Or, Democracy Is About The People, Not About A Family Or Clan
Nine Plus Nine Plus Nine Plus… A tongue twister, mental arithmetic or a case of obsession ? It could be a mixture of all these if we are referring to the maximum term of nine years a Filipino local politician may hold office and his habit of adding another nine through his wife and another nine through his son and another nine through his grandson and so on. In practice we know this as dynastic politics. In a family of four, this would mean 36 years of rule already, but we should not forget that we have an extended family tradition in the Philippines,- so this could mean more than 36 years!
Much has been written and debated about the phenomenon of dynasty in the Philippines’ political landscape but no substantial results has ever been achieved in form of legislation and the 1987 Constitution itself has not provided a clear definition and limitation of dynasty from the very beginning. This existing loophole has been taken advantage by many political families in the Philippines. In fact we may call our nation a Loophole Republic of the Philippines, which is a republic based on the loopholes of law, at least when it comes to political power and other criminal actions. I even entertain the idea that the 1987 Constitution is itself the lobby work of traditional politicians- or political dynasties. There are rivalries naturally among these dynasties but they easily join forces together when it comes to finding ways to stabilize their status qou- or protect their interests.
The house of representatives is the favorite meeting place of trapos where they work together primarily for their own interests and not really for the ideals of democracy. In fact, there are about 160 lawmakers representing the 250 political clans in the two chambers of the Philippine Congress- this according to the Center for People Empowerment in Governance.
Dynastic politics seems now to be deeply-rooted in our political character so that those who are born into a political dynasty claim an inherent responsibility- or pressured by family tradition- to rule and those who are born under the rule of such a political dynasty seem to accept – or pressured to accept their destiny as such and consider political engagement as taboo. Many may have opposed this role but find no support from the rest who still are under the yoke of tradition. A tradition is like a frame that exerts pressure on the picture from all sides. This is how our society is being “kept” together- to one’s advantage and to the other’s disadvantage- depending from which angle you view it.
Manila could serve as a platform in breaking this tradition being a cosmopolitan and a melting ground of all kinds political orientations, a neutral meeting place of politically-minded Filipinos from different provinces where they feel released from the yoke of their respective local politics or where their hardwork and higher education find recognition, or where they are not pressured to certify their ownership of vast hectares of lands in order to join the political arena. This is the hope that remains but still, as we see it, is not easy to realize for Manila is also home to many traditional political dynasties with interests to be protected. This battle is very much actual in today’s Manila for Arroyo seems to have not yet given up the hope of extending her tenure of power and is still finding out last-minute dirty tricks to incapacitate the opposition to secure herself and her relatives.
Superficially, this tradition of political dynasty seems to be much more pronounced in the local or provincial governments. But it seems that, at least in Bulan, this does not represent the tradition- but there are signs today of breaking away from tradition.
According to some historians, dynastic politics was introduced to the Philippines by the Americans, not by the Spaniards, when electoral politics was initially limited to wealthy people, and when the Americans left in 1946 wealthy landowners “took the helm in leading the country to protect their business and other interest”. This is the paradox of history for we were supposed to learn from the Americans what democratic governance was all about- a legacy they still claim today being the self-proclaimed champion of democracy. But colonialism was also an expression of vested interest among colonial powers at that time. So what would you expect?
In my view, political dynasty chokes the progress of democratic growth of the locality. The main danger of relatives ruling in succession is the false impression it leaves to the people of the indispensability (defined by Thesaurus as the quality possessed by something that you cannot possibly do without) of these families in running the affairs of the town or province. The people become convinced of their helplessness believing that the affairs of the government is vested only upon these families; or people resigning to the idea that that there is no one else among them who possesses the quality of good leadership and the sincerity of intention believing that the next one would enrich himself anyway so why not leave it to the ruling families for they are already rich and besides they have done something also for the town and they are nice and kind to the teachers that they even pay their snacks during their seminars.
