Can Filipinos ever get rid of political dynasties?

If pre-election surveys are to be believed, the final pre-election poll conducted by the Social Weather Stations on May 2 and 3 shows that nearly all who “got in” the Magic 12 are those with political pedigree.


MANILA – Political clans have dominated Philippine politics for centuries. This coming election will be no different. Of the 33 candidates vying for the 12 senatorial posts, it is not surprising that one would see the same last names, same faces.

Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, in a seminar for journalists the center hosted, summarized the kinds of candidates the Filipino people can choose from.

In a nutshell, there are six re-electionist senators. The senate president is fielding his only son. A senator’s brother is running again. Another senator’s half brother is also running. The fourth senator fields his wife. The Vice President, too, is fielding her daughter. Still, former senators are seeking reelection.

Such situation has been going on for decades.

A study by Julio Teehankee, a professor at the De La Salle University, reveals that the two Houses of the Philippine Congress have served as a home for some 160 political families for the last century. “These families have had two or more members who have served in Congress, and they account for nearly 424 of the 2,407 men and women who have been elected to the national legislature from 1907 to 2004,” his report, published by PCIJ, read.

Teehankee said these political clans have an “uncanny ability” to adapt to the country’s ever-changing political landscape. These include establishing a kinship network, organizing of political machines, mobilizing wealth and property, having access to state resources , using violence to coerce others and cultivating issues, image and popularity.

But their continuous presence in the Philippine political landscape is not merely trivial. It reflects how power – both political and economic – is concentrated in the hands of not more than one percent of the Filipino people. Political analyst and executive director of Center for People Empowerment in Governance Bobby Tuazon called the rule of political dynasties as anti-democratic.

Roots from landed families

Political dynasties, too, exist in other countries, even in the United States, which, for their part, has the Kennedys and the Bushes. But Tuazon said the Philippine situation is incomparable because of its magnitude and presence, which, he estimated, is about 90 percent of all politicians in the country.

If it is any consolation, the magnitude and presence of political dynasties in the Philippines could be compared to that of oil-producing countries, especially in the Middle East, which, according to Tuazon, are run by autocratic governments. These include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, among others. Such comparison shuns whatever pretensions this country has about being democratic, he said.

“That is why the government cannot claim to be democratic. It can never be,” Tuazon said.

In fact, the presence of political dynasties in the country dates back to the pre-Spanish period, where the Datu, or leader, is chosen from members of the Maharlika (rich) class. Whichever came first – political families get richer or rich families join politics to protect and pursue their interests – is like the proverbial chicken and egg question, Tuazon said.

The relationship between political dynasties in the country and those who have control over the country’s economic resources, he added, is tied by an “umbilical cord.”

The presence of political dynasties transcended even the American occupation, where, according to Teehankee, “traditional landowning families that make up a national oligarchy exerted a high degree of influence over state policies and implementation, directly through Congress and indirectly through local government administration.”

They have managed to survive president after president after president.

Political clans running in 2013

Tuazon said presence of political dynasties in election mocks what should be a “just and fair competition.” He said candidates who have political pedigree have an 80 percent higher chance of winning compared to those who have none.

After this elections, Tuazon said there would be an increase in the presence of political dynasties from about 80 to 90 percent in the Senate and 75 to 80 percent in the House of Representatives. Judging by the candidates running for senatorial election this year, they have pretty much the same faces and surnames.

JV Ejercito, son of former president Joseph Estrada and whose half-brother Jinggoy is an incumbent senator, is running for senator. In their bailiwick, the City of San Juan, more Ejercitos are running for public office. In fact, Joseph Estrada, himself, is running for mayor of Manila while JV’s mother Guia Gomez is gunning for the position of mayor of San Juan.

Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile is fielding his son Jack Enrile for a senatorial position. The young Enrile was the representative of Aurora province, the family’s hometown. He is married to former Cagayan Rep. Sally Santiago-Enrile.

Sen. Manny Villar’s wife former Las Pinas Rep. Cynthia Villar is also running for the senate. Back in Las Pinas City, their son Mark is running for Congress while Cynthia’s brother Vergel Aguilar is running for mayor.

Bam Aquino, cousin of President Aquino himself, is running for senate. Tingting Cojuangco, the president’s aunt, is also running for senator but under UNA. Progressive youth group Anakbayan said in their previous statement that the Cojuangco-Aquino family “is the very definition of a political dynasty.”

Sonny Angara, son of Sen. Edgardo Angara, Is running for senate. His aunt Bellaflor Angara-Castillo is running for reelection as governor of the political clan’s bailiwick, Aurora.

Francis Escudero, who is seeking reelection, hails from the province of Sorsogon, where members of their family have been elected to public office from one election to another. His father Salvador Escudero III was a congressman.

Richard Gordon, former senator, is also back in the race. His wife, on the other hand, is running for reelection as mayor of Olongapo City and one its councilors John Carlos delos Reyes is his nephew.

Like Gordon, Ernesto Maceda Jr., a former senator, is running again. His son, Edward Maceda is seeking reelection as councilor of the 4th district of Manila.

The Zubiris of Bukidnon are also fielding their family’s representative in the senate. Juan Miguel Zubiri, also a former senator, is seeking for reelection. His father Jose Ma. Zubiri Jr. is the province’s vice governor while his brother Jose Zubirii III is congressman. Both are seeking reelection on May 13.

