EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - May 20, 2019 - 12:00am

The province of Maguindanao, site of a gruesome massacre, unpaved roads, and pink mosques, will likely remain on the list of the poorest provinces in the country. Most of its ruling clans, after all, have retained their grip on the province; the results of the recently concluded mid-term elections said so.

The same goes for the Marcoses who will stay at the helm of their bailiwick, Ilocos Norte.

In Metro Manila, old names also managed to keep their decades’ old grip on power: the Calixtos of Pasay, the Asistios of Caloocan, the Tiangcos of Navotas and the Gatchalians of Valenzuela.

Sure, the House of Estradas fell and the Eusebios of Pasig saw the end of an era, but most of the country is still ruled by a few powerful dynasties.

It’s really too early to pop the champagne bottles just yet over the victory of the new names who managed to beat the old clans. After all as the English historian, politician and writer John Edward Dalberg-Acton famously said “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.“

Let us remember that the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos himself once vowed to destroy the political clans and the oligarchs, only to pave the way for new cronies. Oh and since the time he uttered those words decades ago, the Marcos family itself has remained in the echelons of power – maybe less noisy and less flamboyant, but still around. It’s as if they never really left.

But I fervently hope that those who bravely and successfully fought the incumbents will indeed strive to change their cities and provinces for the better.

We have seen how badly these places have either decayed or have been stuck in a time warp under the hands of many ruling clans. There are, of course, exceptions but many have really deteriorated through the decades.

There’s no lack of signs of urban decay in cities: streets riddled with potholes, dusty and dilapidated buildings, garbage strewn grotesquely on the sidewalk, rows and rows of shanties, road traffic that goes mumble jumble and street children knocking on your windows for some coins when the traffic lights are red.

I once found myself in a government parking lot across the Pasig City Municipal Hall which seemed on the verge of collapse – made of steel, but rusty and dilapidated to the core. Anyone walking the steel flooring puts himself at risk of getting infected with tetanus – no kidding.

In Caloocan, I saw recently how the city has remained dirty, dusty, and dark. Caloocan seemed like a place stuck in time. I first saw it when I was younger because my grandmother used to live in a house with a green gate inside University Hills Subdivision. I was shocked to see that the city has stayed as dirty and decaying as the first time I saw it, perhaps even worse.

Once in Datu Piang, Maguindanao, I had to endure the bumpiest truck ride I’ve ever taken. A long, winding road was riddled with giant craters that the locals named it the Abortion Road.

Provinces, cities, and municipalities get billions in internal revenue allotment (IRA) from the government every year. The IRA is the local government unit’s share of revenue from the national government as prescribed in the Local Government Code of 1991.

Thus, every province, city, municipality and barangay get an IRA proportional to their size and population.

For 2019, the IRA for 43,618 provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays amounted to P575 billion, a signifiant chunk. The different LGUs also churn in additional revenue from local taxes and fees on top of their IRA share.

What’s wrong with dynasties?

Political families can easily control this huge budget allocation, especially if they are corrupt.

Thus, political dynasties affect the country’s economic growth and development.

In a forum on electoral reforms last month, Ronald Mendoza, incoming dean of the Ateneo School of Government said in an article on Rappler that political dynasties indeed affect economic policies and control public finance.

He said 85 percent of governors in the Philippines, around 75 percent of vice governors, 66 percent of mayors and 74 percent of provincial district representatives are part of political dynasties.

Mendoza used the Garcia clan of Cebu as an example. He said that if all their members who are in power are taken into consideration, the clan would have control of around P1.95 billion of public funds.

From our colonial past

It’s been hundreds of years since our colonizers bequeathed to us the curse of the ruling clans. The Americans and the Spaniards nurtured the Filipino elite; mostly the landed families who, in turn, sought to protect their interests by occupying positions in public offices after the country gained independence in 1946.

But now hundreds of years later, the political elites still rule.

It’s no coincidence that the Philippines has one of the worst income inequality ratios in the world and that after the Marcos era ended and after five presidents – some from political clans – around 25 million Filipinos still live below the poverty line.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales.

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