Putting the ‘nasty’ in ‘dynasty’

The House of Representatives failed to pass last June 10 on second reading an anti-political dynasty bill after word went around of a plan by some lawmakers opposed to the bill to walk out of the plenary hall should it be brought up for voting.

House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms chairman Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro said this was the intention of some House members from political clans because this would adversely affect their interests.

Castro called it “selfishness” (kasakiman) on the part of these solons.

House Bill 3587 will allow only two members from one family to be elected to positions – one at the national and another at the local level. At the local level, only two family members may hold office in one province, city, or municipality. As long as these two are in office, other family members are barred from running in elections.

Some dynastic representatives are said to want these provisions loosened to allow other family members to run in other areas of the country.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares’s version is stricter, allowing only one person from each family to run for office. This law’s co-author, Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, says that this original version would have affected 150 out of the House’s 290 members and would have been difficult to pass.

In the Upper House, a similar measure, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s Senate Bill 2649, is still pending before a committee.

Senator Nancy Binay is opposed to an anti-dynasty bill, saying that elections are subject to the people’s will and likened political families to families of doctors and lawyers. She, her father Vice-President Jejomar Binay, brother Makati City Mayor Junjun Binay, and sister Makati Rep. Abby Binay are all incumbent elected officials.

An anti-dynasty bill is an important part of electoral reforms that seek to curb the monopoly of certain families on power and influence in their jurisdictions, which can lead to abuse and corruption.

An online article quotes the Center of People Empowerment in Governance as saying “there are about 250 political dynasties (families) who have dominated Philippine politics at the national and local level and who have monopolized political power as families for the past 30 years or more. This is 0.00001667 percent of the country’s 15 million families.”

A 2012 study by Mendoza, Beja, Venida, and Yap of the political dynasties of the 15th Congress put this another way, saying: “representatives from political dynasties account for 70 percent of the jurisdiction-based legislators in Congress.”

Not only is political power concentrated in the hands of a very few families – hardly representative of their constituency – but wealth is too. “On average,” the same study says, “they possess higher net worth and win in elections by higher margins of victory compared to non-dynastic representatives.”

One might argue that dynasties, like families in the professions, are borne from the familiarity with a certain set of skills and knowledge passed from generation to generation, and that it is difficult to shift outward from the comfort zones of established networks and turfdoms.

Also, would it not be logical that politicians administer their areas judiciously and prudently over the long-term, to ensure that their families’ succession would be acceptable to their constituents?

However, another finding of the 2012 study shows poorer social and economic outcomes in areas of dynastic jurisdictions, which “are also associated with lower standards of living (as measured by average income) and lower human development (as measured by the Human Development Index) and higher levels of deprivation (as measured by poverty incidence, poverty gap, and poverty severity).”

While remaining cautious in interpreting such findings, bearing in mind that correlation does not imply causation, even as food-for-thought this is alarming enough to make the passage of an anti-dynasty bill a priority to curb the propensity for a few families to entrench themselves in power and influence through reproduction.

Sadly, given that the majority of our lawmakers are themselves members of dynasties, there seems to be little chance that an anti-dynasty law will be passed in the near future.

Our votes in the elections next year might be enough to change this situation, and put power back in the hands of the people, as befits the democracy we claim to be.


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