The facts on political dynasties
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In developed political democracies, the political parties are the organization of note. They represent ideologies and aggregate interests; they serve as focal points for competition for power and influence, incubators of future government leaders, and generators and advocates of policies and social action programs. The politics of longstanding democracies can be identified through the contesting political parties: witness the Democrats and Republicans in the United States, or the Conservative and Labour Parties in Great Britain; Germany’s Christian Democratic and Social Unions (two parties), Free Democrats, and the Green Party.
In that vein, party politics in the present Philippines is greatly wanting. We do have political organizations—the Liberal Party, Nacionalista, Lakas, and so forth—but bar a few examples such as Akbayan and Bayan Muna who are at least guided by ideologies, or in special cases, political dynamics in Philippine parties don’t operate in a mature, developed fashion, leading to rational, constructive governance. Personality and patronage often trumps principles, subverting governance, leading to corruption, inefficiency, and/or indifference and unresponsiveness. It also often leads to the entrenchment of elite politics, where “whom you know” counts over skill and talent, or dedication and perseverance, locking out the majority from political participation. The result, in the context of weak political parties, is dynastic politics, often dominated by families whose members succeed each other in power.
I should be fair: dynastic membership does not automatically mean corruption or malice. There are good people in Philippine politics who are members of political families. (Disclosure: I intend to vote for some of them.) Nonetheless, the tendency of dynastic politics does not trend towards democratization or accountability, an infirmity the Philippines can ill afford—reflected in Article II, Sec. 26 of the Philippine Constitution, but not in legislation called for by the Constitution.
The exogamistic (out-of-family) characteristics of modern political parties allow for greater political and policy dynamism, and better chances for personal and organizational accountability and advancement, because the personalities involved don’t have to contend with familial ties in membership and decision-making. All that political parties in the country require is a fighting chance at such dynamism and accountability, against long-standing and entrenched dynastic patterns of Philippine political power. It requires, particularly, the enforcement of political party membership: members cannot just flip their loyalties just on capricious desire for electoral victory, which happens all too often in Philippine election season.
So it became critical for the Ateneo Fact Check 2013 Elections to call into question dynasties and support for political party development. Who among the candidates belong to familial political dynasties? Who among them would invest political capital in proposed Political Party Development legislation and/or the banning of political dynasties? The logical expectation is that a political dynasty member would both oppose anti-dynasty legislation, and not be interested in party development. Conversely, non-dynasty members would support anti-dynasty bills and party development. The answers sometimes surprise us.
Among the top 20 senatorial candidates, 13 can be considered as dynasty members, by virtue of family members in power presently or preceding: Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino, Nancy Binay, Alan Cayetano, Ting-Ting Cojuangco, JV Ejercito, Jack Enrile, Chiz Escudero, Dick Gordon, Ernesto Maceda, Jun Magsaysay, Cynthia Villar and Migs Zubiri. Five of them are seen to support anti-dynasty legislation: Aquino, Enrile, Magsaysay, Zubiri, and Maceda; none of them have advanced proposed legislation. Seven will likely support party development initiatives: Cayetano, Escudero, Magsaysay, Gordon, Aquino, Angara and Enrile. Angara in fact is the author of the House version of the Party Development Bill.
Among the non-dynastic candidates (Gringo Honasan, Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda, Jamby Madrigal, Koko Pimentel—whose father, former Senator “Nene” Pimentel, had retired before the son’s ascension, Grace Poe, Antonio Trillanes), only three have stood strong in favor of anti-dynasty legislation: Pimentel, Hontiveros, and Madrigal. The rest have not spoken in favor or against such a policy. Thankfully, all seven support enacting party development policies, though only Legarda and Hontiveros’ Akbayan party have pushed forward draft legislation.
Those who have spoken out against anti-dynasty legislation—or, for that matter, those who haven’t said anything at all—speak to the potential impracticalities of such a policy. Apart from the “quality, not dynasty” argument advanced above, there’s the potential conflict with the guarantee of equal opportunity for all who seek candidacy for political office, whether he be considered a dynastic member. They would also leave it to voters to determine who they want in office.
The debate over anti-dynasty and party development legislation will continue through this coming election, and past it. And the critics of anti-dynasty legislation have one point right: it will be up to the voters to determine who among the candidates enter the Senate—who among them would fight for or against dynastic politics, for or against party development. Perhaps the twelve winners of the 2013 senatorial race may foretell the chances of anti-dynasty legislation in the next three years.
Yet we may let history—neither the candidates nor the voters—have the last word. Before Marcos, and after Marcos, we have let political power concentrate rather than diffuse (Marcos simply changed the hands in which power concentrated). To those in whom power concentrated went the advantages of power, name recognition and recall, resources, and momentum. The question to really ask is: will we vote for a future where power is not based on “whom you know”, but “what you stand for”?