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Political dynasty

This is the hottest topic nowadays because of the unprecedented number of candidates with the same family names running for various elective positions in the local and national government this coming May 10, 2013 elections. Undeniably, the similarity in their family names arises from the fact that they belong to the family of those who are no longer running for the same position because of old age or term limits imposed by law, or of those who are running for, or already occupying, other positions in the government.

This is a practice going on for several years already and apparently this is the very essence of the term “political dynasty” prohibited by the Constitution (Section 26, Article II) which is, the succession of the same family to the various government positions. 

As Section 26, Article II of the Constitution itself says, the prohibition against political dynasty is “to guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service”. But since it took effect in 1987 or after 25 years, other more overriding reasons have cropped up making it more imperative to get rid of this practice in our political system.

First of all, political dynasty has also made a mockery of the Constitutional precept that “public office is a public trust” which should be exercised only for the common good. With the perpetuation of this practice, public office has already been treated as a private property handed down from generation to generation mainly promoting and protecting family interests to the detriment of the general public especially the poor who remain poor or even become poorer.

Indeed, family dynasties thrive more in poor countries because they can easily sway the poor people to support them through political patronage and even vote buying during elections. They can also be considered as the main cause of election terrorism as most of them have become warlords in their respective territories maintaining their own private armies to hold on to power. This is especially true in remote and far flung areas. Thus for as long as political dynasties exist, our problem of poverty and injustice will never be solved.

Then because of political dynasties, public service also suffers a lot. As rewards for those who campaigned and supported them during the elections, the elected family members repay their political debts with juicy positions in the local or even national government despite lack of fitness and qualifications. This is the major cause of demoralization among sincere and dedicated career civil servants enough to discourage so many qualified and competent people to enter government service.

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Political dynasties also fragrantly circumvent the term limit provisions in our Constitution concerning members of Congress (Article VI Sections 4, 5, and 7) and Local Government Officials (Article X Section 8). We have already seen in almost every election how the incumbent members of the family who have served the aforesaid term limits fixed by the constitution will just asked other members of the family to run for the same office they are holding while they run for another position. With the power and resources they have accumulated, their electoral victories are almost assured thus perpetuating themselves in power.

Finally, political dynasties have also rendered our political parties almost useless. Our politics now are based on personalities than on principles. We no longer choose candidates on the basis of the platforms and principles of the parties to which they belong but on the basis of how strong are their political connections and political clout.

Obviously most of our politicians disregard the Constitutional prohibition on political dynasties because of their prevailing belief that an enabling legislation of Congress is still necessary before such prohibition could be enforced. On the other hand most lawmakers whether from the opposition or the administration will not pass such a law because they come from political dynasties. Indeed, several bills have been filed in Congress, but they have not even reached first base.

With this seeming impasse, several other alternatives have been proposed. One is the enactment of the political dynasty law through people’s initiative under R.A. 6735 or the Initiative and Referendum Act passed by Congress in accordance with the mandate of Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution, whereby the people can directly propose and enact laws. In this connection, the Ang Kapatiran Party has already taken steps as early as April 26, 2012, requesting the Comelec to provide them with the form of the petition which it should have determined and prescribed pursuant to said R.A. 6735. Up to now however, the Comelec has not come up with said prescribed form. Hence it may already be too late for a political dynasty law to be enacted through peoples’ initiative for use in the May, 2013 elections.

The only other alternative therefore would seemingly be through the electorate in the May 2013 election itself. An intensive campaign should be conducted exhorting them not to vote for candidates that would perpetuate families and clans in power. Yet as we have seen in the past elections, this alternative has not really worked.

So, are political dynasties here to stay? Or to be more specific, Is a law still necessary before the Constitutional prohibition of political dynasties can be enforced?

On closer scrutiny of the provision, it would seem that a law is not even necessary anymore. As worded the constitution says that the “State shall prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law”. Apparently, “law” as used here refers to a law still to be enacted by Congress or to a law already existing. “Dynasty” undoubtedly refers to “family” and family is already defined in Article 217 of the Civil Code or Article 150 of the Family Code as referring to “husband and wife, parents and children, ascendants and descendants, and brothers and sisters”. Using this definition of “family”, the Supreme Court can already come up with a ruling banning candidates covered by such definition. So the ball is now in the hands of the SC.

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