Political dynasties, according to President Duterte

President Rodrigo Duterte seems to have a visceral conviction that political dynasties can be good and bad at the same time.  When his third term as Davao City mayor was about to end, he asked barangay captains and other local officials about whom they thought should take his place.  The unanimous answer was his daughter, Mrs.  Sara Zimmerman Duterte Castro, which was not at all surprising.  Perhaps those local officials were schmearing him up, would any of them have dared to openly recommend a non-Duterte?

Mrs. Sara D. Castro is the incumbent mayor of Davao City; her vice-mayor is none other than her younger brother, Sebastian, popularly known as Baste, and yet another sibling, Paolo, or Pulong, is a congressman representing the first district of Davao city. At this writing, Mayor Sara has not yet decided whether she does want to replace her father again, this time as President of the Philippines.  She did not file a Certificate of Candidacy (COC), but Senator Bato de la Rosa, a Duterte ally, filed his after which he unabashedly announced that he is a mere place-holder. Should Mayor Sara decide to run for president, there will be an instant substitution.

Recently, Pres. Duterte went to Surigao del Norte province, to Siargao Island, our Cloud 9 surfing destination, to kick-off its tourism program and inaugurate the Catangnan-Cabitoonan Bridge.  During his speech, the Chief Executive could not resist pointing out that the provincial governor, the congressman of the first district and the provincial administrator all have the same surname–Matugas.  Then, he said that unless the culture and the Constitution are changed, dynasties are here to stay.

The President candidly admitted that political dynasties are known to “monopolize businesses” and “kill their enemies.”  In his aphoristic style, he added: “The mayors themselves lead the drug trade…” A collective gasp was heard, what about his daughter?  Having said all that, his zinger of a conclusion was, “dynasties are not bad.”

In 2015, in an attempt to unravel the dynastic tangle, the Policy Center of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) published a study about the intertwined links between poverty and the existence of dynasties. The “fattest dynasties” with the greatest number of family members in office are concentrated in the poorest areas of the country.  President Duterte is aware of that, as evidenced by his speech in Siargao. VP Leni has focused on those areas which she calls the fringes of society, the “laylayan”.

Last year, the “Asia-Pacific Social Science Review” (2020) published articles about political dynasties which affirmed that to extricate these thorns from Philippine politics, our institutions must be cleansed and strengthened, most especially the political party system.  Otherwise, we shall never have a supply of “alternative leaders” to choose from.   Let us keep in mind that it is not just a matter of quantity.  The new faces should have credentials of competence, honesty, sense of nation and love of country, even if the last two may seem archaic.

Aren’t there any laws against political dynasties? In the 1987 Constitution, Article 2, Section 26 provides: “The State shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasty as may be defined by laws.” That was a reaction to the Marcos dictatorship, but to this day, there is not a single law that defines “political dynasty”.  Bills have been drafted, perfunctorily, but none has reached the President’s desk and signed into law.  This is not surprising considering that an estimated 50 to 70 percent of elected politicians are associated with political dynasties; 77 percent are between the ages of 26 to 40 which shows that dynasties are churning out younger generations of political leaders and public servants. (New York University, Dept.  of Politics, 2014)

Almost 4 decades have passed but we still do not have the anti-dynasty law promised by the 1987 Constitution.  In her lifetime, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago authored a bill. More recently, Senators Franklin Drilon and Panfilo Lacson filed Senate Bills 11 and 30 with the same title, ”An act prohibiting the establishment of political dynasties”. Among other provisions, these prohibit an official’s spouse or relative within the second civil degrees of consanguinity or affinity (legitimate or illegitimate) to hold power in the same city or province or run for the same position right after the incumbent’s term. All of these draft bills were dropped by assemblies of elected officials, for obvious reasons.

In June 2019, President Duterte confessed that he was embarrassed that his son Sebastian was elected the vice-mayor of his sister, Mayor Sara. He then made an astounding about face when he declared that political dynasties are bad,  but that it is the fault of Filipino voters because they keep electing members of political dynasties.