March 2007
New Political Dynasties

Still a family affair

LET’S say it one more time: Yes, the 1987 Constitution has a provision that says the State shall prohibit political dynasties. But that will happen only when Congress finally crafts and passes the implementing law that will also define what a political dynasty is. Hold your breath over that one and you may just end up in the emergency ward.

Twenty years after the so-called Edsa constitution was hammered together, in fact, our politics seem to have gone the way of ABS-CBN. That is to say, puro kapamilya, or with members of just a few families running for public office or already occupying positions in government. For sure, the old political families seem to have lost steam or are no longer as strong as before. But in their place are “new” clans — e.g. Binay, Cayetano, Lagman, Defensor, et al. — that have gained considerable political ground since Edsa I and are not about to let go of that anytime soon.

The same section (Article 2, Section 26) in the constitution gives an explanation why there should be an end to political dynasties: so that there would be “equal access to opportunities for public service.” After all, as kapamilya (i.e. ABS-CBN) talent and part-time politician Edu Manzano put it recently, no one has a monopoly on competence.

It’s not as if competence can be inherited or passed on either. Even prominent business clans know this, which is why those who want their companies to last more than a generation make it a point to bring in professionals at some point rather than rely on Junior or Thirdy, who may have the same name as the firm’s founder, but not necessarily the same skills or commitment.

In a 2003 paper for the United Nations Development Programme, economists Solita and Toby Monsod (who are, coincidentally enough, mother and daughter), offer an explanation why political clans persist. “(The) divisive, patrimonial nature of Philippine politics,” they say, “may be such that that politics controlled by one family may be preferred if only to speed up consensus on a common vision, coordination of development projects and allocation of resources.”

That consensus, however, may not always contribute toward the common good. The Monsods observe that while it is hard to generalize just how much political dynasties affect economic development, these may hinder local economic development “to the extent that rents for the political clan are created (by restricting competition in local markets and by leakages in the allocation and delivery of public goods to the poor).” The Monsods note as well that in terms of meeting the Millennium Development Goals (which are aimed at combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women), provinces run by political dynasties tend to be laggards.

For the month of March, i Report looks at some of the political families that have emerged since 1986. A few are headed by personalities who had fought against political clans during the Marcos era. Now they are among the families that apparently believe politics has been good for them. Whether they have been good for Philippine politics is another thing altogether.