Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Political Dynasties

The devious double-talk and evasive gibberish  with which many political candidates running in the May 13, 2013 general elections try to escape or sidestep the hot and controversial issue of political dynasties never cease to amaze and fascinate me.  This is particularly true of the many of them who are the direct or indirect beneficiaries of this rather unsavory aspect of local politics and who are therefore the most adverse to having the topic come up for discussion because they themselves have the most to explain to the electorate.

Take the case of Vice-President Jejomar Binay who recently endorsed the candidacies of three of his children ( Jejomar Erwin who is running for another term as mayor of Makati City, Mar-Len Abigail who is a reelectionist congresswoman for that city's 2nd district and Nancy who is a senatorial candidate of the UNA or the United Nationalist Alliance).  "It is not enough that one's sibling, parent or relative will win," he told a crowd of UNA supporters recently.  "What's important is, you're the one who's going to vote."

And then there is former President Joseph Estrada, the erstwhile "convicted plunderer" according to his bitter rival, Manila Mayor Fred Lim, who echoed the same tired message in a campaign sortie for the UNA in San Juan City.  "In a monarchy, " he pompously declared, "power is inherited.  Here, it is the people who decide, isn't it?"  Besides, he gamely pointed out that one of the advantages of political dynasties is that there is continuity of programs and projects. Estrada's son, Jinggoy, is an incumbent senator and another son, JV, is vying for a Senate seat under the UNA.  A former mistress and the mother of JV, Guia Gomez, is angling for another term as mayor of San Juan which has been an Estrada stronghold for decades.

In the province of Surigao del Sur (of which Lianga is part of) like in at least 90 percent of the country's 80 provinces, the problem of political dynasties is no less a persistent and grim reality.  For over a decade now, the Pimentel-Ty clan has been the dominant and controlling force to reckon with in the province. Before them  it was other political clans like the Castillos and the Murillos.

It remains closely allied to the Pichays represented by 1st District Congressman Philip Pichay who essentially inherited the office from his brother, the colorful and controversial Prospero "Butch" Pichay.  Johnny Pimentel, the current governor, took over as chief of the provincial government after his brother, Vicente Pimentel, had served three full terms as governor.  Another member of the clan, Tandag City Mayor Alexander Ty is bowing out after three terms as the city's chief executive but has tapped his wife, Roxanne, to replace him.  His cousin, Abet Ty-Delgado, is targeting Rep. Pichay's congressional seat in a surprise move that is raising eyebrows among political observers here.

In Surigao del Sur's neighboring province of Agusan del Sur, the Plaza political clan continues to hold on to its tight grip on local politics there despite internal disagreements and bickering among two of its leading personalities.  The Plazas have lorded it over Agusan del Sur for almost half a century and it remains to be seen whether the current rift between one faction led by the incumbent governor, Adolph Edward Plaza (who is allied with his two sisters, Ma. Valentina and Evelyn Plaza Mellana, all running for congressional seats in the province's first and second districts) and another headed by Rodolfo "Ompong" Plaza, a former three term congressman from the second district who is backed up by Ceferino Paredes Jr, also a former congressman and longtime rival of the Plazas. will bode well or ill for that clan and the province in the near future.

In Lianga itself, the reality of political dynasties is so much part and parcel of the political landscape that it is considered not worth any serious discussion.  Here, well established political clans and families all jockey for power at every opportunity and it is always presumed that the sons, daughters, grandchildren and close relatives of politicians in power will eventually take a potshot at public office as a matter of course.

Thus municipal officials here in the past, for example, were not adverse to having at least one of their children (if such offspring are politically inclined) also dabble in politics. Typically, a serving municipal mayor will usually pull strings to have a son or daughter elected barangay captain of the poblacion or as member of the municipal council.  This places the offspring in the ideal position to help cement the political position of the family for the future as well as prepare for the eventuality of the new generation replacing the old-timers when the time comes.

To my eternal disgust, I am forced to agree with both Jejomar Binary and Joseph Estrada that in a democracy where there are truly free elections participated in by a well informed and well motivated citizenry, the question of political dynasties should not be an issue.  It would not be an issue because under such an ideal scenario the fact that a candidate for public office is a close relative or immediate family relation of an incumbent elective official would not matter in any way.  The electorate would always choose the best qualified and best suited candidate, irregardless of who he is, when it is the time to cast the ballots.

But the Philippines is not yet a democracy with a well informed, active and well motivated citizenry. It is, like all emerging and developing democracies, a political system still in in its infancy and in the process of development and evolution. Thus its periodic electoral contests remain constantly plagued by massive vote buying, voter intimidation and outright cheating.

Its political parties are still not the engines of people empowerment that they are in the more politically mature democracies. Instead they are merely paper labels for those privileged few who have the real economic and political clout.  They are not rooted on principle and ideology, rather they are mere convenient and temporary creations which are then easily discarded or exchanged for another depending on the need or the requirements and exigencies of the political moment.

In the provinces particularly where economic and political power are almost often in the hands of a select economic elite who see public office not as a public trust but as a privilege they have abrogated for themselves and their peers, how can the issue of political dynasties not be relevant.  Even in the highest offices of the land, in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and elsewhere in all branches of government, the specter of members of a few select families occupying positions of power as if the possession of such offices are a God given right bestowed upon them alone is a rampant and obvious fact.

Of course, there are those who say that to fight the reality of political dynasties in this country, there must first be a law passed by Congress that not only prohibits them but defines them clearly in such a way that the full force of such a law can be used unambiguously against them.  That is well and good but how can Congress, that same exclusive haven of the political and economic aristocracy where membership is casually passed on from parents to offspring or from one spouse to the other, be motivated to draft, consider and pass a law that would essentially challenge if not destroy the status quo?

In the end, the appeal to challenge political dynasties both locally and in the national level must be made to that growing and increasingly assertive sector of the Philippine electorate who are gradually becoming enlightened and aware of the defects and deficiencies in our present electoral system and our nascent political culture.  It is in this unfortunate sense that Jejomar Binay and Joseph Estrada are dead right.

All government power originates from the people.  If they so chose to raise to power once more in the May 2013 general elections those who have through the years and decades have selfishly taken for themselves the right to hold public office when such a right should be available and accessible to all, irregardless of name and social or economic status, who could aspire to it then they will merely encourage, strengthen and preserve the continued rule of what amounts to a political oligarchy or aristocracy and with it the cycle of political and economic oppression that has plagued the Filipino people for decades.

Or they can choose to reject the status quo and vote to advance the cause of true democracy by making sure that they reject the proponents and beneficiaries of political dynasties and the corrupt politics that it represents and then take back for themselves the power to freely choose and support their own leaders based on the basis of personal merit, individual integrity and political ideology rather than mere name recall, pedigree or personal popularity.


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