All in the family

A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) - Jose C. Sison - The Philippine Star

If PNoy is really sincere in his avowed promise to clean and improve government service, he should not oppose the move to change our constitution anymore. Indeed by this time, most Filipinos are already convinced and can clearly see that the government structure established by this charter more than 26 years ago has not served its purpose of promoting the peoples’ interest and the common good.

Aside from the proposed changes in the economic provisions, some amendments in the charter are definitely called for to improve our government structure. Specifically these amendments are designed to achieve the basic idea of government in the Philippines as conceived by Justice Malcolm in the 1920 case of Cornejo vs. Gabriel (41 Phil.138) where public officials are “mere agents and not rulers of the people, where no one man or set of men has a proprietary or contractual right to an office, but where every officer accepts office pursuant to the provision of law and holds the office as a trust for the people whom he represents”.

The necessary amendments in this regard actually involve the provisions on the political dynasty, and the party list system of representation in the Lower House of Congress. The results of the recent midterm election indeed all the more show us that these amendments are imperative for purposes of reinforcing the constitutional policy long enshrined in our charter declaring that “public office is a public trust”.

It is true that the present charter already prohibits political dynasties (Section 26, Article II) to guarantee “equal access to opportunities for public service”. But even with such express prohibition, political dynasties continue to increase. By last count there are already 178 active dynasties nationwide occupying positions in the Legislative and the Executive branches, the political branches of our government.

Actually even before last election, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago herself pointed out that 80% or 48 out of 23 Senators are members of political families. In the Lower House, the 250 Representatives have 196 relatives composed of parents, children, spouses, siblings and in-laws occupying various other positions in government according to report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).

In the 80 provinces all over the country, 73 or 94% have political dynasties with at least two political families in every province according to Senator Santiago again. This is multiplied even more in the municipalities where dynasties have been classified as “fat” and “thin” based on the recent study of the Asian Institute of Management. The “fat” dynasties consist of political families with several members holding elective positions in local government. The notable example here is the Ampatuan family which occupies 8 out of the 37 Mayoralty posts in Maguindanao. The “thin dynasties” are those with only two members of the families, usually father and son, swapping positions after reaching the term limits. They thrive better in far flung and outlying areas like in Apayao, Dinagat, Siquijor and Sulu. Senator Santiago likened them to the Mafias and branded them as “gluttons for power and privileges” and “monopolies in restraint of opportunities for other”.

After the last election, political dynasties have apparently expanded and grown more in number. Indeed even PNoy our President now has a cousin in the Senate while Binay our Vice President added a daughter as Senator while already having another daughter in the Lower House and a son as the Mayor of Makati City. The most notable dynasties now in our midst therefore are the Binays in the national and local government, the Marcoses in Ilocos provinces, Estradas in the Senate and the Cities of San Juan and Manila, Revillas in Cavite, the Ynareses in Rizal, and the Cayetanos in the Senate and Taguig City.

Based on our experience since this charter was approved, it is clear that political dynasties have direr effects than just depriving equal access to opportunities for public service. They have been the cause of more corruption in government because of absence of checks and balances. So, more corruption, more mahirap. And since political families consider public office as a contractual or proprietary right, they exert all efforts to keep the positions within the family to the neglect of their constituents. In fact these political families want them to remain poor because that is the only way to retain power like the oligarch of ancient times.

The growth of political dynasties will never be stopped because the present charter leaves to Congress the power to define what it is supposed to be. And since our Congress is dominated by political dynasties, the bills implementing their prohibition will never be passed. So the only way is to amend the constitution by already defining political dynasty and out-rightly disqualifying or barring those falling within the definition, to run for office.

The other amendment refers to the party-list representation in the House of Representatives. This system has been conceived to afford the marginalized sectors in our society from labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women and youth, adequate voice and representation in Congress (Section 5 (1) and (2) Article VI). But this purpose has never been achieved because its enabling legislation also allowed even the non-marginalized sectors to run under this system.

In fact the Constitution itself provided the loophole when it allowed political parties in the national and regional level to field party list candidates. So, we have the various leftists political parties like Bayan Muna, Anak Bayan, Gabriela, winning seats in the Lower House. In fact even the political dynasties have also used the party list system to expand their power and influence. Based on figures again, 91% or 52 out of 58 seats allocated to the party list are held by millionaires and multi millionaires most of whom belong to dynasties. The last election confirms this fact. Hence the party list system of representation should also be abolished.

If we really want to improve politics and governance in this land, the constitution should therefore be amended.

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