POLITICAL dynasty, a term as ubiquitous as the political families that embody it, is not an invention of modern society. It has been suggested that even before Magellan first set foot on “uncivilized territories,” the pre-colonial Philippines had a form of government which shared something in common with the “civilized” 15th century Europe; a government wherein power is contained within select families. Once the Spaniards came, however, they introduced the principalia. Gone were the days of the datus and maharlikas from whence power once was invested. Now, the principalia held the status of local oligarchs and they were, coincidentally, mostly descendants of the datus and maharlikas.
To this day as well, political dynasties continue to circulate through the veins of the government, poisoning the system like a perpetual leukemia. Currently, only 1 out of 7 members of Congress has no familial connections with his or her colleagues. The Philippines also boasts of a whopping 178 active political families. In fact, in 2007, 60% of Philippine lawmakers had relatives in the law-making field as opposed to America’s paltry 7%. Such statistics seem disappointing, given that Section 26, Article II of the 1987 Philippine Constitution prohibits political dynasties. However, being non self-executing, the same section also leaves the definition of political dynasties up to law. Such law is in the hands of the Congress— the same Congress of which many of its congressmen benefit from political dynasties— and is known as House Bill No. 3587 or, as it is more popularly referred to as, the Anti-Dynasty Bill.
An uphill battle
Unsurprisingly, the bill did not have an easy time in Congress. For more than 25 years, it had been pending in Congress without yielding any results. But in November 2013, Capiz Representative Fredenil Castro, chair of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms approved House Bill No. 3587 that substituted previous bills 172, 837, and 2911. After 27 years of neglect, the bill was tackled in plenary. The latest version of the Anti-Dynasty Bill defines a political dynasty as “the concentration, consolidation or perpetuation of public office and political power by persons related to one another.” It exists “when two or more individuals who are related within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity hold or run for national or local office in successive, simultaneous or overlapping terms” (Sec. 3(a), House Bill No. 3587).
Categories of candidates covered by the bill are the following: 1) the spouse; 2) a person related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, whether legitimate or illegitimate, full or half-blood; and 3) a candidate related to another candidate within the said prohibited civil degree of relationship (where only one will be allowed to hold or to run for office). In all of these cases, no person within the said prohibited civil degree of relationship to an incumbent official shall immediately succeed to the position of the latter (Sec. 5, House Bill No. 3587).
As manifested by the following provisions, in the event that the Anti-Dynasty Bill hurdles Congress, only one member from each of the existing political families will remain in office. This will affect most members of Congress where there exists at least two (2) members of the House of Representatives or Senate coming from the same political family.
In 2014, President Benigno S. Aquino III said that the Anti-Dynasty Bill was not a priority, citing other domestic and international matters in his agenda. Notably, President Aquino is himself part of a political family, with first cousin Senator Bam Aquino in the Senate. However, the winds have changed. President Aquino, in his final State of the Nation Address on July 27, 2015, stated that “panahon na para ipasa ang isang anti-dynasty law.” The House Leaders hoped that such endorsement may garner support from their peers. Unfortunately, the latest version of the bill was rejected in the second hearing.
Giving flesh to the real intent of the Constitution “
The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” (Section 26, Article II, 1987 Philippine Constitution)
Strongly pushed is the implementation of this constitutional provision in order to curb the evils of having several political family members hold government positions which usually result to poverty, corruption and other offenses committed by virtue of being in a public position.The presence of an implementing law will prevent what Rep. Fredenil H. Castro refers to as a “vulnerability to monopolistic” rule (House of Representatives – Legislative Library Online). Rep. Castro added that Section 26 of Article II of the Constitution represented the reformist mindset of the crafters of the charter.
However, as stated by Angela Casauay in her 2014 article entitled Anti-political dynasty bill reaches House plenary, despite the inclusion of such provision, the lack of enabling law has prevented its implementation. “This provision is no less than an admission of the framers of the Constitution of the menaces that political dynasties may bring or have brought and continue to bring if unabated or unregulated by an implementing law in frustration of the spirit of Section 26, Article II of the Constitution,” Rep. Castro said.
