News Commentary

Political dynasties: A ‘game of thrones’ in Philippine government

BROAD CAST - Jing Castañeda - Philstar.com
Political dynasties: A âgame of thronesâ in Philippine government
The Starks in HBO's hit series "Game of Thrones" have ruled over non-democratic Winterfell for generations. Not all families are as wise and selfless as them.
HBO/Helen Sloan

Political dynasties have shaped the Philippine government as we know it. They have, inevitably, also been a hot topic of debate especially among Filipino voters.

A study conducted by researchers at Asian Institute of Management and Ateneo de Manila University defines political dynasty as “the situation wherein members of the same family are occupying elected positions either in sequence for the same position, or simultaneously across different positions.”

It can be said that political dynasties emerged as early as precolonial times, when the datu served as head of a barangay. In a guesting on our recent Pamilya Talk episode, De La Salle University-Manila History professor Jose Victor Torres noted that if the datu failed to adequately provide for his barangay, he could easily be kicked out by a political enemy.

This similar way of thinking manifested in the mid-1940s, as Manuel Roxas formed the Liberal party after breaking away from the Nacionalista Party of Sergio Osmena. Politics was a man’s world in those days. Once women were allowed to get involved, it created something of a personality-driven atmosphere suitable for modern-day political clans.

Torres stressed, “Gusto nila magserbisyo para sa bayan, so on and so forth, so ang mangyayari ay wala nang katapusan yung serbisyo. Dito nagsisimula yung ideya na kailangan kong ituloy—ang mga sinasabi nating dynasties.”

Since then, we’ve seen generations of the same families wield their power in different parts of the country—the Ampatuans of Maguindanao, the Eusebios of Pasig, and perhaps the most notable of all, the Marcoses of Ilocos. On the latter, we again saw these familiar faces file their candidacies last October 7 for the upcoming 2022 elections. With few exceptions in recent years, they have often run unopposed.

This May, over 63 million Filipinos will decide who they want occupying the highest seats in government. Still, the question remains: Should political dynasties continue to hold such acclaimed positions?

Are celebrity-politicians the ‘alternative?’

On my show, actor-politicans Dennis Padilla and Alex Castro also weighed in on the issue. Dennis is running for councilor in the second district of Caloocan City, while Alex has his sights on becoming vice governor of Bulacan.

The political climates in their LGUs could not be more different. In Caloocan, Padilla observes that candidates who come from political families are not guaranteed to win. But he acknowledges that the utang ng loob mentality of Filipinos can strongly influence who they vote for.

“Kapag yung tatay, maraming development na ginawa sa isang anak at pinatakbo yung kanyang anak, makukuha ng anak yung boto kasi trusted siya ng mga tao,” Julia Barretto’s father said.

In Bulacan, however, dynasties are as prevalent as ever, as Castro revealed. And it is for this reason that the actor, who has no family ties to government, claims to champion for change.

“Sabi raw, kapag isang pamilya lang ang nagpapatakbo sa isang gobyerno, hindi gaano mataas ang improvement. Hindi ganun kabilis kasi nagiging kampante na parang okay lang. Kasi kahit ano, mananalo pa rin sila. Hindi nagkakaroon ng challenge para mag-improve pa nila kasi may dynasty na sa loob ng gobyerno,” Castro shared.

His thoughts are echoed in the study conducted by AIM and Ateneo, which revealed that in political dynasties in the Philippines were more widespread in areas with higher levels of poverty. It also argues that media only impacts the largest of dynasties.

Whether you’re for or against them, political dynasties aren’t going away anytime soon. But if there’s anything that the experts advise, it’s for Filipinos to be discerning as they vote amid the pandemic.


Social media and political perception

On that note, social media has been a game-changer in conversations surrounding politics. Be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, Filipinos can instantly learn about, express support, or voice criticism towards government officials. As political analyst Aries Arugay illustrated, “If social media can empower, for example, those that do not normally have access to politics…it can also empower the already powerful. Pwede nila gamitin yung social media to further broadcast or project yung kanilang image.”

Torres likewise recognizes its pros and cons among the youth. “With one click, they can easily access information all over the world. That is a good thing. But when this is weaponized, dito ngayon nagkakaroon ng problema unless we have vigilance. Magaling ito makaimpluwensiya,” he warned.

How dynasties evolve

So why do dynasties continue to exist? The problem (or answer, depending on how you want to look at it) lies in our Constitution.

Torres and Arugay agree that for democracies to work, political dynasties should not be given too much power. Our current Constitution, however, does not have any provision to prevent said dynasties from passing the torch onto their family members and consequently asserting long-term control over areas of their choosing. Such is considered Sequence dynasties.

There also exists what the researchers at AIM and Ateneo call Fad dynasties. “Hindi mo na hinihintay yung term limit. Kapag nanalo ka, the next election, patatakbuhin mo yung asawa mo sa ibang position, yung anak mo sa ibang position,” described Arugay. Taking those two classications into account, he estimates that there are as many as 1,300 dynasties across the country today.

Words to the wise: vote wisely

Whether you’re for or against them, political dynasties aren’t going away anytime soon. But if there’s anything that the experts advise, it’s for Filipinos to be discerning as they vote amid the pandemic.

“Sa tingin ko, malaking oportunidad yung paggamit ng eleksyon para sa isang mahusay na ehersisyo ng panunugutan. Now is the time for them to answer the top questions… be very strict with the answers, at hindi pwede yung sagot na nasa dugo na. Wala pong pag-aaral na ang pagiging mabuti, magaling sa politika ay nadadaan sa DNA.”



Please watch Pamilya Talk on Facebook, YouTube, and Kumu (@JingCastaneda – 5:30-7:00pm Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday). Please share your stories or suggest topics at editorial@jingcastaneda.ph. You can also follow and send your comments via my social media accounts: InstagramFacebookYouTubeTwitter and Kumu.

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