By ENRICO BERDOS, MICHELLE CO, ARA EUGENIO, AIMEE LONTOK, EDELINO MERCENE, JR. and ANGELA NG
(Part two of three)
Political dynasties have secured their place in the House of Representatives in the last three administrations, occupying close to 55 percent of congressional seats.
Data from online news website Rappler and election watchdog Kontra-Daya show that 31 percent (18 out of 58) of party-list seats were occupied by members of political dynasties in 2015. A study by the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center concluded that political dynasties occupied 25 percent of party-list seats (14 out of 56) in the 16th Congress. Meanwhile, out of 65 party-list seats in the 17th Congress, 22 were occupied by political dynasties, accounting for 33 percent.
According to the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, “a family that has successfully retained political power through maintaining control over at least one elective position over successive generations” can be placed in such a category. A political dynasty is established when a family member occupy different political positions simultaneously, or when a government official and his relative/s occupy an electoral position over the years.
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that national and regional parties “do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent any marginalized and underrepresented sector.”This made it easier for members of political dynasties to run as partylist representatives.
Having several relatives in power allows political dynasties to exert control and distribute development in their political turfs.
Some party-list representatives belong to political clans whose relatives occupy several government positions in a province. For instance, Sharon Garin has served as representative of Ang Asosasyon Sang Mangunguma Nga Bisaya-Owa Mangunguma (AAMBIS-OWA) since the 15th Congress. Among her relatives in politics are her brother Rep. Richard Garin (1st District, Iloilo), sister Christine Garin (Iloilo vice-governor), mother Nimfa Garin (San Joaquin, Iloilo mayor), father Oscar Garin (Guimbal, Iloilo mayor), sister-in-law Janette Garin (former Health Secretary and former Rep. of the 1st District of Iloilo).
Similarly, Shernee Abubakar Tan, incumbent party-list representative of Kusug-Tausug, is a member of the Tan family of Sulu. She is the youngest daughter of former Sulu governor Abdusakur M. Tan and sister of incumbent Sulu governor Abdusakur Tan II and Maimbung Mayor Samier Tan. Her mother, Hadja Nurunisah Abubakar-Tan, is vice governor of Sulu.
In the case of Democratic Independent Workers Association Inc. (DIWA) Rep. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar who has been in Congress since 2010, her link to a political dynasty is through her marriage to Mark Villar, current Public Works Secretary. This makes her a part of the Aguilar-Villar political clan of Las Piñas and Muntinlupa.
But despite the influence that these personalities wield, they know they cannot hold their political positions forever. They find a way to transfer it to their other relatives such as their children or siblings when their terms end.
The act of switching government posts among two politicians is known in the Philippines as political rigodon, named after a formal Spanish dance where two people exchange positions until the music stops.
Switching places as party-list representatives occur across first and second generation relatives, such as among siblings, among couples and among parents and children. Sometimes, the switch also involves siblings-in-law or children-in-law.
Party-list representatives are replaced by their relatives because an outgoing representative plans to run for a position in his or her province’s local government or because he or she has reached the three-term limit in Congress.
Nicanor Briones was Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (Agap) party-list representative for the 15th and 16th Congress (2010-2016). In 2016, he attempted to run as governor of Batangas but lost. His daughter Kathleen Briones tried to replace his place as party-list representative but was unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, Maximo Rodriguez, Jr., Abante Mindanao (ABAMIN) party-list representative of the 15th and 16th Congress (2010-2016) and current ABAMIN president, replaced his brother Rufus Rodriguez as Cagayan de Oro’s (CDO) 2nd district representative in 2016.
Rufus Rodriguez tried to run as CDO mayor in 2016 as he reached the three-term congressional limit, but lost to Oscar Cruz.
Maximo Rodriguez, Jr.’s wife, Mary Grace Rodriguez, is also currently running as a party-list representative for ABAMIN in the coming elections.
You Against Corruption and Poverty (YACAP) Rep. Benhur Lopez, Jr. replaced his sister Carol Jayne Lopez, who served during the 15th and 16th Congress.
Some political families also send two or more representatives to sector-oriented and regional/national-based party-list groups which means that they can replace outgoing relatives with other members of the family.
During the 2016 national elections, two of Kalinga party-list representative nominees, Kristen Michelle Ferriol and Arturo Ferriol failed to win seats alongside incumbent representative Abigail Ferriol-Pascual.
A family enterprise
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary-General Renato Reyes Jr., warned that political dynasties have an unfair advantage against other groups during the campaign period. “Bibitbitin na nila ‘yung mayor, governor, congressman – tapos party-list. So… Isang buhos na lang iyan. Tapos most likely, doon lang sila sa region nila kukuha ng boto, or in many cases nga namimili ng boto.”
“‘Pag nakita mo na kasi sila – silang magkakapamilya, that’s not a real party-list group, that’s a family enterprise,” Reyes said.
Anti-Dynasty Law: failed attempts
The Senate and the House of Representatives dropped the Anti-dynasty Bill in 2015, describing it as a “mere showpiece” and a “toothless measure” that strengthens instead of removes political dynasties.
House Bill No. 3587, which was up for second reading at the time, proposed that two members of a political dynasty be allowed to run for politics, while the Congress pushed for a third member to be allowed to run in the national and local polls simultaneously.
“There will be no Anti-dynasty Law. There’s no more time to consider and approve it,” former Senate President Franklin Drilon told ABS-CBN News Channel at the time. “Besides, many in Congress are against it. There’s strong opposition to it. That’s the reality of our politics.”
With research interests along the lines of legislative dynamics, executive-legislative relations, electoral politics, institutional reform and political economy, UP Diliman Political Science Assistant Professor Alicor Panao said that political dynasties are mere symptoms of a larger political dysfunction. “Our rules, electoral laws, push people to establish dynasties. When your legislator legislates, no one in his right mind would sign his own death warrant.”
Party-list groups are now used as a backdoor for candidates to perpetuate themselves in power, Panao added. The law only allows a three-term limit, and when a candidate reaches his outterm, this could be passed down to other members of the family.
Panao said such actions do not reflect on greediness, but mainly because of how the institution permits the continuation of making these families relevant to society. “If you’re out-termed, you’re toppled, it would be difficult to get back into the scene; there is a difficulty in name-recall, and such candidate will be out of circulation.”
*The authors are students of Prof. Danilo Arao in Journalism 117 or Online Journalism.
Read part three: Business league: Congress of the elite
Read part one: Party-list (mis)representatives