise of new political dynasties, often challenging the traditional clans in their bailiwicks.

Senator Joker Arroyo, who was reelected last May election, said he does not see anything wrong with political dynasties, noting that families tend to take care of an area in order to retain their power in their turfs.

“I don’t particularly condemn it because it is practiced all over the world,” Arroyo, who is not related to the president and does not have any relative in public office, said.

He cited the case of the late US president John F Kennedy, whose relatives held public office even while he was still in the White House.

But columnist Ana Marie Pamintuan noted that while it was quite normal for children to want to follow the footsteps of their parents or for constituents to want good politicians to remain in power, some families need to temper their greed for power.

“Allowing a single clan to dominate the political scene in a particular area can weaken the checks and balances against the abuse of power,’ she said.

“In certain areas, long-entrenched dynasties also produce warlords who operate above the law, controlling jueteng (an illegal numbers game) and smuggling, and using murder to eliminate troublemakers,’ she added.

And, there you are, sociologist and columnist Randy David said the proliferation of political dynasties in the Philippines highlights “a bigger malaise” in the country, which he said is “the absence of any real political competition in society.”

“The problem…is our society’s lopsided structure of opportunities that allows a few to monopolize wealth and power, while consigning the vast majority of our people to a life of dependency and hopelessness,” he added.

Another columnist/reporter, Mio Cusi said that “political dynasties reflect an internal contradiction in any democratic institution. The Constitution explicitly prohibits their existence, since they preclude equal access to public service. Yet they continue to exert a pervasive influence on Philippine politics.”

“Political dynasties are expanding further rather than contracting. This is a direct contravention of the Constitution,” party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna said.

Ocampo added that while the fundamental law of the land requires the passage of a law to define the concept of “political dynasty” and disallow its abusive practice, legislators are not about to shoot their own foot.

“The Constitution passes on to the legislature the enactment of an enabling law to carry out that policy. The reality is that the dominant members of the House belong to political dynasties, which cannot be expected to legislate their own demise as a political entity,” he said.

Then Rep. Noynoy Aquino III of Tarlac, (now a Senator) however, viewed the issue on whether a member of a political family should continue in office or not, as a matter of public choice. “At the end of the day, people deserve the government they get,” he said.

Ocampo still maintains the view that no political family should exercise monopoly of leadership, especially if they have all the economic resources and political clout to do so. “The idea is to democratize, specifically, to give chance to ordinary people to elect their own,” he said.

Using a Marxist perspective, Ocampo explained that the emergence of the parties of the Left, Bayan Muna among others, is part of the struggle against political dynasties. “These developments are a direct challenge and response to the worsening situation.”

Ocampo referred to the party-list system as the “aperture” where the reactionary forces can enter and represent themselves. Twenty percent of the total number of House seats is reserved for party-list representation.

But despite the window of opportunity given by the Constitution, Ocampo believes that Congress made an enabling law that is “flawed.” It became a device to marginalize the representation for party-list since the ceiling limits the filling up of available seats, he said.

Although Ocampo explained the appearance of reactionary groups in Congress from the point of view of class struggle, he admitted that House members belonging to political dynasties have a function in the advocacy of the Left.

“We have been able to expand the number of House members belonging to traditional parties and political dynasties to support some of our advocacies,” Ocampo said. He described the support as “relatively consistent” from a minimum of 30 to a maximum of 60 congressmen.

Another political analyst and columnist Victor Montero in one of his commentaries last year said that “the defining character of the 2007 elections, says one observer, is the phenomenal rise of political dynasties. Congressmen, governors and mayors on their last term have fielded their spouses, children and siblings to succeed them. A number of senatorial candidates, meanwhile, have close relatives holding a variety of elective positions. And no less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has two sons and one brother-in-law running for congressman.” (as expected, they all won in the last elections)

Outrage over the situation has given rise to a new group in Philippine politics — the Citizens’ Anti-Dynasty Movement (CADM). Ironically, its creation was spurred by the choice of senatorial candidates of the ruling coalition and the Opposition.

Roger Olivares, co-founder of CAD said that “the group went to work, digging up data which showed that family dynasties control over 75 percent of local elective posts in almost all of major cities.

Indeed, in the May 2007 elections, 10 of 23 senatorial candidates belong to political dynasties.”

According to Olivares, the dynasties control elective positions not just in a vertical manner (like when a congressman passes on his post to a son or a daughter), but also horizontal where the dynasty controls several key positions within a city or a province.

For instance during the May 11, 2007 elections in the National Capital Region, in Makati, Mayor Jejomar Binay is seeking a third term, his daughter Abigail is running for congresswoman while his son Jejomar is aiming for a second term as councilor. In Manila, outgoing Mayor Lito Atienza has fielded his son Ali to take over his post. A son-in-law, Miles Roces, is seeking reelection as congressman in Manila. In Valenzuela City, four of businessman William Gatchalian’s sons are all in politics – one son is the incumbent mayor, the three others are seeking congressional posts in the city. In the provinces, Senator Edgardo Angara’s clan lords it over Aurora: the senator’s sister is the governor, his brother is mayor of capital town Baler, his son is congressman, and his nephew is running for vice governor. In Nueva Ecija, the Josons have appropriated unto themselves practically all major political positions in the province. There are towns where husbands and wives are battling it out for control of the municipio.

“This kind of control definitely breeds corruption and mediocrity,” says Olivares. “It chokes the ambitions of other potentially dedicated leaders. We have not had potentially dedicated local and national leaders of consequence the past two decades.”

