A question of motives

GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manoling Francisco S.J. - The Philippine Star

Politicians extend their hold onto power by running as many times as the law permits. In the Philippines, local chief executives may hold an elected position for three consecutive three-year terms. A governor or mayor can thus remain in office for a maximum of nine consecutive years. To further wield political power, after reaching the term limit he or she can run for another office. Thus a governor runs for congress; a congressman for mayor.

Another way of extending one’s hold onto a particular office is by fielding a family member to replace oneself. Dr. Ronald Mendoza, dean of Ateneo de Manila School of Government, calls this a “thin dynasty” wherein members of a family maintain a particular office in succession, sunud-sunod.  After serving a city as mayor for nine years, si misis naman ang mag-mayor. Of course, an obvious way of extending the influence of a family is by fielding numerous family or clan members to run for various offices. Dr. Mendoza calls this a “fat dynasty” wherein family members hold various offices simultaneously, sabay-sabay. For example, in our forthcoming elections, while Imelda Marcos is running for governor of Ilocos Norte, Imee is gunning for a seat in the senate and Matthew, Imelda’s grandson, is running for vice governor of Ilocos Norte. Down south, the three elder children of President Duterte are running for office: Sara as mayor of Davao City, Baste as vice mayor and Paolo as representative of the 1st District of Davao.

We have grown accustomed to political dynasties in the Philippines. 75% of our legislators belong to dynastic families. And while the 1987 Constitution forbids political dynasties, we lack enabling laws. The data provided by Dr. Mendoza and his co-researchers in the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center in 2012 about political dynasties is alarming. Lower standards of living are prevalent in areas run by political families. Moreover, the poorest regions of the country are run by the fattest dynasty. To illustrate, more than 20 members of the Ampatuan family hold various positions in Maguindanao, the second poorest province in the Philippines.

The forthcoming national and local elections have spawned new species of political dynasties. Previously, a clan protected its power and influence from other dominant clans. For many of us Filipinos, our duty to protect the interests of our family is paramount. Blood is thicker than water, as the saying goes. But today, the family, the bastion of one’s security and identity, is falling apart. In Makati, siblings are running for the same office. And both claim that their supporters among the electorate are egging each of them to run for mayor. Across the Pasig River, half-brothers are running for seats in the senate. Members of political dynasties are now clawing at each other. Subservience to the patriarch or matriarch and family cohesion are no more. One’s personal political ambition has become paramount. Is this a sign that from being too family-oriented, we are becoming more individualistic? Or is this a manifestation of the lust for power infesting us so deeply that we are willing to sacrifice family unity for the attainment of personal political ambitions?

In our Gospel today, James and John make an embarrassing request on Jesus: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." In Jewish culture the right hand side of a dignitary is the most coveted position; the left hand side the next most sought-after spot. James and John jostle for positions of honor once Jesus is glorified.

Some commentators explain that the two disciples were referring to Jesus’ exaltation in heaven as Lord and Savior. Others maintain that the resurrection and ascension of Jesus was furthest from the minds of the two disciples. Like many other disciples of Jesus, they expected him to be anointed the king of Israel. They were hoping to be assigned positions of authority once Jesus was declared the political-spiritual leader of Israel. The other disciples must have been embarrassed by their blatant ambition.

Jesus asked them if they could drink of his cup of suffering. For to be a disciple of Jesus is to serve others, “I have come not to be served but to serve” (Mt. 20:28). To be a devotee of Jesus is to be ready to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). To be a follower of Jesus is to disdain positions of honor (Mt. 23:6).

Of course, all those running for political office in our forthcoming elections claim that they want to serve our people or that the people have been clamoring for them to run for office. If so, then why must a husband and wife both run for congress? As though serving one district were not enough to consume the time and energy of the couple and their political machinery. If a brother and sister are both running for mayor of a city, we wonder whether their motive is to serve their constituents or fulfill their own ambitions. If two half-brothers are gunning for seats in the senate, we wonder if their primary motive is to serve the nation or to be vindicated amidst accusations of plunder.

But of course, they will all trumpet that their primary reason for running for political office is to serve our people.  So help us God.

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