For me it is clear that when people reason out this way it is symptomatic that their understanding of democracy has been taken away from them, mutilated slowly but surely during these 18, 27, 36 years or even more of being ruled by a single family or clan, that the people have been devalued and almost reduced to political lumpen proletariat. This is the result of political power being monopolized by a few families for an extended period of time. People became politically decapitated, unable to make their choice- for there has been no other choice.
The following historical facts are taken from the work of our past local historian Mr. Hizo with the assistance of Tony Gilana. Mr. Hizo was a quiet man I have personally known in the 60’s and 70’s in Canipaan. This work can be found in the Municipal Building of Bulan in Barangay Aquino, printed on a wall together with the enlarged photos of past municipal mayors as well as other historical facts. I copied it during our quick visit there. In any case I find the new location of the municipal building as out-of-place being away from the center of the towm, in fact almost hidden from the town. I prefer the old location because of its centrality and the message of transparency and accessibility for the people. The old familiar building of the Municipio still exists but for sure needs general repair and upgrading.
In Bulan prominent political names who served as Gobernadorcillos (the title of town executive from 1801-1891- the Gobernadocillo were elected from among the ranks of the Principalía by twelve senior Cabeza de Barangay) several times way back during the Spanish period were Vicente, Camposano, Mateo, Gueta, Gillego,Golpeo and Gerona. The Gerona whom I think was the most prominent political name in Bulan first appeared in Bulan municipal history in 1852 with Don Rafaêl Gerona and served two separate years as Gobernadorcillo to be followed some years later by Don Calixto and Don Rufino Gerona. The Golpeo name first appeared in 1857 with Don Sixto Golpeo.
The Asuncion first appeared in the municipal history of Bulan in 1898 with Don Zacarias Asuncion -my great grandfather- who served for two years as Capitanes Municipal from 1892 to 1900, the title of Don was retained- the title of office being changed from Gobernadorcillo to Capitanes Municipal in 1893 with the passing of the Maura Law which was aimed at making the municipal governments in the Philippine Archipelago more effective and autonomous.
From 1901- 1937 the title Capitanes Municipal was replaced by Presidentes Municipal- during the American colonial period from 1900-1942, a change from Spanish Monarchy to American Democracy. This period was the Gerona period in Bulan history for they dominated starting with Sr. (replacing the title Don) Rufino, Sr. Salvador, Sr. Pascual and Sr. Federico Gerona, each serving a maximum of 1 or 2 years in different periods. During the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines which started in 1934, the name Golpeo re-appeared with Sr. Amado Golpeo, serving two consecutive terms as Presidentes Municipal from 1932-1934, and from 1935-1937.
From 1938 until the present time the name of town executive was changed to Mayor, the American counterpart, however the title Sr. was retained. The first elected Bulan Mayor from 1938 was Sr. Germiniano Gerado who served only for two years.
The name Asuncion re-appeared in 1941 during the Japanese occupation with Sr. Adonis Asuncion (my grandfather- and son of Don Zacharias Asuncion) who was elected town mayor in 1941 and worked as such till 1943, had to vacate his elected office for a year being hunted by the Japanese Imperial Army, replaced in 1943-44 by the Japanese-appointed Federico L. Gerona and Odon G. Goyala. Returning in 1945 after the Liberation, he continued his term until 1946. At this point it is interesting to ask who at that time in Bulan collaborated with the Japanese invaders.
The name De Castro first appeared in the history of Bulan in 1896 as can be found from the excerpt below taken from the Wikipedia:
“In October 1896, Don Teodoro De Castro y Zabala was arrested and incarcerated in Bilibid, because he was found in possession of letters written by anti-Spanish natives in Manila. Don Zacarias Asuncion and other residents suffered the same fate, for having no cedulas personales and for singing anti-Spanish songs.”
If the present De Castros in Bulan are related to Don Teodoro De Castro is a subject of our inquiry.
