The Death Of A Political Dynasty

(Or, Rediscovering Apolinario Mabini)

by jun asuncion


“…  Political dynasty  is also subject to natural death as history has shown us: it dies due to lack of next generation that will continue it or the shift in interest or lack of energy of the new generation, or continued strife with other political dynasties has led to total annihilation of the dynasty/clan members, continued political turmoils and rebellion leading to mass murder of clan members, loss of properties (lands, houses) and financial capital, internal strife among dynasty members, or simply sickness and death of all the remaining members.” (from my post Nannette Vytiaco… A Retrospect)

I wrote these lines a few months ago. The decline of the Kennedy Political Dynasty seems to be because of the first and last causes I cited above, which are the shift of interest or lack of energy of the new generation and death of the remaining members.

 With the death of Eduard “Ted” Kennedy, the Kennedy Dynasty is “over”, says Ben Bradlee, vice -president of Washington Post, or as Wilfred Macclay- political professor at Pepperdine University- says, ” The family has lost its vigor or momentum”.

The Kennedy held the “Kennedy Seat ” in American senate since 1947. With Ted’s death, the citizens of Massachusetts will decide in January for his successor.  However, it’s no more certain if it would be somebody  from the dynasty. Two persons are in question, namely Victoria Kennedy- the widow of the deceased senator and Joseph F. Kennedy II, a nephew of Teddy, and son of Robert “Bobby Kennedy, the senator, justice minister and presidential candidate who was murdered in 1968. Though most of the younger Kennedys are active as philanthropists, educators, environmental activist, founders of  charity organizations,  it seems though that no one among them has the political  interest or the profile to fullfil what  Joseph Patrick Kennedy, the founder of the clan, has set as the Kennedy’s motto: ” Win, don’t come as second or third. That doesn’t count”.

Months before his death, the deceased senator has declared his niece Caroline Kennedy-  daughter of president John F. Kennedy- as his successor. She tried last year- perhaps pressured by this expectation- to apply for Hillary Clinton’s seat in the senate. The news spread like fire and soon there were  brigades of journalists around her. Some of them started asking for her qualifications aside from being a Kennedy and being a daughter of a famous president. Soon the pressure came from all sides and she gave up her candidacy.

There is shadow where light is. And the Kennedys were not without scandals that shed shadows to their brilliant status: women, alcohol and drug addictions have also a share in their clan history. Joseph Kennedy II has political experience in his portfolio being a member of the American congress for six legislative periods but a book published by his ex-wife where she revealed his shadows forced him to give up his further  political ambitions. He is at the moment the boss of his “Citizens Energy”, a non-profit organization which supplies heating oil to the socially disadvantaged. The same with Patrick Joseph Kennedy, the son of  Ted Kennedy himself. He would have been the carrier of the Kennedy’s political shining legacy for he is still a member of the American congress representing Rhode Islands. But politically, he pales against the bright shining background of the past Kennedys. And he was also in the headlines for his drug  and alcohol addictions. The future is bleak for the political Kennedy, for the once strongest American political dynasty. And the way things present themselves today, it’s almost over.

Worth mentioning also is  the other  twin shadows that have accompanied  the luminary Kennedys which is tragedy  and cancer. Some of them ended tragic like John F. Kennedy Sr., and Robert Kennedy who were both assassinated, Joseph was killed in a plane crash during the Second World War, to be followed  decades later by his nephew John F. Kennedy, Jr. whose plane crashed into the waters around New York, one Kennedy was accused of rape-  though acquitted later on, ski and car accidents. Ted Kennedy himself was involved in a plane crash which he luckily survived. But the 1969 Chappaquiddick-scandal where, after an  alcohol party, the car he was driving fell into the river, causing the death of  his woman front-seat passenger, had definitely ended his journey to the White House. To round it all up, Jaqueline Kennedy died of cancer and, just recently, Ted Kennedy himself of brain tumor. You may think of a curse against the Kennedy Dynasty. But for sure, their risky lifestyle and their popularity contributed much to all these tragedies.

Back to the Philippines, we should never confuse our understanding of  Philippine political dynasty and attempt to justify it by referring to that  of  American political dynasty, for with all its flaws, the  American democratic institutions still function and this is where the difference of meaning and practice of political dynasty between these two countries start. The American politicians-whether belonging to a dynasty or not- still work as public servants and not as public plunderers of the nation’s wealth. Ted Kennedy used his 46 years in the senate  vigorously representing the socially weak  and creating laws for their welfare. The   U.S. electoral process alone already tells us that anybody eyeing for an elected position would readily give up as soon as a slight bad personal record has leaked to the public. In the Philippines, anybody can be president as long as he has the support of the wealthy people or political clans or the media  popularity or the undifferentiated voters and masa (populace). An ex- convict ex-president, a national gambler and alcoholic may even run again for presidency; or an incumbent president who, with her allies who support her Constituent  Assembly, tampers the 1987 Constitution for her own dynastic needs, not really for the welfare of the socially weak.

