Aside from the ongoing anti-"epal" drive, another hot topic as we approach the 2013 mid-term elections is the issue of political dynasties. Despite the existence of a Constitutional prohibition, political dynasties have thrived in the Philippines due to the fact that: one, there is no enabling law banning political dynasties, and, two, in many cases, political dynasties have been too firmly entrenched to be dislodged. As noted by Philippine Star columnist Satur Ocampo, a 2004 study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) shows how political dynasties have dominated Congress, and how the rich have lorded it over what is essentially a poor country.
It's interesting to note how members of these so-called political dynasties have spoken up to defend themselves. Representative Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara, who's currently running to replace his father in the Senate, observed that "the concept of political dynasty concept is just a matter of perception,
stressing that qualifications and excellent track record should be the
basis in electing candidates during elections." He acknowledges, though, that there are political dynasties that use illegal means to perpetuate themselves in power. Angara also notes, "We should look at what these dynasties have achieved and there you will
find differentiation. The name definitely helps, but that in itself is
not enough. You need to have a stand on issues, be visible, strike a
chord with the masses."
Congresswoman Cynthia Villar, who's also running for a Senate seat in 2013, says, "“My husband is leaving the Senate. If ever I assume a Senate seat, I would not have any relative there." Of course, in effect, even if she has no relative in the Senate should she win, she will basically replace her husband in the Senate, ensuring the presence of a Villar in the next Senate.
Congresswoman Mitos Magsaysay, another contender for the Senate, notes, "“Our voters are smarter now and we need to give them credit for making their choices based on performance rather than association.” It's the correct thing to say, to help boost the ego of her voters, but, if that's really the case, why do people like Tito Sotto (plagiarism), Antonio Trillanes (egotist), Romeo Jalosjos (rapist), and Mikey Arroyo (wannabe security guard/tricycle driver) continue to win?
Re-electionist Senator Alan Peter Cayetano tries to differentiate between good and bad dynasties. He says (translated from Filipino), "The question here is who is corrupt and who isn't. It would be better
to have a family of politicians in the government with clean track
record than a single government official who is so corrupt."
Another interesting observation is that all of these people hail from one political dynasty or the other, and, I have yet to see someone not from a dynasty speak up in the political dynasties' defense.
One thorny issue that has been raised is that political dynasties exist because the people choose to place them in power. It's like a vicious circle: political dynasties are bad, but the people were the ones who put them there, and, in a democracy, that's what counts. It would, if the playing field was actually equal, but it's not. Good or bad, political dynasties have more or less honed their strategy and tactics in order to perpetuate themselves in power, and they have banked on a politically immature populace to do so. No matter that Rep. Magsaysay may say about Filipino voters, by and large, the majority remain poor and poorly educated, which, I suspect, is one of the things that the political dynasties rely on to keep their hold on power.
Once in a while, a Grace Padaca, or an Among Ed will emerge to challenge the dynasties' steel grip, but people like these are the exceptions, rather than the norm. As it is, looking at the senatorial line-up of the two major groups for next year's elections, both slates are ridden with political dynasties, and, as I've noted before, they're built on winnability rather than principle. And so the dynasties continue to keep a firm hold on power.
It's difficult to imagine how to deal with the problem of political dynasties, since it appears to be a self-perpetuating engine. Sadly, it'll be a long time before our countrymen will be mature enough to elect people based solely on merit, rather than name recall.