Wealth and politics

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

It’s good to hear President Duterte fulminating against the corrosive influence of wealth in Philippine politics.

Too bad he has only three months left to do anything about it.

He mentioned the need to rewrite the Constitution for the necessary reforms. But despite his immense popularity, his push from Day One for federalism that needs Charter change, and his creation of a special body to draft a new Constitution, Cha-cha fizzled out under his watch, as it did in previous attempts.

And while he ranted against wealthy families subverting the intent for marginalized representation under the party-list system, he avoided mention of the equally shameless dynasty building that has reached appalling proportions in this year’s elections.

Instead he pitched for continuation of his own dynasty, now elevated from Davao City to the national stage, with his daughter looking poised to become just a heartbeat away from the presidency. Once the winners in May are proclaimed, if whoever becomes president is disqualified, permanently incapacitated or dies, we could have Season 2 of a Duterte presidency sooner than normally possible.

“Daughterte” and her standard bearer are backed by a coalition of entrenched dynasties. We saw them at that wedding in Cavite of a member of the Revilla dynasty, which one senatorial aspirant likened to the wedding scene of the Corleone mobster clan in “The Godfather.”

Duterte ally Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is said to have brokered the Bongbong Marcos-Inday Sara tandem with Duterte-Carpio sliding down to the VP race. GMA’s eldest son Mikey once served as congressional representative of Ang Galing Pinoy, a party-list group supposedly of security guards, tricycle drivers, farmers and small businessmen. Was President Duterte also referring to the Arroyos in his tirade against party-list abuse by the wealthy?

In pushing for Cha-cha, does Duterte also want a clearer prohibition on dynasty building? He could always give the standard answer of dynasts: if there is an enabling law, he will abide by it.

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One presidential candidate believes that even in the absence of an enabling law, thanks to the refusal of every Congress since the 1986 revolt to pass one, the intent of the Constitution to ban dynasties is still clear as a state policy and must be carried out.

Under this argument, the enabling law will simply set the parameters for rationalizing or curbing dynasty building. In the absence of such a law, the ban is total and must be implemented, the argument goes.

Section 26, Article II declares: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

There are so many provisions in that precious Constitution, unfortunately, that have been reduced to best-efforts pledges. Example: “The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service…” An enabling law would also set out the specific offenses and corresponding penalties.

Without prescribed penalties, dynasty building is limitless, providing the foundation for vast family fortunes. The wealth in turn feeds dynasty perpetuation in a vicious circle.

Members of the dynasty, their cronies and supporters whose fortunes hinge on political patronage need not worry about competence, integrity, professional excellence and personal achievement to advance in life.

In this social structure, those born with the right surname occupy the top of the totem pole. Positions below depend on personal loyalties and usefulness to the ruling clan.

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Around the world, revolutions have been launched against the entitlements conferred by the accident of birth.

Flaunting of those entitlements, the abuse of power, yawning income disparities and poverty have triggered such revolts that were mostly violent.

These days I hear serious discussions on whether such a revolt is possible in our country, considering the current state of our political, electoral and judicial systems.

This year’s elections will be remembered for the shameless display of greed for political power, in both national and local races, with clans gunning for nearly every available position in their fiefdoms.

We saw this in the 2019 midterm elections, but it has become worse in this year’s races. Dynasty building has run amuck, and voters drawn to patronage politics might go along with it.

During my pre-pandemic travels overseas, I have often been asked why Filipinos do well overseas but seem to stagnate in our own land. Or, as that American woman I have previously written about put it, we seem to be always in a hurry to go nowhere, unable to realize our full potential.

Part of the answer is that surnames rather than qualifications have become the path to advancement in Philippine life. This tends to discourage any drive for excellence and to stunt national competitiveness.

Filipinos generally have a high tolerance for abuse and suffering. Maybe it’s the Christian teaching about those who suffer and mourn being blessed, about the kingdom of heaven awaiting the poor, about turning the other cheek.

The meek may hope to inherit the Earth, but those born with the right surnames in this country inherit everything else. And no matter how mind-boggling the fantabulous wealth, they don’t even have to pay the requisite estate tax.



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