How Socorro G. De Castro- who served as vice-governor of the province of Sorsogon from 1971-1975 before becoming representative of Bicol Region-V at the Interim Batasng Pambansa from 1979-1984- relates to the De Castros of Bulan is also a point of interest for all.
We hope that the family De Castro would provide us with the answer.
The De Castros became municipal mayors starting in 1968 with Luis De Castro, Sr.(who was able to serve Bulan for only two years), in 1979 with Alberto De Castro (first term as appointed, second term as elected) and in 1995 with Guillermo De Castro (who served three terms) and in 2004 with Helen Cheng De Castro, the incumbent mayor and wife of Guillermo De Castro. If Mayor Helen De Castro would run and be re-elected next year this would be her third term also.
From Luis De Castro to Mayor Helen De Castro, Bulan has been presided by the De Castro clan for a total of 24 years,- 27 years if Helen De Casto would be re-elected next year. As of now husband and wife Guillermo and Helen De Castro have served for 15 years already.
It’s nice to serve one’s hometown and we take-off our hats to those who had faithfully and honestly served Bulan as town mayors. Self-interest is not always a negative attribute for man would not do anything under the sun freely if not for it. If this is what propels our Bulan leaders to serve the people honestly then we could only be thankful for that. However, we know also that the mind is corrupted by possesion of political power extending over a long period of time and that the ambition for it already corrupts the mind also in some people. It is at this point that Self-Interest becomes a very dirty and primitive attribute within the context – or under the pretext- of “public service” and “public trust” for this becomes unequivocally synonymous with power-hoarding, plundering of public funds, bribery and corruption.
In this connection I express my deep gratitude to Ex-Vice Mayor Toby Gonzalez and Ex-Mayor Julian Ginete for their longest years as individuals spent faithfully serving the town of Bulan. For me these two were the most durable politicians that Bulan ever produced. Toby Gonzalez served many times as vice-mayor and as mayor in succession. Mr. Julian Ginete alone served Bulan a total of 13 years as elected mayor in two separate periods, as vice-mayor and as mayor in succession.
They say that behind every successful man is a strong woman. In the Philippine setting, this could explain why after his term of office the wife takes over. Interestingly, it came from the opposition side that for the first time in Philippine history, a wife continued the legacy and aspiration of the husband after being killed upon his return from exile; Corazon Aquino became president. Imelda Marcos did not become president of the Philippines but we know how she dictated behind which practically led to the ruin and downfall of Ferdinand Marcos. Hence, a strong woman behind can also ruin a successful man, let us not forget this fact. Our Asian neighbor ex-Singapore premier Lee Kuan Yew was not damaged that much by his wife as Marcos was but her strong character seems to be spotlighting only the weaknesses of Lee Kuan Yew. This creates problems in him and casts public doubt upon him even until now with regards to running their private businesses.
After that it became fashionable in the Philippines that the wife continues the office. We have seen that among the Bayanis in Marikina (Fernando and Marides), the Lee in Sorsogon (Raul and Sally Lee), etc. In Bulan this fashion first started with the Gotladeras (Pantaleon And Nene) and continued by the De Castros (Guillermo and Helen). Indeed, the first Lady becoming the town executive, and the former mayor or so becoming the first gentleman. If First-gentleman Arroyo were gentle enough, he would have been the first First- gentleman becoming the president, and Gloria the first woman president becoming the First Lady!
This funny configuration speaks a lot about the low level of politics in the Philippines. It speaks for everything other than a democracy; it speaks for clanism and dynastic politics; it speaks for patron politics and how these “stakeholders” build a network of interdependence to safeguard their power addiction. Behind a mayor is a mayor and a governor, behind a governor is a congressman and so on and so forth. This is the framework beneath the sick Republic of the Philippines, sick for being ruled not by the constitutional provision and a fine democratic culture but by power addiction of some clans.
Hence, where greed for power rules the town or country it is poor, corrupt and unpeaceful, and where the rule of law governs the town or country it is progressive and peaceful.
Peace be with you.