According to the Philippine Institute for Developmental Studies, passing an anti-dynasty bill no doubt, will allow more Filipinos to participate in politics and governance. It further added that while House Bill 3587 will not remove all political dynasties in the country, passing it would start the path towards effective and accountable governance.
A tug-of-war of political interests
It cannot be denied that a lot of Filipinos are already tired of the negative effects of political families monopolizing the powerful public positions in the country. One may even go as far to say that political dynasties are the reason why the Philippines’ economic and social conditions are not improving. However, no matter how numerous the supporters of this bill are, there will continue to be lawmakers against it. The reason most specifically has to do with its legal implications. House Minority Leader Ronaldo B. Zamora expressed that the Anti-Dynasty Bill is not only about the relationships of those seeking elective posts but also about the elections themselves. Some provisions of the bill provide that a relative of an incumbent official cannot run for a number of elections. Rep. Zamora commented that that such provisions would not be easy to implement. House Deputy Sherwin N. Tugna argued that there should be a balance between giving equal opportunity to all persons who want to hold elective offices and the right of the person to exercise his or her political right to vote and be voted by the public.
Additionally, in an article written by Llanesca Panti in 2014 entitled Anti-dynasty bill seen as not feasible, Rep. Tugna allegedly commented that the right to be voted by the public can be only curtailed by Congress “if it has been proven that the evil of unequal opportunities to public office and virtual monopoly of a particular family to a public position has resulted in deleterious effects to our country.” For Rep. Castro, however, the anti-dynasty bill will not prohibit anyone from seeking or holding an elective office. It would only be regulatory, such that “it only limits the number of those who may run, be elected and hold public office from a political clan in a span of time. As such, other elective officers will be free for grabbing of the best and the brightest from disadvantaged families” (Panti, L., 2014).
The anti-dynasty bill: a “double-edged sword”
As stated by Carmina Untalan in her 2015 article entitled The anti-dynasty law: A cosmetic measure, political dynasties are not the primary problem; it is the lack of political will and the presence of greed that makes it the bane of Philippine politics. The reason for this is because there are public officers who come from these so-called political families but at the same time, are able to show promise as a good political leader and to implement good governance in their respective political territories. An example of this is Mayor Jose Enrique Garcia III of Balanga City, Bataan. Under his leadership, Balanga City received the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)’s Good Housekeeping Sea. Balanga City was recognized internationally for its anti-tobacco efforts and in addition, the city has been exerting considerable efforts to become a university town by 2020. Mayor Garcia comes from a political family, being the son of Bataan Governor Enrique Garcia Jr.
It is a double-edged sword in that if the bill is not passed, some public officers coming from political families would continue their tradition of corruption and poverty. If the bill is passed, however, some local government units would be deprived of public officers who continually implement programs without a stain of corruption. These programs even transcend their respective terms, proving that it is not a dynasty that makes bad governance, but the public officer himself.
A cosmetic measure
It cannot be denied that there is an imperative need to pass an anti-dynasty bill in order to give life to the constitutional provision providing for it. No matter how good the intentions of the sponsor and authors are, however, opposition from lawmakers coming from political families will always be a threat to its passage as they have interests to uphold as well.
It should be noted that having political families and continuity in their terms is not without advantages. It is just a matter of inculcating in themselves their purpose of running for office and the welfare of their constituents. Ultimately, balancing the interests of incumbent public officers from political families and the rights of other individuals who wish to run for office will always be the main concern in passing the Anti-Dynasty Bill. Until affected legislators choose to give way to the public interest, there will forever be a deadlock and the future of Philippine politics will remain as murky and as bleak as it is today. P
Disclaimer: The views and opinions of the authors do not represent the opinion of the Ateneo Law School nor The Palladium regarding the issue.
Constantino, Renato. (1982). The Making of a Filipino: A Story of Philippine Colonial Politics. Quezon City: R. Constantino