On Philippine Political Culture

By Joharel Escobia
Urios University

Christopher Ryan Maboloc writes that after Spain relinquished the Philippines as one of its colonies, the Americans instituted its brand of democracy. It was during this period, he said, that political elitism came into total fruition as lands that were acquired by the friars were simply transferred to families who have been very supportive of the American regime. This fact gave rise to many, if not all, political elites in the provinces, who in turn, supported most oligarchs in the capital Manila.

Marcos tried to change the oligarchic structure by taking away the assets of some prominent families. But this move was pretentious. This is because Marcos simply transferred the sequestered wealth to himself through crony capitalism. Marcos used his friends as dummies to hide what he plundered. This devastated the Philippine economy and had put democracy on a tailspin. The Philippines, in the process, became Asia's wastebasket for democracy.

When Cory Aquino, the widow of Ninoy Aquino, assumed power in the Palace, she gave an order to draft what is now the 1987 constitution to correct the abuses of the Marcos regime. President Cory tried to bring in a new order, but it was no more than a restoration of the old one where only the top benefits from any progress. 

Maboloc indicated that history has taught us fully well that only the very few, rich, powerful, landed, and influential families dominate the reign of governance in the country. Around 60 of the country's 70-plus cities are ruled by political dynasties, and some have been in control for decades. This virulent malady has effectively stifled true development as people are rendered powerless. As what Randy David has written in a column, this type of system makes economic growth possible, but not prosperity.

Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution

Romulo Bautista cites Article II, Section 26 of the Constitution says: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” The clause “as may be defined by law” is vague. It does not specify the number of family members, and it does not specify the generation which will prohibit a family member from running for public office. 

The “equal access to opportunities” mandates that public offices should be open under the conditions of fair equality of opportunities. There is no equality of opportunities if only two rival families or two conflicting family members are running for the same position. Public office becomes a family possession, an inheritance which can be handed from one family member to another. Under this kind of set-up, the already powerful becomes even more powerful. The marginalized are even pushed further in the periphery. 

Political power which is controlled by the few oligarchs leads to unchecked abuses and corruption. Only few benefits while the majority of the populace who are poor suffers even more. Article II, section 26 of the constitution is supposed to preclude abuses and vicious inequality that occlude the country’s progress. Structures are built on our concepts of the nuclear family and ties, ergo, blood relations. What allows this phenomenon to continue is clearly the absence of enabling law that will totally curtail it. The reason for this is the fact that our legislators are also members of a political dynasty. Logically, they would not drink their own poison. They would not endorse a law that will end their grip to power.

Many supporters continue to have faith in their chosen political leaders despite their knowledge of their leaders’ corruption. They justify this by pointing out that this is the status quo. It is already ingrained in the consciousness of the people that the candidate who bears the family name of their chosen political dynasty though incompetent will gain their sublime vote.  So even if a conscientious and competent person who is not a member of a dynasty will run for public office, he will still not win. The voters are a slave to their loyalty to these elite politicians to the point that they become subservient to them.

This is contrary to what Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution asserts: “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them,” says Bautista. The political leaders should serve the people’s interest. The supreme authority emanates from the people. Political dynasty only serves the interests of the few oligarchs. The abuses of power and the concomitant corruption that comes from it is the debasement of the people’s welfare. 

On Political Dynasties

The Constitution is very clear that political power must serve the public’s interest. Political dynasty is inimical to the welfare of the people. “It destroys competition,” says Lukas Kaelin. Political dynasty enforces the great division between rich and poor. The ruling class belongs to the elite stratum of society, and it turned out that the elite are the only ones who benefit from this. 

We cannot expect a politician from an illustrious family who has enjoyed the luxury and comfort of opulence to be sympathetic to the abject conditions of the poor. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would remind us that man has the natural proclivity to pursue his own selfish interest and to seek his own gratification. We cannot expect the oligarchs to be altruistically motivated in running for public office. It is sensible to be critical about our political oligarch’s dissembling intentions for they are not reflective of the public interest.

Politicians may argue that there are good dynasties. But the monopoly of power it creates often leads to corruption and abuses. It is hard to see who is good and who is bad for the latter overshadows the other. Political dynasty has done more harm than good. Although some families argue that they have been chosen by the people, it must be determined if people did really follow their conscience in voting. The people, as we all know, can be influenced by way of trivial goods. 

There is a need to end the culture of patronage politics. It has to start by not voting for candidates who are building political dynasty. Political dynasty will not flourish if we voters would show our disdain for it. Politicians gained the guts of putting their family members into office because the people support it. The country is experiencing the ill-effects of a politics run only by few families, for instance, the very limited and exclusive type of development. 

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