Ramon Magsaysay Jr., former senator, is son of former president Ramon Magsaysay. His cousin Vicente Magsaysay is Zambales governor while his niece-in-law Mitos Magsaysay, who is also running for senate, was congresswoman.

There are also “emerging dynasties” that are expanding “vertically” such as the Binays, Tuazon said. Nancy Binay, who was never elected for public office, is running for senate. Her father Jejomar Binay is Vice President. Her brother Junjun Binay is seeking re-election as mayor of Makati while her sister Marlen for congress.

Another relatively new political dynasty is the Cayetanos. Alan Peter Cayetano is running for re-election. His sister is an incumbent senator. His wife Lanie is mayor of Taguig City and his brother Lito, a TV and film director, is running for congress in the second district of Taguig. His father, late Rene Cayetano, was also a senator.

Koko Pimentel, on the other hand, is son of former senator Aquiliino Pimentel Jr.

Jamby Madrigal, former senator, is the granddaughter of former chief justice Jose Abad Santos and niece of former senator Manuel Collantes. She is also one of the richest senators in the country.

The likes of Grace Poe and Mitos Magsaysay, according to Philippine Daily Inquirer’s columnist Neal Cruz, are categorized under the “gray area.”

“While Grace has no relative already in or running for public office, the way she unabashedly uses her father’s name (the great Fernando Poe Jr.) and her mother Susan Roces in her campaign speeches, commercials, advertisements, tarpaulin and posters, and flyers is tantamount to using a Poe dynasty,” Cruz said.

While Mitos, Cruz said, carries the name of Magsaysay, “is not one by blood but only by marriage. And she is not pushing the Magsaysay dynasty of Zambales, she is actually fighting it” by running against Jun Magsaysay.

If pre-election surveys are to be believed, the final pre-election poll conducted by the Social Weather Stations on May 2 and 3 shows that nearly all who “got in” the Magic 12 are those with political pedigree, just as Tuazon earlier suggested.

They are Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Cynthia Villar, Sonny Angara, Grace Poe, Bam Aquino, Nancy Binay and JV Ejercito. Those who apparently do not have other members of their family elected to public office are, on the other hand, are all re-electionists. They are Loren Legarda, Antonio Trillanes IV, Gringo Honasan.

Meanwhile, Jack Enrile, Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Juan Miguel Zubiri, all with political pedigrees, are said to be “fighting to wrest the last three spots from Angara, Trillanes and Honasan.”

Naturally, they are also the very same people who spent millions for their campaign. A report written and published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism shows senatorial candidates who belong to political dynasties were the top spenders during the campaign period, at least with the advertising contracts and telecast orders they have secured.

Candidates who topped the political ads aired, published or booked from Feb. 12 to Apr. 10 are Jack Enrile (P151,182,897.14), JV Ejercito (P137,089,387.56), Sonny Angara (P85,517,805.02), Nancy Binay (P82,763,773.08), Grace Poe (P74,688,473.45), Alan Peter Cayetano (P74,485,513.20), Jamby Madrigal (P66,678,039.64) and Bam Aquino (P56,237,150.52).

This does not include ads sponsored by their political parties. The United Nationalist Alliance spent P120,263,176 while the Liberal Party spent P68,431,548.61.

PCIJ, for its part, said in its report that, “former Akbayan party list representative Ana Theresa “Risa” Hontiveros had P31.80 million worth of ads aired and booked for and in her name during the period, compared with much smaller ad buys by four candidates who had served as senators — Juan Miguel “Migs” Zubiri, P28.43 million; Aquilino Martin “Koko” Pimentel III, P27.49 million; Ernesto M. Maceda, P22.19 million; and Trillanes, P12.41 million.”

No to political dynasty

There are several groups and individuals who have been campaigning to put an end to the rule of political dynasties in the country. But could something so deeply and strongly tied to the Philippine political landscape ever be eradicated?

“We denounce the continued existence of family political dynasties and the continuing delay of passing a law to implement a constitutional provision banning political dynasties,” a statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, signed by its president Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma DD, read.

Even senatorial candidates themselves said they are in favor of passing a law that would prohibit the proliferation of political dynasties in the country. But will it ever be passed?

“Let’s stop dreaming and aspiring for an anti-political dynasty the law,” Tuazon said, adding that political dynasties will continue to dominate the country’s political landscape and election, in fact, it only legitimizes their presence. Political dynasties, he said, cannot be dismantled by law or policy. The government itself must be restructured.

Tuazon said, “The moment you bring the power of government to the poor, that will be the end of it. (

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  1. · Edit

    No to “Political Dynasty”. Let the deserving people sit on the higher positions.

  2. The election 2013 is already done , the candidates and leaders are now selected , Hope that they can make the country better now 🙂

  3. Beware of the candidates who will weaken the democratic institutions of free elections and independent Senate. Get hold of the book, “Torture and Impunity-The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation” by Alfred W. McCoy.
    Carefully read Chapter 4, Theater State of Terror. The author identified the actors who have been destabilizing the Philippine government. He also traced the role of the U.S. military establishment and agencies in keeping corruption and patronage as normal Filipino political culture. Election should not be glamorized as the end of political work. Organizing the people to hold the elected candidates accountable to their campaign platforms and responsibilities to their constitutional seats immediately follows the political work of getting the votes out.

  4. FYI, Kate Gordon, wife of Sen. Richard Gordon is not running in any position, Vicente Magsaysay is not the present governor of Zambales. The present governor is Gov. Ebdane.

  5. Vote buying allegations surface days before election day

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