Election fever in the Philippines is slowly heating up. Early opinion polls suggest that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte, is the leading possible candidate for President in 2022. “Inday Sara,” as the lady mayor is widely known, is, so far, enjoying a comfortable lead over her potential opponents, including Vice President Leni Robredo and other personalities from the opposition. The possibility of Inday Sara succeeding her father Rodrigo Duterte as President and another six years of a Duterte presidency has somewhat resurrected the issue of political dynasties. The Opposition, which seems to be operating solely on being an anti-Duterte entity, are sorely lacking on a political platform, and still indecisive about credible and capable candidates for both President and Vice President, suddenly revived talk about the “evil side” of political dynasties. It seems to be an act of desperation on the part of the opposition, hoping that badmouthing the Duterte father-and-daughter tandem will chip away support from Inday Sara and win the elections.
To make the pre-election drama more interesting, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso also rode on the issue of political dynasties, seemingly doing an indirect swipe on Inday Sara during a recent television interview, where he said, “Di ako boboto ng magmamana lang ng puwesto. Di ako naniniwala na ang pwesto sa gobyerno, lalo na ang pinakamataas na pwesto, ang qualification ay dapat anak ka ni ganito, anak ka ni ganyan. I will not vote for that person whoever they are.”
Frankly speaking, there is really nothing bad with political dynasties, in general. In fact, they have been around for a long time and present in many countries. Contemporary political dynasties include the Bushes, Kennedys and Clintons of the United States; the Abes of Japan; the Lees of Singapore; the Parks of South Korea; and the Kirchners of Argentina. Philippine politics have been dominated by political dynasties as well. Most political dynasties are concentrated on local politics, holding key positions in the provincial and city or municipal levels. There are also political dynasties that both have national and local political presence.
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Patronage politics and a political system that imposes term limits on all elective positions are the two primary reasons for the existence of political dynasties in the Philippines. Political families thrive on patronage politics in order to gain support and votes from their constituents, and maintain their hegemony over the locality where they have been in power for years. The politician and members of his family attend to every need of their constituents, including being present during “KBL” (Kasal, Binyag at Libing; i.e., weddings, baptisms and funerals), paying for medical expenses and utility bills, and giving gifts and relief goods during the holidays. With “utang na loob” being strong among Filipinos, the constituents continuously vote for members of the same political family every election, effectively cementing the political family’s control over the locality and their constituents, and shutting down all possible challengers and threats to their dominance.
The prevailing political system in the Philippines, more specifically term limits, encourages the existence of political families. The term limits are a single six-year term for the President; two consecutive six-year terms for the Vice President and the senators; and three consecutive three-year terms for local politicians, such as congressmen, governors, vice governors, members of the provincial board, mayors, vice mayors, and members of the city or municipal council. In order to ensure continuity, whether intentionally by the political family or unintentionally as a result of the choice of voters during elections, the incumbent politicians, especially those at the local level, field family members such as their spouses, siblings and children to replace them upon reaching their term limit, with them either seeking other elective positions or taking a break of up to three years before returning to their old post.
Instead of generalizing all of them as bad, political dynasties should be divided into good political dynasties and bad political dynasties. Good political dynasties are those that get things done and deliver good results to their constituents, resulting in an improvement of the quality of life for the constituents, and an improvement in the economy and peace and order situation of the locality, ultimately leading to members of the same political family being elected into office by their constituents during the elections. On the other hand, bad political dynasties are those that have members of the same political family occupying the same elective seats for years but have not delivered good results to their constituents and caused significant changes in the quality of life of their constituents or the economic standing and peace and order situation of their locality.
Whether we admit it or not, the Dutertes are a political dynasty. After all, they have been in control of Davao City Hall since the now-President Rodrigo Duterte became Mayor in the mid-1980’s. However, why is it that the messaging of the political opposition about the perils of electing members of the Duterte family at the local elective positions in Davao City, and even the possibility Inday Sara and even her father being elected into the two highest positions of the land due to “bad side” of the political dynasty? Could it be because the Dutertes form a good political dynasty, one that delivered good results, and improved the lives of their constituents and quality of life in their locality, both in Davao City, and, when Rodrigo Duterte was elected President, the Philippines?
Before the political opposition paints a picture of the Dutertes as a bad political dynasty, they should first look into the mirror. The Cojuangco-Aquino clan, Araneta-Roxas clan, Robredos, Lagmans, etc. are all political dynasties that are now, more or less, identified with the opposition. If all political dynasties are, according to the opposition, bad, then the opposition itself is bad because it is primarily buoyed by political dynasties that want to regain control of the Philippines from their rivals, unless, of course, it puts a blind eye on the topic of political dynasties when the table has been turned on them.
Political patronage in Philippine politics is cultural in nature, making it hard to change due to it being a product of hundreds of years of practice and eventual acceptance as the norm by the majority of Filipinos from all socio-economic classes. However, the removal of term limits in all national and local elective offices is the more feasible solution to “ending” political dynasties, as good politicians will be given the opportunity to serve their constituents for a longer period of time while their family members and political allies can focus on something else to do instead of eyeing the same political positions or thinking of ousting their incumbent relative or ally to establish their own dynasty. Remember that political dynasties are products of the choices of voters, and it is up to them if they are going to keep on voting for the members of the same political family or they are opting for new blood to lead them and their locality towards a different direction.