“We have come to the conclusion that political clans, and not political parties, have been the building blocks of Philippine electoral politics.”
With this statement, De La Salle professor Dr. Julio Teehankee opened the second leg of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s election coverage seminars entitled “Covering the 2013 elections: Uncovering campaign finance, local power, and governance” at the Bayview Hotel in Manila.
Dr. Teehankee, an associate professor of comparative politics and international development at the DLSU, was invited to talk to 20 reporters, editors, producers, and bloggers on the continued hold of political clans in the Philippines over the last three centuries.
“There are clans that have been in power for three centuries, or since the time of the Spanish colonial period,” Teehankee said. “What we have in this country are not really political parties. Political parties just change names, but the political clans, they remain the same.”
Teehankee cited the study of Dr. Temario Rivera on political clans, which showed that 94 percent of the provinces in the Philippines have political dynasties. (“The average number of political families is 2.31 for every given province.”) There are an estimated 178 political clans in the country, 56 percent of which are considered “old families” in politics, while 44 percent are newcomers to the world of dynasty building.
Teehankee said there are several reasons for the proliferation of political dynasties in the Philippines; much it has to do with the country’s colonial history.
For example, Teehankee pointed out that local autonomy preceded central authority, meaning colonizers selected local elites to govern their communities in behalf of the colonizers even before a central authority was set up. The result was that these influential families were empowered even before an administrative bureaucracy was set up.
As well, these influential families were used to funnel patronage to select recipients, further strengthening their positions in power.
The electoral process was also institutionalized long before the bureaucracy was set up. “There is no professional civil service,” Teehankee said. “In other countries, even if elections or politics are wild and wooly, but you have a professional bureaucracy and civil service, your system is assured that things will run regularly because they are insulated from politics.”
“Here, elections happened first, so the power brokers began raiding the bureaucracy for patronage and whatever resources they can use during election time.” he said.
Teehankee also pointed to the peculiarities of the political dynasties in the country.
- Winners are usually the best at generating funds from the central government.
- Winners are those who control major economic activities in the community, both legal and illegal
- A highly centralized administrative bureaucracy is juxtaposed with weak political institutions
- Winners tend to centralize patronage resources rather than centralize the administrative structures
Interestingly, the imposition of term limits, originally meant to discourage political dynasties, instead ended up encouraging them. Senators are may be elected for two consecutive terms of six years each, which congressmen and local officials may be elected for three consecutive terms of three years each.
“The term limits were placed to level the playing field,” Teehankee said. “If you put a cap, the framers of the law thought, you open up the system to newer faces.”
“But what happened? It just served as an incentive for political dynasties to sit back and let their children and relatives take over,” he said. “So instead of stopping or halting political dynasties, it led to an increase in the number of dynasties. It introduced another pathway to power for local clans.”
Teehanhee said there are already proposals in Congress that could help in discouraging these political dynasties. These include legislation to strengthen political parties, and the anti dynasty bill.
For example, Teehankee said people should be open to the idea of public funding for political parties, as proposed by the political party reform bill. While it may appear counterintuitive for Filipinos to agree to fund political parties, this may in fact be the best way to level the playing field, and make political parties more beholden and answerable to the public instead of to private donors.
It would however be up to the citizenry to pressure their legislators to act on these measures that do not seem very popular in Congress. For example, the anti-dynasty bill has been in Congress since 1987, yet it has never gotten past first reading simply because Congress is, on the large part, made up of dynasties.