Since the 2013 election is not just around the corner but literally everywhere, I would like to share some insights. 2010 presidential election is still fresh in my mind; unfortunately I was just 17 then. In a couple of days, I will be able to participate in the national elections for the first time. 2010 election was without a doubt a ‘miraculous’ rise of then Senator Noynoy Aquino, also it was the beginning of PGMA ‘fall’. During that time, everyone was so hopeful, optimistic, and enthusiastic calling for change and stuff. I was greatly bewildered why that energy didn’t emerge during, say the aftermath of the Maguindanao Massacre, or any other scandal PGMA administration got itself into. Anyway, predictably, Aquino won and because of the certainty of his victory, the election was pretty ‘dull’. But now things are different. ‘New’ discourses are being added into political debates, which I find good; the environment to LGBT rights, RH Bill to Sin Tax, Total Gun Ban to Divorce. But what I find most interesting is the question of political ‘dynasties’. Aside from the fact that several candidates belong to these so called ‘dynasties’, it is fascinating to see candidates maneuver themselves regarding a problem that existed for so long in people’s consciousness but was deprived of mass recognition. In this essay, I will discuss the Anti-Political Dynasty Act and other policies regarding the elections. All throughout, I will give focus of the Filipino institution of the family, not just in the political sphere, but in the entire Filipino society.
The political arena in the Philippines is dominated by a handful of families. It is common for a politician’s wife, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc to also hold a public position. This arrangement could found in the most basic baranggay level to the highest national level of the government. Thus the competition is not between political parties with clear political platforms but rather between families or cluster of families. This political structure is an equivalent of oligarchy in political science where only few people run the state. Active participation of several members of a clan in politics in itself is not bad. However the propagation of political dynasties greatly contributes to economic inequality, injustice, violence or lack of law and order, even environmental degradation.
Few people know that there is a provision written in the constitution concerning the matter of political dynasties. Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution expressly provides that “[t]he State shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasty as may be defined by law.” However, it was up to the House of Senate or House of Representative to draft a law defining what a ‘political dynasty’ is. Until now there is no such law, unsurprisingly since members of the Houses come from political dynasties themselves.
There been no law enacted preventing political dynasties but that doesn’t mean there have been no efforts. House Bill 3413, otherwise known as the Anti-Political Dynasty Act, has been filed since the 12th Congress in 2001 and has never passed the committee level. Under House Bill 3413 filed by members of the progressive party-list bloc, no spouse, or person related within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity, whether legitimate or illegitimate, full or half blood, to an incumbent elective official seeking reelection shall be allowed to hold or run for any elective office in the same province in the same election.
The main argument of opponents of the Anti-Political Dynasty Act is that such law would be a violation of a basic human right, that of suffrage. To sum up, the debate regarding political dynasties and the move to put a stop to it is one big political and legal stalemate. Because of its obvious limitations, political dynasties could not be resolved if it remains to be viewed and treated as a legal problem. Using sociological analysis, political dynasties will be seen in a different light. Instead of the state being an extension of the family and its interests, it would be revealed that political dynasties are just the tip of an iceberg of a larger and unjust socio-cultural fabric.
Throughout the country’s history (or anywhere for that matter), power always had been concentrated on the hands of few people. During the pre-colonial times, communities were ruled by datus which both refer to a position and a class. A homogenous culture was emerging in the island but they remain to be politically dispersed (with the exception of Muslims). When the Spaniards arrived the first thing they did was to collaborate with the local gentry. The datus eventually became the principalias of the colonial period. They were given land to manage and lower administrative positions in the colonial government. Intermarriage between them and the Spaniards was also common. (maputing kutis=kutis mayaman?)
When Mother Spain adapted liberal policies, young men were given the chance to study outside the country. The rich Filipinos with likes of Rizal, Lopez-Jaena, Del Pilar, etc had secular education and initiated an anti-friar reform movement based in Madrid. When the Propaganda failed because of reasons both external and internal, Bonifacio, an admirer of Rizal, eventually ignited a separatist-nationalist movement. The first members were mostly from the lower class, but they eventually gained support from the rich mestizos. The revolution spread across the islands and the rich provided leadership and funding. These ilustrados eventually saw Bonifacio as a liability and got rid of him. The revolution was successful but a new enemy arrived. The Filipino-American War would have been successful if not only several ilustrados collaborated with the Americans. American Colonial government was established and pacified nationalist sentiments through censorship, military expedition, and public education. Children of rich Filipinos were sent to US to study and become puppets of the Americans. Lands confiscated from the friars went to the rich mestizos. After the so-called independence after World War Two, the same arrangement between Americans and Filipinos remained.
