The dynastic political system and the scramble for Grace Poe

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

The failure of the so-called political parties and coalitions to name their respective candidates for President and/ or for Vice-President in 2016 is reaching crisis point for the dynastic system as the October deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy approaches. It’s an ongoing demonstration not only of the exclusionary character of a political system that calls itself democratic, it is also a telling indicator of how dynastic dominance imposes limitations on the choices available to the political elite itself.

Much has been made of the Liberal Party dilemma over whom to field for President in 2016. President Benigno Aquino III is said to favor Interior and Local Governments Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, but has so far refused to endorse him. Mr. Aquino has been looking around for a candidate for Vice-President who can boost Roxas’ flagging popularity, and the only one whom he knows would fit the bill nicely is Senator Grace Poe. But it seems that no one, not even Aquino, can get what he wants all the time. Poe has graciously said no, thank you.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay has also proposed the same thing to Poe. It’s an offer she has similarly declined, apparently because she would prefer to run as an independent rather than as an UNA or Liberal Party guest candidate. And who can blame her, UNA being tainted by the Binay scandal, and the Liberal Party being so immobilized it’s almost dead?

Poe, in any case, also seems already committed to having Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero as her vice-presidential running mate. She changed her mind later, but at Aquino’s request, Poe had initially agreed to go around the country with Roxas in tow, so some of her popularity could rub off on the bland-as-oatmeal Roxas. Poe quickly saw through that Aquino ploy, and imposed one condition: that Escudero come along as well. Aquino was reportedly distressed by that, the message it conveyed being so obvious only a moron with an IQ of 10 could have missed it.

That makes Poe the only possible candidate for President in 2016 who has a clear choice for running mate in mind. Binay says he will certainly run for President, but can’t seem to find anyone willing to come on board as his running mate. Whom he chooses will be crucial: it will have to be someone so popular he or she will neutralize all the bad press and decline of approval ratings Binay has been getting because of those unanswered charges of plunder, graft and corruption and plain looting of the public treasury he and his family have been getting from his own fellow dynasts. Poe again fits the bill, this time for Binay as well as Aquino. Like a religious procession that no matter how long sooner or later ends up in church, this year everything eventually leads to Grace Poe.

Four other creatures from the black lagoon of Philippine politics have been mentioned as possible candidates for President or VP in 2016. All are familiar names, with one of them, Joseph Estrada, being the head of a clan that’s relatively new in the dynasty game. The two others are easily identifiable: Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former Philippine National Police chief and Senator Panfilo Lacson. Duterte himself has a dynasty in the making, while Lacson, who like Duterte made his mark as a shoot-them-up enforcer during and after the martial law period, has vowed to retire from politics if his son runs for Cavite governor in 2016. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. everyone knows — or should know.

If no relatively new name in Philippine politics except that of Grace Poe has been mentioned in the run-up to the 2016 elections, it’s because the political dynasties of this country have so shallow a bench they can only choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee and are being forced to look beyond their borders for someone else.

It’s the inevitable consequence of the exclusionary character of the political system, which denies everyone else except those from wealthy and prominent families the right to run for office. From the Commonwealth era to the present, the political system has been a monopoly of a few families. So dominant — and profitable — has this oligarchic system been that everyone assumes that it’s normal for a politician and wife, son, daughter, brother, uncle, aunt or whatever to be in the government either serially or at the same time.

Only Grace Poe among the worthies that have been mentioned as possible presidential or vice-presidential candidates, and perhaps Lacson, do not qualify as dynasts. Aquino is from the Cojuangco-Sumulong-Aquino dynasty, of which another Aquino is in the Senate. Binay is from his own relatively new dynastic creation, which has included his wife, his son and his daughters. Roxas’s grandfather was President of the Philippines and his father a senator.

What has kept the dynasties in power are certain assumptions about “winnability,” the primary factor being money and its capacity to assure popularity through advertising and media presence. The same word is being bandied about in the current search for a candidate, except that in the case of Roxas, the subtext is that money, machinery and access to government resources would swing the elections in his favor, although having Poe run as his candidate for VP would make his victory certain.

That argument not only assumes that money works all the time; it also forgets that Roxas lost the Vice-Presidency to Binay in 2010 despite the immense popularity of Aquino III.

No matter. What the dynasts are discovering is that they need new blood and can’t keep on fielding their kin and cronies forever. By declaring that “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law,” Article II Section 26 of the Constitution clearly intends to broaden the participation of Filipinos in the political system. It implicitly recognizes that among the millions who are not Marcoses or Aquinos or Osmeñas or Roxases are men and women equally or even more capable than the oligarchs who have ruled over this country and who have been running it into the ground for decades.

But that’s just the Constitution. Congressional action is needed for that provision to have teeth, and there have been attempts to do so. But the anti-dynasty bill has foundered on the shoals of congressional interests, and on such egregiously self-serving arguments as that some dynasties are “good” because they serve the public, and that they’re needed to assure continuity.

What the dynastic system assures, however, is neither continuity nor service, but oligarchic rule. This time, however, the system’s own limitations are beginning to corrode the system itself. Thus the scramble among the parties and coalitions to get outsider Poe into their 2016 slate.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in Business World
July 16, 2015

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