The message from the Maguindanao massacre was clear: election day may still be six months away, yet some of the country’s largest and most influential political clans have already started flexing their muscles in preparation for the coming electoral fight. For decades, political families, not political parties, have been the most significant force behind Philippine politics; elections are exercises or tests of the political clout of local families, if not mere bitter contests with rival clans.

But the Ampatuans are far from being unique; as PCIJ fellow Julio Teehankee notes in his article “And the Clans Played On,” 160 families have dominated the Philippine Congress for more than a century. Promises are not the only repetitive element throughout more than half a century of elections – the surnames on the ballots never seem to change either.

Over the last two decades, the PCIJ has written extensively about the the clans that have held sway over the country. And while nothing can possibly explain what happened in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, the following stories, written by PCIJ fellows and staffmembers over the years, help us understand how the influence of a few familiar-sounding families can keep us mired firmly in the problems of the past.

The seven Ms of dynasty building

The families that endure and survive political upheaval are more likely to be those that have a sustainable economic base to finance their participation in electoral battles. Philippine elections are costly — a congressional campaign in 2004, according to campaign insiders, could have cost up to P30 million in Metro Manila.
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Equal-opportunity violence

IF I had to write a script for a movie on political violence, I could not come up with a better one than the ongoing live drama starring political bigwigs from the province of Abra. The assassination of Abra Congressman Luis Bersamin Jr. and his bodyguard outside a church — right after a wedding — last December 16 provides the slam-bang opening scene.
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Platoons of goons?

ACCORDING TO the latest reports, the Bersamins of Abra are among 10 political families in the province supposedly under close watch by the Philippine National Police for maintaining private armies. But by many accounts, the Bersamins — whose most prominent member, Congressman Luis Jr., was gunned down last December — were mainly “fence-sitters” who maintained links with the two main groups battling over Abra.
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Luck and the governor

WHETHER OR not he is or once was a jueteng lord as many people seem to be believe, it can at least be said that Batangas Governor Armando Sanchez has been enjoying the luck of the draw for the past few years. In 2001, he was elected mayor of Sto. Tomas town, which leaped from being a fifth-class municipality to first-class during his term. In 2004, he emerged winner in a field of seven candidates for governor, despite the fact that he was a relative unknown who was up against big-name and more experienced politicos. In 2006, he narrowly escaped death.
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Makati’s mayor fortifies his fort

BY MAY this year, four of Makati Mayor Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay’s seven-member household (in-laws, grandchildren, and helpers excluded) would have joined the family’s business in Makati: politics. The latest addition would be Mar-Len Abigail or Abby, a 31-year-old lawyer, who is eyeing the congressional seat in the city’s second district.
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And the clans play on

FOR SOME 160 families, the two Houses of the Philippine Congress have practically been home for the last century. These families have had two or more members who have served in Congress, and they account for nearly 424 of the 2,407 men and women who have been elected to the national legislature from 1907 to 2004.
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The blood politics of Abra

I AM a warlord’s daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, relative, and friend. On my bloodline I blame the deaths of hundreds of men in Abra. But I am powerless to undo what members of my clan have wrought. Many times I have cursed my forefathers for the tragedy of living in a place that is beautiful but awash in blood, that has nothing to offer but devastation, depression, and death.
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Power shift looms in Cebu politics

CEBU CITY — This bustling metropolis in central Philippines used to be the heart of Osmeña country, the home of a political clan that at one time even managed to wield power from within Malacañang. But in the last two decades, a new family has been gaining considerable political ground in Cebu province. For the past few years, it has also been widely perceived to have Malacañang’s ear. This May, three of its members are seeking public office, and many are betting all three will win their respective electoral contests.
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Reporting under the gun

MELINDA ‘MEI’ Magsino-Lubis yearns for many things: her flower and herb garden, the sound of her husband’s voice, the kingfisher and maya birds that used to wake her up in the morning. All these she used to enjoy in her five-hectare mahogany farm on top of a hill, in the city of Batangas, around 84 km. south of Manila.
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Bukidnon’s ‘nontraditional’ dynasty

SHE BEGAN her political career by accident, but when Socorro ‘Coring’ Olaivar Acosta ran for Congress in 1987, she was part of a strategy to topple the Fortich political dynasty in Bukidnon, a province in the heart of Mindanao. Then her son J. R. Nereus or Neric took her place in the legislature while she eventually went back to her old mayoralty post in Manolo Fortich town.
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