Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Membership in a political party isn’t required to win in Philippine elections since political families are more influential in delivering votes for their relatives and anointed candidates. In small municipalities, the candidate who belongs to the biggest family is sure of winning in the polls. If there are several big families in a city or province, the family with the biggest war chest dominates the elections. Old political dynasties have the advantage since many voters look up to them as local monarchs.

The local elections can be viewed as a battle between rich families seeking to maintain or grab power in a particular territory. Sometimes the feud between political families can be settled peacefully, especially if all parties are willing to compromise. In 2004, President Gloria Arroyo united all families in Cebu Province which helped her gain a one million vote lead over her main rival in that province alone. Another way to end the rivalry of political dynasties is to divide a province or create a new district through legislation. For example, political tension in Cavite Province was somewhat defused when Congress subdivided it into seven legislative districts.

But most of the time, political families are violently resisting the idea that another family is trying or preparing to challenge their leadership in a city or province and they use all means necessary, including violence, to remain in power. The bitter rivalry between the Mangudadatu and Ampatuan families in Maguindanao Province resulted in a gruesome massacre which claimed the lives of 57 civilians last November. Most of the country’s election hotspots are areas where two or three families are competing for dominance in the elections. Many voters are delighted to see these families ‘destroy’ each other in the campaign, but many are also worried that the verbal fighting might turn into a bloody duel between the candidates themselves and their supporters.

And there’s another aspect of the family feud in Philippine politics worth mentioning – candidates are challenged by their own relatives in the polls. This is hardly surprising in small towns since all politicians are related by blood or affinity to most residents in these places. Still, news of a power struggle inside the same family continues to bewilder many Filipinos since family ties are highly important in the country’s culture. Some examples involve former presidential daughter Imee Marcos, who is facing off against her first cousin for the top local post in Ilocos Norte Province. Governor LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur Province is publicly feuding with his father, Congressman Luis Villafuerte. The major election rival of the Mayor of Mabalacat City in Pampanga Province is his eldest daughter.

Elections are interesting and at times funny in these places because feuding family members are cleaning their dirty linen in public.

But to democratize Philippine politics, dynasties must be dismantled. If this isn’t possible at the moment, citizen groups must continue to work for a better political system where everybody, not just family members of oligarchs, has an equal chance of participating in the elections.

All in the family

‘Power, wealth, and prestige tend to merge in the same hands.’

This was written in the 1960s by a university professor who proved that politics in the Philippines is dominated by only less than 200 families. More than 40 years have passed but this analysis is still valid. Then and now, Philippine politics is controlled by select political dynasties.

The Arroyo Family is the most powerful political family today. President Gloria Arroyo, whose father is a former president of the Republic, has been in power since 2001. Her two sons, brother-in-law and sister-in-law are all members of the House of Representatives.

The leading presidential candidates in the 2010 elections have many relatives in politics as well. Senator Richard Gordon is the uncle of Councilor JC De los Reyes. Senator Noynoy Aquino and former Defense Secretary Gibo Teodor are second cousins. All of them are running for president. Aquino is the son of former President Cory Aquino. Two cousins of Teodoro are members of Congress.

The wife of Senator Manny Villar represents the city of Las Pinas in Congress. Former President Joseph Estrada’s eldest son is a senator. His other son is an incumbent Mayor of San Juan City.

Many members of the senate also belong to influential political families. Senators Alan and Pia Cayetano are siblings. Their father was a former senator as well. Senator Bong Revilla is also a son of a former senator. His brother is a mayor of Bacoor, Cavite. Senators Chiz Escudero and Migz Zubiri are children of veteran politicians. Escudero’s father is a congressman who used to be a Cabinet Minister of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Zubiri’s father is the governor of Bukidnon province. His elder brother sits in the Lower House. The sons of Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Miriam Santiago and Edgardo Angara are members of the House of Representatives. The daughter-in-law of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is also a legislator representing a district in Cagayan province.

In 2007 former Senator Kit Tatad described the senate body as a ‘mad and shallow Family Ball.’ He went on to lambaste the goal of some political families to dominate the senate:

‘Political dynasties are either appreciated or hated, tolerated or feared. But even in the worst of cases, dynastic family members try simultaneously to occupy as many different offices as possible, or else they alternate or rotate in holding on to a particular office that allows them to exercise power. Never do they sit together in the same office at the same time.’

The 1987 Constitution clearly prohibits political dynasties. Article II, Sec. 26 of the 1987 Constitution says, ‘The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.’ There have been proposals in the past 20 years to pass an enabling law that would ban political dynasties but all of these were ignored by Congress. Indeed, why would lawmakers pass a bill that would prevent their immediate relatives from running for public office?

Many politicians believe that it is not wrong to promote political dynasties because it brings stability to a province or region. They claim that their relatives have the proper education and breeding that make them qualified to run for public office and also insist that it is the voting public which demands the continued reign of political dynasties. These self-serving arguments are ludicrous but only few would dare challenge the political dynasties in their local fiefdoms.

The holding of elections is an opportunity to bring about a change in the country’s leadership. In the Philippines, elected leaders are barred from running again after three terms which give other families and individuals the opportunity to occupy positions of power. But no genuine change will happen as long as political dynasties are allowed to poison the democratic potential of Philippine politics.

2 Responses to “Family feuds”

  1. rep. palatino,

    i just want to call your attention to the fact that some of your campaigners have resorted to vandalizing public property. while the campaigners of other groups make use of streamers and posters, yours have resorted to using paint. what’s up with that. i just saw your slogan “no to tuition fee hike! iboto ang kabataang partylist” painted on the post of one of the newly painted footbridges along quezon avenue and again on one of the center islands in the area.

    while this violation is nothing compared to the bigger problems besetting our country, it is a violation nonetheless. why must you allow your people to vandalize. if you’re gonna fight the evils of this world you should at least be better in your deeds. being a vandal is not being better.


  2. […] of Management Policy Center, seventy-seven percent (77 percent) of legislators aged 26-40 belong to political dynasties. They are temporary substitutes for parents and relatives who are barred by law from seeking […]

    Mong Palatino » Blog Archive » No Country for Young Politicians

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