Olivares admits there are politicians that had done well and who have the support of the people. But these are few and far between, he adds.
Olivares believes that completely eradicating political dynasties is not possible without violating their personal rights. “We do not want to do that. At best, control or limits to avoid excessive debilitating abuse is workable. That is up to the lawmakers to decide.”

In America, there are also family dynasties in politics. The Kennedys have dominated politics in at least one district in Massachussetts for decades. But the Kennedys, Olivares points out, have shown dedication in public service and had to earn or win their positions. The main difference, he says, is how public officials are elected in the US and in the Philippines.

In America, there is very little of what are called “command votes” or “patronage votes” which is the weapon of Philippine dynasties. “Because of education, fairly good income, and good communication, Americans can make up their minds individually although there is of course a bloc vote–but that bloc vote is because of beliefs and other persuasions, not because of feudal dependence,” says Olivares.

For Dan Olivares, brother of Roger and executive director of CADM, political dynasties cause stagnation. “The rise of new leaders is set back. I don’t think there is such a thing as a dynasty that is one hundred percent good.”

The 1987 Constitution contains an anti-dynasty provision, a reflection of the lessons from the Marcos regime where assorted relatives of the strongman were elected or appointed to public office. The Constitution termed dynasties as anti-democratic in character.

Dynastic clans, however, counter that the constitutional anti-dynasty provision has no enabling law. “That is their excuse,” says Dan. “They quote the Constitution for their own benefit.”

There may be as many reasons as there are dynasties to explain the situation. One factor could be the Filipino’s excessive penchant for utang na loob (debt of gratitude) which is part of a feudal mindset. They feel beholden to the politician for the many perks or favors given them. “Parang batang nabigyan ng kendi,” explains Dan.

Postcript: For further reference and information on political clans and dynasties in Philippine politics, attached hereunder are the leading personalities and political families, who dominated the local politics in their respective regions/provinces/cities/towns per researched released last year (2007) by the Citizens’ Anti-Dynasty Movement (CADM) chaired by Roger Olivarez. Obviously, seventy-five (75%) percent of provinces and regions, almost 100% of major cities are under dynasty families’ control.”, as follows:

AGUSAN DEL SUR, Plazas and Amantes; ALBAY, Salcedas, Gonzaleses, Bicharas, Imperials and Lagmans; BATAAN, Romans and Garcia; BATANES, Abads; BATANGAS, Rectos, Ermitas, Sanchezes, Laureles and Levistes; BILIRAN, Espinas; BULACAN, Alvarados, Oples, Pagdanganans and Mendozas; BUKIDNON, Acostas and Zubiri; CAGAYAN DE ORO, Emanos; CALOOCAN, Asistios and Echeverris; CAMARINES SUR, Robredos Villafuertes, Rocos, Fuentebellas and Alfelors; CAMIGUIN, Romualdos; CAVITE, Remullas, Revillas, Barzagas; CEBU, Osmenas, del Mars, Cuencos, Gullases, Garcias, Yaphas and Martinezes; COMPOSTELA VALLEY, Caballeros and Amatongs; DAVAO CITY, Dutertes and Lopezes; DAVAO DEL SUR, Libanans, Bautistas and Cagases; EASTERN SAMAR, Libanans; GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Antoninos; ILOCOS NORTE, Marcoses and Fariñases; ILOCOS SUR, Singsons and Baterinas; ILOILO, Defensors, Tupases, Suplicos, Garins, Birons and Gonzaleses; ISABELA, Dys and Albanos; LA UNION, Ortegas and Joaquins; LANAO DEL NORTE, Dimaporos; LANAO DEL SUR, Macarambons; LAS PINAS, Villar-Aguilars; LEYTE, Petillas, Velosos and Romualdezes; MAKATI, Binays; MANILA, Atienzas and Bagatsings; MARINDUQUE, Reyeses; MASBATE, Khos; MISAMIS ORIENTAL, Baculios; MUNTINLUPA, Fresnedis; NAVOTAS, Sandovals; NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, de la Cruzes, Marañons, Lacsons, Alvarezes, Zaycos and Lopezes; NEGROS ORIENTAL, Parases, Blancos, Limkaichongs, Dys, Yaps, Baldados, Villanuevas, Arnaizes, Montanos, Maciases and Teveses; NUEVA ECIJA, Josons, Umalis, Fajardos, Violagos, Vargases, Villareals and Esquivels; OLONGAPO CITY, Gordons; PALAWAN, Mitras; PAMPANGA, Macapagals, Lapids, Bondocs and Puyats; PANGASINAN, Agbayanis, de Venecias, Espinos, Lims, Ramoses; PASIG, Eusebios; QUEZON-AURORA, Angaras, Suarezes and Punsalans; SAN JUAN, Estrada-Ejercitos; SARANGGANI, Chongbians; SORSOGON, Lees and Escuderos; SIQUIJOR, Fuas; SULTAN KUDARAT, Mangudadatos; SURIGAO DEL NORTE, Barbers and Ecleos; SURIGAO DEL SUR, Falcons and Pichays; TAGUIG, Cayetanos; TARLAC, Aquinos, Sumulongs, Cojuangcos, Lapuzes and Yaps; VALENZUELA, Gatchalians; ZAMBALES, Magsaysays; ZAMBOANGA DEL NORTE, Jalosjoses; (CADM researched not yet updated as of yet)…