Philippine politics: A family business

By Reg, BA Political Science student, University of the Philippines Diliman

Political dynasties are remnants of the long colonial period and affect the system by hampering effective operations of the system. According to Pareto, “History is the graveyard of aristocracies.”

Filipinos give great importance to kinship. A Filipino family is characterized by the closeness of family ties not only to their nuclear family but also to their extended family (Simbulan, 2005).

The state itself recognizes the significance of family. Article 216 of the Philippine Civil Code and Article 2, Section 12 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution underline the value of family as a fundamental social institution.

In the Philippines, a family name is a candidate’s greatest and the most valuable asset in the Philippine political scene. Once you have established a name in the political ring, you can actually pursue your political career for a very long time and spill it over to your kin.

Robert Fox, an American anthropologist, portrayed the Philippines as “an anarchy of families.” Indeed, political dynasties are the building blocks of our politics. They are mostly evident at the local government level. Competition at the local level is, most of the time, between families.

Political families run the political parties and not the other way around. The problem of political dynasties is an urgent matter for us because it is pervasive. It is so pervasive that it has become detrimental to progress — especially for nonfunctional dynasties.

Our country suffered from the colonial legacies of the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese. The Philippine political system continues to be weak because it has been modeled after the conquerors’ political institutions designed originally to extract valuable resources, co-opt local elites, and repress local opposition. The post-colonial Philippines failed to forward effective reform movements to change the situation and continues to succumb itself into these kinds of practices. When the state is weak and has little legitimacy, the floor for competition for power opens and such competitions give rise to the oligarchs (Samuels, 2013).

The Filipino elites played an important role in shaping Philippine politics. Filipinos’ close family ties is one of the root causes of nepotism, patronage system, and utang na loob.  As Pareto argues, elites only circulate, change their forms, and their names – they have the ability to sustain power. Simply put, dynasties will continue to exist in the absence of realization or initiative on the part of the voters.

Philippine politics is not only about performance and ability, but also material capabilities like money. Short-term appreciation of things will not get our country anywhere. To put an end to these political dynasties is to simply not vote for them; but to encourage others to do the same is a whole different story.

Political dynasties will only get more and more powerful in the coming years if people would not adopt some reforms in order to change the rules of the game.  As what we have learned from the social contract theorists, people have natural inclination to preserve power. Two schools of thought now arise, either this will be toward a sustainable and better society or to a stuck, immovable society that continues to fall.

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