by Ed Lingao
DO DYNASTIES love poverty, or does poverty love dynasties? And with so much political and economic inequality in the Philippines, are dynasties the cause, or the effect?
An ambitious study conducted by a policy think tank among members of the 15th Congress showed that legislators coming from political dynasties represent some of the poorest districts in the country. Curiously, ironically, yet unsurprisingly, they also rank among the richest members of Congress.
In addition, the study – done by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Center and released just recently — showed that the offspring of political dynasties often win by larger margins in Philippine elections, when compared with other legislators of non-dynastic origins.
Despite these significant findings, AIM Policy Center Executive Director Ronald Mendoza says that they could not yet determine a causal or cause-and-effect relationship between dynasties and poverty and political inequality. While he says it is clear that they tend to co-exist with each other, determining whether one causes or encourages the presence of the other would take another study altogether.
“(Whether there is) empirical evidence that dynastic patterns are linked to poverty, we are trying to contribute to this, either to validate it or invalidate it if the evidence is not sufficient,” Mendoza said in a forum on Democracy and Inclusive Growth at the Asian Institute of Management last week, where he presented the initial findings of “An Empirical Analysis of Political Dynasties in the 15th Philippine Congress.”
These findings include:
- 155 legislators, or 67.7% of the 229 members of the House of Representatives elected by district, belong to a political dynasty. For purposes of the study, Mendoza said they defined legislators with dynastic links as one with kinship links to at least one legislator in the three previous Congresses, or at least one local government official elected in 2001, 2004, 2007, or 2010.
- Dynasties tend to be located in areas of lower average per capita income. Legislators from dynasties come from areas where the average per capita income is P23,275.43, as against non-dynastic legislators whose constituents have an average per capita income of P26, 872.38.
- Legislators from dynasties tend to be richer. The average net worth of legislators from dynasties was pegged at P52 million, while non-dynastic legislators have an average worth of P42 million. Mendoza said their earlier figures were thrown off-kilter by the unusual case of one non-dynastic legislator, referred to by Mendoza as “MP,” who earned hundreds of millions from his boxing career that his net worth pulled up the average for non-dynastic legislators to P57 million. Mendoza said they had to take out “MP” from the equation since he was obviously an unusual case. “MP” apparently referred to Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, who earns millions of dollars in prize money and pay-per-view royalties every time he fights in the ring. Pacquiao, thankfully, is not a member of a dynasty, although Mommy Dionisia and other members of his extended family could easily change all that.
- Dynasties tend to be located in areas of higher poverty. Mendoza said almost all poverty indicators spiked in the jurisdictions of dynastic legislators. In these areas, the studies found poverty incidence to average 24.15 percent, the poverty gap at 6.18 percent, and poverty severity at 2.31 percent. This is in contrast to poverty figures for non-dynastic legislators, whose jurisdictions have a poverty incidence of 18.95 percent, poverty gap of 4.93 percent, and poverty severity of 1.86 percent.
- Dynasties enjoy higher margins of victory in elections. Mendoza said they wanted to see if dynasties encouraged political inequalities in areas where one or two families rule. Legislators from dynastic families enjoyed a higher margin of victory of 33.26 percent against non-dynastic legislators who won only by 27.64 percent. Mendoza said dynastic legislators won with “pretty comfortable margins of victory, all of them statistically significant.”
Mendoza was very careful to stress that while establishing causality was very tempting, what he had presented at the forum was merely a “comparison of means.”
“We are not suggesting causality,” he said. “What this all says is that this is a pattern worthy of further study.”
The study had hoped to establish which of two theories held more water in the Philippine context: The “predatory view” that a dynasty only increases poverty and inequality in an area because of rent-seeking, state capture, and corruption; or the “stationary bandit view,” which states that dynasties could have a longer-term vision of developing their areas because their members have the advantage of historical memory. The latter also subscribes to the idea that dynasties would not do significant damage to their jurisdiction because no bandit would lay waste to his own home.
The study actually lends more weight to the “predatory view,” although Mendoza was quick to emphasize that nothing was conclusive.
Comparing countries, Mendoza said the Philippines tops many other nations when it comes to electing dynasties to Congress. While the Philippine Congress is almost 68 percent dynastic, or seven out of every ten legislators being part of a dynasty, the United States Congress is only six percent dynastic. Argentina’s legislature is 10 percent dynastic; Japan’s is 33 percent, and Mexico, 40 percent.
Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento (Western Samar), one of the invited speakers in the AIM forum, acknowledged that some members of political dynasties believe in the idea of keeping the constituency poor and dependent on political clans. “I have heard that one or two of the clan members were hoping to keep people poor, probably to control people in electoral exercises,” Sarmiento said.
He noted as well in some areas where members of a political dynasty had been encouraged to cut the trend and let other political players join in, another political dynasty had sprouted up to take over the vacuum. He said this was what happened in his own area, where he said he had resisted the temptation to set up his own dynasty by dissuading – with great effort — his relatives from running for public office. Unfortunately, said Sarmiento, another political clan chose to seize the opportunity to start building a dynasty of its own.
The legislator, though, also emphasized that it would be unfair to conclude that all dynasties exist to the detriment of their constituents. ‘There is no conclusion if political dynasties are bad,” Sarmiento said. “Some areas were ruled by clans for years that have done much for their communities.” PCIJ September 2011