Dynasties and the party-list system

Posted at 10/15/2012 2:14 PM

There are two things a conscientious and intelligent voter must deal with in next year’s elections: political dynasties and the party-list system. The framers of our Constitution had very good intentions about these two things but the reality is far removed from their vision.

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines states: "The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law." There it is, as clear as day: political dynasties are prohibited by the Constitution. But Congress never crafted that defining law all these years so that today, political dynasties are in full bloom.

Unless the voters wake up and stop it, the new Senate after the 2013 election will likely have two Enriles, two Ejercitos, two Cayetanos, Mrs Villar taking over from husband Manny Villar and Koko Pimentel who took over from his father former Sen. Nene. The son of Sen. Ed Angara is also running but may not make it as easily as his father won in past senatorial elections. And yes, a Binay may be senator too.

In the provinces, the Villafuertes are so entrenched in Camarines Sur politics that they are now running against each other. Current Rep. Luis Villafuerte is running against his grandson for Governor. Nelly Villafuerte is running for Louie’s seat in Congress and will be opposed by the widow of Jesse Robredo. The Villafuertes have also teamed up with the Rocos, which partly explains why Mrs Robredo decided to run to save her husband’s legacy.

Of course, we have the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte, the Singsons in Ilocos Sur, the Ortegas in La Union, the Aquinos and Cojuangcos in Tarlac, Dutertes in Davao, Lobregats and Jalosjos in Zamboanga, the Dys in Isabela, Garcias in Cebu, Ynares in Rizal, Macapagal-Arroyo in Pampanga, etc.

Even Metro Manila where the voters are said to be more discerning, political dynasties have lorded it over for years. The Binays are unbeatable in Makati just as the Abaloses are in Mandaluyong and the Eusebios in Pasig, the Ejercitos in San Juan and so forth. It is almost as if these families are mini-royalties who can pass on public office from father to son or wife or daughter and sometimes, even mistress.

For all the laudable intentions of the framers of the Constitution when they instituted the party-list system, it had been abused by the same elite that keeps the marginalized sectors of society marginalized for decades. The mockery of the party-list system is so obvious it is almost nauseating to witness.

This party-list provision in the Constitution had the noble intention of opening the system of representation by allowing different sectors, parties, organizations and coalitions to win a seat in the House of Representatives. It is supposed to diversify the membership in Congress and give a voice to so called marginalized sectors in society.

These marginalized sectors are supposed to be those belonging to the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors identified by law (Republic Act No. 7941), except for religious groups. That’s not what has happened.

The son of Ate Glue is claiming to represent security guards. The associations of electric cooperatives as well as those who market Liquified Petroleum Gas have become recognized party-list groups. Even someone who made oodles of money on a questionable program to build bridges got himself elected as a party-list representative with a nebulous constituency. There is always a mad scramble to name groups starting with the letter “A” or better yet, “AAA” to ensure being on top of the list to make it easier to get the vote of the clueless voters.

The Comelec is starting to clean up the list of eligible party0list groups but even here, the criteria are not clear. The Supreme Court tried to tackle the problem in the past but the results are still unsatisfactory. The only recourse is the voters, but experience shows voters are not too mindful of the groups they vote for. In the end, it is a free for all where money becomes a crucial determinant of who wins.

UP Economist Emmanuel de Dios observed that “Philippine politics, in short, is not broken because dynasties are strong; rather, dynasties are strong because politics is broken...Prohibiting dynasties merely prevents some organizations from playing. What we really need is a change in the rules of the game, i.e., institutional change.

“What then is to be done? The answer may seem paradoxical. It is perhaps time to make things difficult, not for political dynasties but for political parties. What is urgently needed is not the prohibition of dynasties but the tightening of rules in order to ensure commitment, enlarge the scope, and establish the longevity of political parties.

“The problem, after all, is not in putting up political parties; it is putting up parties of an adequate quality. For starters, a higher minimum number of registered members -- numbering, say, in the hundreds of thousands -- might be required before parties are allowed to field candidates. Significant evidence of party activity and organization in off-election years, large funds deposited and held in government escrow, and a host of other conditions can be imposed to screen out the frivolous, weed out the transient, and establish long-term commitment.

“A lesson from industrial organization is important: difficult entry implies difficult exit, and it is the latter we desire. At the very least, that should help ferret out the clowns and opportunists now exploiting the lax rules of the party-list system. Ultimately, it may affect the behavior of the national parties as well.”

The problem is, we ultimately have to depend on the clowns and dynasties and pseudo party-list groups now populating our Congress to effect these needed institutional changes. If they cannot pass a law to implement the spirit of the Constitution all these years, we can’t expect them to do the things that would make it difficult for them to get elected to positions of power thereafter.

In the end, we all have to appeal to the voters to see the light and for mainstream and social media to educate and encourage the voters to do what is right for the country. That may seem impossible in the past but things have changed enough today so that a glimmer of hope for substantial change is possible to nurture.

There are enough young people and enough Filipinos who have worked overseas to see what’s wrong here to lead the march for change. Another strong reason to believe change is possible is social media. All the connected Filipinos here and abroad can make change happen so fast the traditional politicians won’t know what hit them.

An active and intelligent participation in the 2013 elections is the first step in stopping the dynasties and the fake party-list groups from exploiting the ignorance and the lack of interest of the typical voter. Let us make sure that happens.