"Roughly 100 families exert significant political control over much of the country."
Among the most contentious changes that the draft federal charter aims to introduce is the lifting of term limits for elective government posts. The argument is that term limits supposedly perpetuate the growth of political dynasties in the country because the politician in the family, barred from running after a certain number of terms, will field in his or her unexperienced relative—spouse or child or sibling—to the detriment of the post. As a result, roughly 100 families exert significant political control over much of the country.
“Term limits were introduced in the 1987 Constitution, which also included an anti-dynasty provision,” said Dindo Manhit, president of independent think tank Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi). “However, a corresponding law was never passed. This comes as no surprise as both houses of congress are filled with members of dynasties, with up to 75 percent of lawmakers in the 16th congress coming from one. Who would vote for a bill against their own interest?”
This was the subject of the roundtable discussion organized by Stratbase ADR Institute. In particular, it looked at a special paper on term limits and political dynasties by Ateneo School of Government Dean Dr. Ronald Mendoza, Mian Banaag, and Michael Yusingco. The presentation, led by Dr. Mendoza, provided a picture of the current political dynasty landscape with special attention to local government units and the provinces.
Political dynasties, Dr. Mendoza said, had existed even before the implementation of term limits; politicians belonging to these dynasties have circumvented term limits and thus expanded their hold in power. As symptomatic of a broader inequality then, ending or lessening fat political dynasties, he stressed, will need the implementation of the rest of the reform agenda in order to level the political playing field in our political and economic systems.
Dr. Mendoza thus sought to reframe the question of a “good fat political dynasty.” It’s impossible to look at the question in black and white and instead he wants to shift the subject from “what is a good political dynasty?” to “What is a less destructive to a very destructive dynasty?”
To close his presentation, he offered a challenge to the audience: “We should not only be thinking about how to remove political dynasties but also what exactly to replace it with?” he said.
Pulse Asia President Ronnie Holmes agreed that a simple lifting of terms wouldn’t offer a clear-cut solution to and wouldn’t have any impact on reducing dynasties. Reformation, he said, should be done to increase competition among candidates and dynasties. For instance, he observed that development expenditure increases when there is competition among political elites in the area. This way, the reforms will be coming from the electoral system and the political party system.
Will a bigger middle class translate to democratized political space? The jury is still out on that one, he said.
For University of Santo Tomas Political Science Department’s Edmund Tayao, the issue of political dynasties has become frustrating because it has been an ongoing debate for so long and the issue of timing has delayed any radical changes. It should be political agenda, not timing, that ought to steer the change, he said.
Tayao further stated, “It’s the intensely fragmented nature of the country’s local government system that has been hospitable to political dynasties and therefore requires the reformation of the political party system and the electoral system to change.”
Political science professor Jean Franco from the University of the Philippines also emphasized the need to restructure or even recreate the institutional design of the political landscape since the reign of dynasties has limited the choices of voters and proliferated a vote-buying culture.
There is a need, she said, to reform the electoral system and change the very outdated “de-Marcos-ified” constitution as it’s the lack of competition in the institutional design that has led to the abuse of the political space by these dynasties. An interesting aspect that can be pursued is a study on women in politics and how dynasties have contributed to their reign.
Reacting to the comments, Dr. Mendoza agreed that the system itself is “anomalous.” In thinking about dynasties, there is a need to align an alternative type of politics with a similarly progressive economic trajectory—producing a strong middle class, having a strong economic growth, and awarding good politics with good economic outcomes.
Sharing most people’s frustration with the seemingly endless abuse of the political system, he said his greatest fear is that the country would become worst before it becomes better. The forecast is that local government units will be 70 percent dynastic by 2040. The problem is that the key to the change we want is dependent on the very people we want to change and remove.
Dr. Mendoza sees two possible trajectories given this background. On the pessimistic side, a big malfunction in the democratic system may force the country to swing either far left or far right, as in the case of Thailand. This is because out of all the political institutions, the national security sector remains to be the only merit-based system left, so there is a chance that it may be entrusted with more power.
On the positive side, the continued push for political party reform and anti-dynasty initiatives can still happen if more people are informed and can unite under the cause. Whatever the direction we pursue, Dr. Mendoza is not confident that this administration provides the right environment for any much-needed radical change in the political system, including its much-vaunted federalism and charter change agenda.
“This administration has eroded every semblance of trust I have put on it. The agenda it has pushed is very divisive. Even if we have a constitution meant to unite us, if our environment is very divided, the constitution would be poison from the very beginning. And once this administration steps down, what happens to us?”