Philippine political dynasties
By Anthony Ngayan
The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.
– The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, Article II, Declaration of Principles and State Policies, Section 26.
Prominent and influential people and families have controlled much of Philippine politics since colonial times. During the Spanish era, the conquistadors gave “political power” to their favoured mestizos (i.e. Filipinos with Spanish blood) or the Illustrados (“educated” Filipinos from wealthy families). These people in turn, wielded some authority and influence over their respective communities, provinces and constituencies. Political dynasties were established and continue to exist up to the present times.
It is a common fact in the country that family members of incumbent politicians run for public office. National and local elections are dominated by these politically empowered families. Up to now, however, the “political dynasties” have not been clearly defined by law in the Philippines. This condition allows and is being used by incumbent politicians to push their family members to pursue political careers. And of course, seeing how these family members observe and experience the prestige, power, and influence of being in politics, they are more inclined to pursue the same career path. This system then leads to an increased and increasing number of family members holding public office creating the undefined “political dynasties.”
Being in politics gives a person the power and influence over his area of jurisdiction including its public resources. This could be overwhelming to a person and much more to a family with more than one politician. The basic power and influence of a politician tends to widen as the term of office goes on and the existence of people around them with vested interests to obtain the politician’s endorsement and approval. This system in turn overpowers the politician and paves the way to make decisions to the politicians’ gain and benefit and that of the more privileged constituencies thereby losing sight of the politicians’ morals and inherent obligations towards good governance and uplifting the lives of the less fortunate.
The overwhelming power and influence plus the exposure to unsolicited and solicited favours eventually lead the politicians to become greedy and corrupt. This has been going on and on, never ending, and more of this greediness and corruption could be expected from the existence of political dynasties. To be in politics has become a lucrative business in the process. This political system in the Philippines is one of the major causes of the downfall of the country’s economy to the detriment of the struggling Filipinos and the whole country.
The explanatory note from Senate Bill-2649: Anti-Political Dynasty Act of the Constitution, Article II, Section 26 states:
To give force and effect to this provision, the playing field of the political arena should be levelled and opened to persons who are equally qualified to aspire on even terms with those from ruling politically dominant families.
Philippine society, many sociologists note, revolves around the system of extended families. However, this extended family system, an otherwise beneficial concept when applied to the social aspects of human behaviour, finds its pernicious effects in the political arena where public office becomes the exclusive domain of influential families and clans that are well-entrenched in Philippine politics. The monopoly of political power and public resources by such families affects the citizenry at the local and national levels.
The socio-economic and political inequities prevalent in Philippine society limit public office to members of ruling families. In many instances, voters, for convenience and out of cultural mindset look up to these ruling families as dispensers of favours, and thus elect relatives of these politically dominant families.
This bill was filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on January 24, 2011. Other bills on the same topic were also filed by then senator Alfredo Lim in 2004 (SB-1317), Senator Panfilo Lacson in 2007 (SB-1468), and Rep. Teddy Casino (House Bill-2493) also in 2007. Unfortunately, even though bills have been filed since the 8th Congress to have a law to stop the establishment of political dynasties, the Congress has failed to pass such a law.
The reason for this “continuous” failure is that all levels of government, from municipal to national, are being controlled by politicians who are members of these politically powerful and wealthy families. Would you expect these politicians to shoot themselves by voting “yes” to a law that prohibits their family members to run for public office? You must be dreaming – or maybe we are all dreaming. But this dream can turn into reality if we as the Filipino people strongly believe that this political control should be stopped once and for all.
The state of our country is currently weak and vulnerable to all kinds of “intrusions” from people who want to advance their own personal interests. How could we eliminate or at least minimize political dynasties in the Philippines despite the absence of law? We, the Filipino people who are the backbone of our society, must exercise our right of suffrage cognizant of the repercussion of our decisions. Let us use our minds and hearts in choosing a candidate and not be swayed by just their popularity, influence, control and buying-off. But, let’s face the reality that not all Filipinos can have this mind-set. Others have fears of consequences if they would go against the tide. Together however, we can unite and stand to push our Congress to pass a law that would protect our individual and national interests. If only corrective and preventive measures like the anti-political dynasty law could be passed and implemented, greediness and corruption could be minimized. Scarce public resources could be used for more efficient, productive, and effective programs and projects, more employment opportunities and income-generating projects could be available for the less fortunate, and our economy would start to build up and recover to where it was before or even surpass that level.
