Editorial:Philippines’ political dynasties will never die

·4 min read

POLITICAL dynasties are everywhere in the Philippines. This is a familiar scenario: the mayor is the political patriarch, while the vice mayor is his wife, and their eldest child is a councilor. If the patriarch is term-limited, he would push his wife or child for the mayorship and he would seek the office of the vice mayor. This kind of cycle has been going on in the country for decades. The political clans are pseudo-royals in a representative democracy.

New names in the local political scene, as often the case is, do not get elected to executive posts such as offices of the mayor and governor. They get to serve first in the council or Provincial Board, or they get elected as barangay captain, then make a name for themselves. The executive posts are usually reserved for members of the political elite.

In Cebu, some of the local politics’ heavyweights include the Garcias, Osmeñas, Ramas, Gullases, Duranos, Salimbangons, Martinezes, Ouanos, Corteses.

A cursory look at Cebu City politics would tell one that in the past 11 years, three politicians were elected as mayors who belong to the older generation. They are Michael Rama, Tomas Osmeña and Edgardo Labella.

Osmeña and Rama have served as mayor for a combined 25 years—Osmeña for 19 years (1988-1995, 2001-2010 and 2016-2019) and Rama for six years (2010-2016).

There are other Osmeñas who served as Cebu City mayor. Osmeña’s father Sergio “Serging’’ Osmeña Jr. served on four occasions: 1955 to 1957; 1959 to 1960; 1963 to 1965; and 1967 to 1968. The former mayor’s cousin John Henry Renner Osmeña also served as city mayor, 1986-1987.

Rama’s grandfather Vicente Rama, father of the Cebu City Charter, also served as mayor from 1938 to 1940.

Serging also served as governor of Cebu from 1951 to 1955, while his father (Tomas’ grandfather) Sergio Osmeña Sr. also served as governor 1906-1907. Sergio Sr. also became the first House Speaker, first vice president and president.

Rama’s uncle Osmundo Rama was also Cebu’s governor from 1969 to 1976.

The current governor, Gwendolyn Garcia, had served as governor from 2004 to 2013. Six years later she was elected as governor. Her father, the late Pablo Garcia, was governor from 1995 to 2004.

There are other Garcias in local politics. Cebu City Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia, whose father Alvin had also served as city mayor. Governor Garcia’s brother Pablo John, the representative of the third district, and her daughter Christina Garcia-Frasco is the current mayor of Liloan, northern Cebu.

In northern Cebu, the Duranos and Martinezes have been reigning supreme in their bailiwicks for a long time now. The Gullases are the kings in the first district.

The 1987 Constitution bans political dynasties, but this provision still has yet to see the light of day as there is no law that enables it. Article 2, Section 26 states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibits political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Caloocan City 2nd District Rep. Edgar Erice filed House Bill (HB) 395 proposing an anti-dynasty law in the first regular session of the 18th Congress on July 1, 2019. But there is no news about the legislation.

In his explanatory note, Erice cited a United Nations Development Programme Report by Temario Rivera which discloses that “72 of the 77 Philippine provinces surveyed (94 percent) have political families. The average number of political families per province is 2.31, suggesting that there are at least two political clans in most of the provinces. Moreover, since the reinstatement of democratic elections in 1987, most political families have succeeded in dominating congressional and gubernatorial contests.”

“Dynastic politicians enjoy a significant advantage from the start of their political careers: They have a statistically higher probability to win elections as compared to people not belonging to political dynasties,” the lawmaker said.

Erice further said: “Another negative effect of political dynasties is that it restricts significant change to the system of the government unit, since it is in the interest of political dynasts to maintain the status quo rather than try to effect change. The prevention or discouragement of new candidates from occupying seats of power result to less new ideas, visions and platforms to work with.”

“The situation,” Erice said, “is aggravated by the fact that the Filipino electorate, perhaps out of socio-cultural mindset, or out of convenience, or due to sheer lack of choice, tend to vote for members of dominant political families, looking up to the latter as some kind of idols or as dispensers of political and/or material favors.”

In the May 2022 elections, Filipinos who are eager to vote will troop to the polling precincts. And political dynasties will never die.

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