The series of events in the country’s history has provided the necessary pre-conditions for the existence and continuing tolerance of political dynasties and their oligarchic nature. The major social institutions now directly or indirectly influenced the distribution of power in Filipino society.
The Spaniards primary apparatus for colonization was religion. They claim to have brought civilization to the indios with the Catholic faith. However this is not entirely true because of the colonial conditions. The friars played big roles in people’s lives and used religion as their legitimizing ideology (collection of indulgences, calling critics as heretics, etc). Catholic faith taught the indios to be subservient, fatalistic, and ignorant. These values were enforce through other means particularly theater. Best example is the sinakulo or the dramatic presentation of the pasyon. Filipinos learned to be passive and admire Christ unflinching acceptance of his fate. But then, no barely watches sinakulo anymore. Well, the traditional Spanish theatrical forms were adapted into film and television. All movies and shows teach us to bet for the underdogs (usually a woman) who patiently hold back her tears and ill thoughts against her oppressors. By some twist of fate, the underdog gets the upperhand, but instead of fighting back, she forgives all those who wronged her. Any work that shies away from this formula will be a flop. Sounds familiar? Whenever issues of Martial Law and the Marcoses and the administration of GMA are brought up the common reaction is the same; tapos na yan eh, move on na lang tayong lahat.
Instead of ‘civilizing’ them, religion pushed the indios back into a form of intellectual barbarism. And it is still very strong until now. Religion also created the male-female and Christian-non-Christian (especially “Moros” or Muslims) dichotomy. The ruling class always had close ties with the church. Plaridel even called the situation in colonial Philippines as a ‘frailocracia’. It was the church who played a big role in initiating EDSA I & II. This is something PGMA acknowledges that’s why she donated SUVs to the CBCP to protect her during ‘crises’. These crises include when it was proven she cheated on the national elections. Even Noynoy during the 2010 election laid low regarding his position on the RH Bill.
It is best to remember that no matter how divine the church’s vocation, it is still a human institution with human interests. Even this notion of ‘the Philippines is a Catholic nation’ is insensitive, if not outright absurd. How about the Muslims, indigenous peoples, Protestants, Atheists, etc? Are they not part of the ‘nation’? The concepts of armed struggle (whether Islamic, Communist, etc), or even merely activism, has continue to puzzle majority of Catholics. For most people change or a better life is not fought for but prayed for, a gift from heaven. (People Power = Miracle? Contradictory? Very)
Members of the political dynasties also own the major lands and businesses. In a sense only the affluence ‘participate’ in politics since they are not busy looking for their next meal. The economy and politics and closely related for the simple reason that one needs money to run for office. Often campaigns are funded by certain businessmen and corporations. If ever their candidate wins, they get the privileged to do business with the state usually involving large amounts of money (and disappearing money). To make things worse, political dynasties are often involved in highly profitable but environmentally harmful activities; mining, logging, etc. and when the repercussion of these environmental abuses (floods, landslides, etc), it is the poor who suffer the most. The business community, both local and foreign, plays a crucial role in politics. Thus, the business community is the political community.
Mass media is basically a part of the economic order. They say that knowledge is power. It logically follows that whoever controls knowledge or information is the most powerful. Owners of media establishments are the most influential members of the already influential business community. These establishments include print, TV, radio, cinema, even tarpaulin printers. It is not so much about what information they give, or feed, to the population but rather what information they do not give to the population. Mass media’s political role could be best seen in premature campaigns and killings of journalists (the peak being the Maguindanao Massacre of 2009). Mass media could make or break a person. And this decision lies in the hands of a very small group.
There is even a pattern how news is structured and presented. The first segment of deals with murders, rape, burglary, and other forms of violence in public life. These are the kind of news that makes you ‘fear the outside world’. The next segment deals with scandals or problems in high political offices and corporations. There is a lot of political-legal-economic jargon most people only have a simplest understanding of. These are the kind of news that ‘you can’t do anything about’. The concluding part of the news program is more of the lighter note; showbiz ‘news’ (both local and foreign), the latest vacation spots, and some ‘success stories’. These are the kind of news that ‘you should aspire for’. An interesting segment very common now among corporate media is the ‘the world is ugly but we are here for you’. These are often very dramatic presentations of the activities of humanitarian foundations owned by media corporations. However, media corporations also show really good journalism and documentaries. But one needs to me awake at 12 midnight when these relevant shows start.
I think it was Noam Chomsky who once said that no matter how ineffective and inefficient a state is we must still participate and aim to improve it. In the end of the day, the government is still liable to the population. Corporations (and their foundations) are not.