Just for those who are curious, a 2007 GMA News Research showed that at least 76% of the legislators in the 14th Congress of the Philippines came from politically active families. Here are just 5 of these prominent and influential families:
Binay Family (City of Makati)
Jejomar Binay – incumbent Vice-president of the Philippines, former Mayor of Makati City
- Jejomar Erwin Binay – incumbent Mayor of Makati City, former city councillor, son of Jejomar Binay
- Abigail Binay – incumbent representative of Makati City, daughter of Jejomar Binay
- Elenita Binay – former Mayor of Makati City, wife of Jejomar Binay
Ejercito-Estrada Family (City of San Juan)
- Joseph Estrada – Former mayor of San Juan; former senator and vice president; 13th President of the Philippines
Luisa Ejercito Estrada – former first lady and senator; wife of Joseph Estrada
- Jinggoy Estrada – current Senator; son of Joseph and Luisa Estrada
- JV Ejercito – former mayor and current congressman of San Juan; son of Joseph Estrada
Emilio Ramon Ejercito III – current governor of Laguna Province; former mayor of Pagsanjan, Laguna nephew of Joseph Estrada
- Girlie Ejercito – incumbent mayor of Pagsanjan, Laguna; wife of Emilio Ejercito
- Gary Estrada – current provincial board member of Quezon Province; nephew of Joseph Estrada
- Jose Ma. Arroyo – former Senator, grandfather of Jose Miguel Arroyo
- Jose Miguel Arroyo – former First Gentleman of the Philippines; husband of former president, Gloria Arroyo
- Ignacio Arroyo Jr. – current congressman of 5th District of Negros Occidental; brother of Jose Miguel Arroyo
Diosdado Pangan Macapagal – 9th President of the Philippines
- Cielo Macapagal-Salgado – former provincial Vice Governor, daughter of Diosdado Macapagal and elder sister of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, former President of the Philippines
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – 14th President of the Philippines, currently a congresswoman of Pampanga, daughter of Diosdado Macapagal
- Juan Miguel Macapagal Arroyo – current congressman of 2nd District of Pampanga, son of Gloria and Jose Miguel Arroyo
- Diosdado Macapagal Arroyo – congressman of Camarines Sur, son of Gloria and Jose Miguel Arroyo
Marcos Family (Province of Ilocos Norte)
Fabian Marcos – appointed Mayor of Batac, Ilocos Norte during the American occupation
Mariano Marcos – assemblyman; son of Fabian Marcos
- Ferdinand Marcos – former Senator and Representative; 10th President of the Philippines; son of Mariano Marcos
Imelda Marcos – former First Lady of the Philippines, Governor of Manila, Minister of Human Settlements. Currently a Congresswoman; wife of Ferdinand Marcos
- Ferdinand Marcos Jr. – former governor of Ilocos Norte, currently a senator; son of Ferdinand and Imelda
- Imee Marcos – current governor of Ilocos Norte, daughter of Ferdinand and Imelda
- Elizabeth Marcos-Keon – former governor of Ilocos Norte, sister of Ferdinand Marcos
- Mariano Marcos – assemblyman; son of Fabian Marcos
Villar-Aguilar Family (City of Las Piñas)
Filemon Aguilar – former representative of Las Piñas, father of Cynthia and Vergel Aguilar
Vergel Aguilar – incumbent Mayor of Las Piñas City; brother of Cynthia Aguilar-Villar
- Imelda Aguilar – former Mayor of Las Piñas City; wife of Vergel
- Cynthia Aguilar-Villar – representative of the Legislative District of Las Piñas City during the 12tth, 13th and 14th Congress, wife of Manuel Villar
- Vergel Aguilar – incumbent Mayor of Las Piñas City; brother of Cynthia Aguilar-Villar
Manuel “Manny” Villar – currently a senator; representative of the Legislative District of Las Piñas City during the 11th Congress, Representative of Las Piñas-Muntinlupa during the 9th and 10th Congress, husband of Cynthia
- Mark Villar – current representative of the Legislative District of Las Pinas City; son of Manny and Cynthia Villar
- To see the complete SB-2649: http://www.senate.gov.ph/lis/bill_res.aspx?congress=15&q=SBN-2649
- To see the complete SB-1468: http://www.senate.gov.ph/lisdata/57805139!.pdf
- Speech of Alfredo Lim regarding SB-1317: http://www.fredlim.com/POLITICAL_DYNASTY.pdf
- GMA News Research (2007): http://www.gmanews.tv/story/48691/research/clans-still-rule-in-14th-house-but-fewer-in-ranks/_/1/
- List of Philippine Political Families: http://frjessie.wordpress.com/2007/04/21/list-of-names-considered-part-of-the-political-dynasty-by-roger-olivares/
- To know more about Philippine politics and government: http://www.i-site.ph/
Anthony Ngayan is a member of ANAK. He studies at the University of Manitoba, 2nd year in Health Sciences.