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Dynastic democracy

ONE thing good that has emerged out of the recent elections is media attention on the bane of political dynasties in the Philippines—even as the polls’ results indicate the worsening of this affliction of our democracy.
While there was one foreign wire service story which took the ridiculous angle that the elections is a “referendum on President Aquino’s reforms” (on that later), much of international coverage of the polls highlighted the grip of political dynasties in the country.

“Dynastic rule tightens grip on Philippines,” was the title of Agence France-Presse’ pre-poll article. “Family affair: Philippine political dynasties,” was that of a well-researched piece in Al-Jazeera’s online edition. The Associated Press’ conclusion on the elections: “Philippine voters pick among usual political dynasties.”

Take a look at the twelve candidates who seem to be the winners in the senatorial contest as of this writing. Eight are embodiments of political dynasties in the Philippines: Cayetano, Escudero, Binay, Angara, Aquino, Pimentel, Villar, and Estrada. Chiz Escudero would have been nothing without his father Salvador III, who was congressman of Sorsogon for nineteen years, a post practically handed to him on a silver platter.

What better (or rather, more shameful) indication of the strength of political dynasties in the country than the new

Senate having two pairs of siblings, or at least half-siblings: Pia and Alan Cayetano, Jinggoy and JV Ejercito.

The top-notcher in the Senate race—Grace Llamanzares Poe—would really be in a weird way the embodiment a political dynasty: She has been perceived by the masses either as the daughter of a (mythical) hero, or of a would-have-been President.

It is a bit symbolic that the three winning senators who aren’t a product of a political dynasty come from two sectors that had or could pose serious threats to the elite: media (Loren Legarda) and military rebels (Honasan and Trillianes). The anti-political dynasty movement in our country isn’t helped at all by the fact that President Aquino himself—despite his anti-corruption and tuwid na daan rhetoric—has proven to be a believer in political dynasties by having his nephew Bam, who has has no experience at all in an elected post, run for the Senate. I’ll bet that his sister Kris would try to be the second Aquino in the Senate in 2016.

Aquino’s support of political dynasties squarely contradicts his anti-corruption rhetoric. It is the building of political dynasties that is one the biggest roots of corruption in our country, as an incumbent would need to build up his wealth and network, from what else but graft, in order to build up a political machine powerful enough to put his wife, son, daughter, or nephew—often sheltered persons without political savvy—to power.

Widely tipped to be president in 2016, Jejomar Binay, unfortunately is also a believer in dynastic rule, with his daughter Nancy winning a Senate seat and his son Junjun practically running unopposed for the mayorship of Makati. I do hope Binay, who entered politics in the noble struggle for democracy in the 1980s, would, after 2016, when he will be 74, devote his remaining years in really changing our society for the better, rather than perpetuating his dynasty.

If the president and the likely president are poster-boys for dynastic rule, it has expectedly been and will be template for many politicians.

Even the national boxing hero Manny Paquiao is rushing to set up his dynasty, having his wife Jinkee run (successfully, by a landslide) for vice-governor of Saranggani province, and his brother Rogelio for congressman of South Cotabato’s first district. That political dynasties in our country have become so entrenched that inter-family feuds have broken out is demonstrated in Camarines Sur, where a grandson Miguel Villafuerte is running for the governorship against his grandfather Luis.

Political dynasties are certainly not only in areas outside the modern capital. While there have been a few cases in which they unexpectedly lost, political dynasties won most posts for congressmen and mayorships in the national capital region. House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s niece Josefina is likely to be mayor of Quezon City in 2016, having won by a landslide as vice-mayor in the elections the other day. Belmonte’ nephew Kit lost in his bid to be a Quezon City congressman in 2010. Now he ran unopposed. Such is the power of political dynast Belmonte who was the city’s mayor for ten years before he became congressman, and now House Speaker.

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That “Team PNoy”, thanks to President Aquino, was victorious in the elections Monday is hogwash. Check out those who run and won under that fiction of a team: Poe (Independent), Legarda (Nationalist People’s Coalition), Cayetano (Nacionalista Party), Escudero (Independent), Angara (Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino), Aquino (Liberal Party), Pimentel (Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino), Trillanes (Nacionalista Party) and Villar (Nacionalista Party).

Each one can thank their name-recall, or hundreds of millions of pesos, for their victory, and no one owes anything to Mr. Aquino. No one among them is really identified with his tuwid na daan program, whatever that is. Even his nephew Bam won not because of his endorsement but because the masses thought he was a reincarnation of the martyred Benigno Aquino. The top-notcher Grace Poe? His mentor is Joseph Estrada, who in fact disclosed that he was supporting her campaign, even her finances, for the sake of his old friend FPJ.

In fact, the two candidates listed as being with Aquino’s Liberal Party—Jamby Madrigal and Ramon Magsaysay—lost.

The test of Aquino’s clout in the elections was the candidacy of Risa Hontiveros, who is really a nobody if not for Mr. Aquino’s finances and photo-ops with him (e.g., atop a truck touring flood victims last year). Despite this being her second bid to become senator and despite serving as Aquino’s high-profile attack dog (in each and every issue against former President Arroyo and in the conspiracy to oust Chief Justice Corona), Hontiveros lost and landed just a bit higher than Ed Hagedorn and Bro. Eddie Villanueva.

If Aquino thinks he has tightened his hold over Senate, he’d be unpleasantly surprised. The next three years are his lame-duck years. Except perhaps for his nephew Bam, most senators think he or she could have a shot for the Presidency in 2016. If Aquino stumbles on some issue, or if the economy deteriorates, they’d be dropping him—and definitely Mar Roxas—faster then he can say tuwid na daan.