But since the political logic runs different in the Philippines, it follows that there is more to the inner logic that dictates the end of a political dynasty. For instance,  the Marcos dynasty was ended by a revolution, the Jueting republic of  Estrada suffered the same fate. It’s not only the lack of interest of the new generation or  the natural death of dynasty members but a revolution is inherent in this logic of social change- whether we like it or not- as long as the present political condtions persist and the voters  continued to be politically undifferentiated, hence, manipulable. For otherwise, a differentiated populace expresses its concepts of change through democratic ways and a differentiated government supports only democratic ways.

Therefore, we can aptly say that the Sword of Damocles hangs over the political dynasties in the Philippines. Their destruction is pre-programmed by the very logic that it has in itself. We just have to look at the European welfare states how they attend to the public needs now. They, too,  were once dominated by all sorts of political dynasties but with time all of them were destroyed. Destruction and Creation of new forms- the  two forces of social evolution.

In our modern language, it is simply not sustainable, this kind of political landscape,  for it doesn’t allow for growth. The dynasties in our country- busy with their self-aggrandizement politics-  don’t realize their impending doom which could be very violent. We don’t presume to know when this will definitely end in the Philippines but it has  its own timetable. An evolving society changes its structure and adopts  a form that will keep it survive as a whole. For me, this form means higher civilization.

This is Self-Aggrandizement when you travel the Philippines: you see a school building with the inscription, “A Project of President Arroyo“, a  bus waiting shed with “A Project Of Governor…”, a basketball court with “A Project Of Barangggay Captain…” , a pavilion with  “A Project Of  Mayor…”… and so on. Arroyo has for sure some projects accomplished. But there is nothing personal about them for the money used was from the people, from the taxes paid, not from her own wallet. And as a public servant, you are elected and paid to work  and do something for your country or town. Or must the people  beg for you for these things, expect them to be overly thankful when you have done something?  Only a politician who has bought all his votes behaves this way for he feels he owns the people, he owns the country, he owns the town.

So why steal the money and honor from the people? Self-aggrandizement is defined like this by our politicians: I steal people’s money, make a project out of the rest of it and then use this project to cover up my stealing  and to improve my image. This is outright deception. So people of the Philippines, people of Bulan, I understand what you feel whenever you see such personalized, privatized  public amenities. Now,  the more you see such structures or banners with such inscriptions in your town, in our country when you’re traveling, the more you know that there are lots of public thieves around you, displaying their honorable names voluntarily to insult you.

This Self-Aggrandizement (and to my view, political corruption, nepotism and dynastic politics) has its root in Aguinaldo, according to Mabini, which to him also the reason why the Philippine Revolution in 1896/98 failed. In his book  La Revolution Filipina. he wrote:

“To sum it up, the Revolution failed because it was badly led; because its leader won his post by reprehensible rather than meritorious acts; because instead of supporting the men most useful to the people, he made them useless out of jealousy. Identifying the aggrandizement of the people with his own, he judged the worth of men not by their ability, character and patriotism but rather by their degree of friendship and kinship with him; and anxious to secure the readiness of his favorites to sacrifice themselves for him, he was tolerant even of their transgressions. Because he thus neglected the people forsook him; and forsaken by the people, he was bound to fall like a waxen idol melting in the heat of adversity.God grant we do not forget such a terrible lesson, learnt at the cost of untold suffering.”

He wrote further:

“Mr. Aguinaldo believed that one can serve his country with honour and glory only from high office, and this is an error which is very dangerous to the common welfare; it is the principal cause of the civil wars which impoverish and exhaust many states and contributed greatly to the failure of the Revolution. Only he is truly a patriot who, whatever his post, high or low, tries to do the greatest possible good to his countrymen. A little good done in an humble position is a title to honour and glory, while it is a sign of negligence or incompetence when done in high office. True honour can be discerned in the simple manifestations of an upright and honest soul, not in brilliant pomp and ornament wich scarcely serve to mask the deformities of the body. True honour is attained by teaching our minds to recognize truth, and training our hearts to love it. The recognition of truth shall lead us to the recognition of our duties and of justice, and by performing our duties and doing justice we shall be respected and honoured, whatever our station in life.”

This was probably what Apolinario Mabini had in mind also – a civilized Philippines-  when he wrote these  lines at the last chapter of his book  La Revolution Filipina :

“Let us never forget that we are on the first rung of our national life, and that we are called upon to rise, and can go upward only on the ladder of virtue and heroism. Above all let us not forget that, if we do not grow, we shall have died without ever having been great, unable to reach maturity, which is proper of a degenerate race.”

 A degenerate race? Well, that’s tough.

 jun asuncion

Bulan Observer


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