They say Filipinos greatly value education, evident in the displayed diplomas in every living room of every household. But do they value education because for the sheer love of knowledge? Unfortunately no. Filipinos aim to acquire an educational degree in order for upward social mobility of his or herself with his or her family. Communal development scarcely comes across to any educated Filipino’s mind. That’s why it’s so easy to leave the country and seek economic opportunities abroad. Existence of elite schools (both private and public) like U.P. and Ateneo is very problematic in this intellectual climate of education as privilege. Though undoubtedly the best of the best, the values of these students doesn’t necessarily coincide with the needs of the community. Education is a personal investment, utmost that of the family. An educated person would not meddle with politics since nothing good will come out of it. Only children and relatives of politicians are willing to run.
Here emerges what I like to call the political arrogance of the educated which is worse than the political ignorance of the uneducated. Poor people are naive in politics since they’re busy looking for means to survive, but affluent and educated people are arrogant in the sense that they know that something is wrong, but choose not to do with anything about it. I a good example to demonstrate this are the recent forms of subversion of political ads popular in the internet. I greatly admire these efforts, but in the end they are not enough. So what if you make fun of Grace Poe or promote Risa Hontiveros over Nancy Binay? Do all Filipinos have access to computers and the internet? The messages of these subversions, though sincere, will not get very far. If the likes of Poe and Binay and other ‘trapos’ win (which are very likely by the way) , the educated will probably shrugged it off, believing he or she has done his or her part. They will remark, “The trouble in this country is caused by idiotic voters, and I am not one of them.”
Politics instead of being something all citizens participate in has becomes a mere career path or an extension of one’s career path. By joining politics, rich people and families ‘go out of their way’. That’s why every time politicians are caught up in a mess and criticism are coming from everywhere (especially from militant groups), their most common rebuttal is, “All their accusations are in pursuit of their personal interests!” You may or may not call your enemies ‘communists’. When a politician is criticized he or she is defended not as a politician but as a person. When Sen. Tito Sotto added the controversial libel clause to the Cybercrime Law, and people haranguing him both online and offline, his family and friends defended him saying he’s “good person, father, etc”. Well, maybe that’s true but that’s not the point. There is barely ‘political’ debate because it is often tactfully transformed into a personal debate.
Now what should be done?
By analyzing different social institutions and how they work together, it is now more evident why the situation in the country has been so and remains stagnant. How to change this? Aside from the obvious answers already raised by different groups (economic reform, higher state subsidy, transparency, land reform, etc) I suggest that a ‘culture of criticism’ should be cultivated. Filipinos can’t handle criticism. If a foreigner criticizes the country or Filipinos its called racism, if a fellow Filipino criticizes, it’s called crab-mentality. The nature of religion, education, and politics gave little if any room for genuine debate and critical thinking. That’s why the culture of criticism should start from the family. The family is the primary and most influential agent of socialization and if children are raised to be independent thinking and having a strong sense of community and nationhood, things will eventually change. I admit that this is a very tricky task. However I recommend two laws (and naturally their effective implementation) that will greatly help in the process; RH Bill and Divorce Bill. These laws will teach people that they have complete control over their bodies and thus, their destiny as a people. I do not advocate the abolishment of the institution of the family but rather support a political mind frame that goes beyond the family. This won’t be easy, this isn’t a ‘change-begins-with-yourself’ issue, and the entire social fabric must be changed and be improved.
Now, back to the elections. Since political dynasties are already part of social structure, instead of attacking the people why call for reforms to make sure the social structure would no long allow the existence of dynasties? Instead of an Anti-Political Dynasty Bill why not reform (and actually give some legal teeth) the Republic Act 9006 or Fair Election Practices Act? Some of its provisions include expenses. National candidates – president, vice-president and senatoriables are allowed to spend only P10.00 per voter. Also, instead of running after candidate (which is rarely done anyway), why not prosecute media firms and businessmen who fund campaigns.
Beyond the legal aspect, people should participate in politics and accept the fact no one could get away from it. Organization should start from below, from the baranggay or municipal level. Renato Constantino once said that there already exists a ‘Filipino nation’ but not a ‘Filipino consciousness’. We feel Filipino but we don’t think like Filipinos. And the best indicator that Filipinos have placed their destiny on hands is the dismantling of political dynasties.
Obviously I only tackled different issues in a very superficial manner. My intention is to show the issues of political dynasties to be viewed in a new light. One that is not limited to the realm of politics, and one that deserve vigilance and participation not just during election season. An unjust social arrangement that couldn’t be change by merely “voting wisely”.