14 MARCH 2007


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DANDING Cojuangco, shown here campaigning in the 1960s, is adept at building political alliances. [photo courtesy of the Lopez Museum]
Politics, as the cliché goes, is addition. Political families build alliances with other clans and influential politicians in their native regions as well as with those elsewhere who wield power nationally. Being allied with the administration in power serves a family well: It opens the doors to fund releases from the national government, appointments for kin and supporters to various juicy government posts, and favorable treatment for various family business interests. Being opposed to the administration, meanwhile, can mean being starved of funds for local projects and being vulnerable to harassment by government regulators.

Political families who support the winning presidential candidate can expect to be rewarded after the elections. The presidential system is one of spoils: The president can appoint his or her choices to more than 6,000 positions in the bureaucracy. Traditionally these are given out to political supporters. Being a presidential ally also means access to government loans, contracts, and other benefits. This is why political families pool their resources to support presidential candidates. Political parties as discussed earlier are the organizational manifestation of clan alliances.

Three-term Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Antonio Cerilles, for example, supported Estrada's 1998 presidential bid. As reward, he was appointed secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), while his wife Aurora took over his Congress seat. As DENR secretary, Cerilles facilitated the approval of the environmental clearance certificate of the family-owned rubber-processing plant.

In contrast, Juanito Remulla lost his bid for the Cavite governorship in 1995 because he was politically on the wrong side of the tracks. Remulla had supported Ramon Mitra's presidential run in 1992 and put his electoral machine to work against the candidacy of Fidel Ramos. Early in the campaign, the lone mayor in Cavite who supported Ramos was gunned down.

Ramos did not forget this and ensured that the money and manpower of the Lakas party machine would be ready to do battle against Remulla in 1995. In addition, the early deployment of the military in Cavite neutralized the incumbent's capacity for violence. Moreover, government-sequestered tabloids printed unflattering reports on the governor. Sure enough, Remulla lost to the lackluster EpimacoVelasco. He regained the post only in 1998, when he joined the Estrada bandwagon.

Among contemporary politicians, Danding Cojuangco is among the most adept at building alliances. Since founding the Nationalist People's Coalition as a vehicle for his presidency, Cojuangco has nurtured and consolidated the NPC. Seeing the devastating impact of family feuds on the Cojuangco family fortunes, his branch of the family has also reached a rapprochement with his cousin Cory Aquino's branch. In 2001, they did not field candidates against each other. Instead Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III held on to his post as representative of the second district, while the NPC got Tarlac's two other seats: Danding's nephew Gilbert Teodoro for the first district and Noynoy's uncle Jesli A. Lapus for the third.

"It's a policy of my Uncle Danding," said Teodoro. "He has seen what happens to other families, when there's too many of them struggling over a small pie. His rule is you're the one in your area, as long as you do your job, nobody will bother you."

Cojuangco's contribution to dynasty building is conflict avoidance within the clan. He did this by conceding the second district of Tarlac to his cousins. He also got out of the Cojuangco tribal ground and carved out new districts for his sons: the fifth district of Pangasinan for Marcos or 'Mark,' and the fourth district of Negros Occidental for Carlos or 'Charlie.'

Not all political families can do this, of course. Cojuangco succeeded only because of the geographical spread of his formidable business interests. He runs the Northern Cement Corp. in Pangasinan and owns at least 3,000 hectares of land in Negros Occidental. Rather than dissipating resources in a debilitating family feud, he simply expanded his political influence so there would be enough to go around.

Other families are also geographically spread out. In the 12th House, the Sandoval father and son represented Palawan and Malabon-Navotas, respectively, because their fishing interests were in both areas. The Almendras family was originally from Cebu (where they intermarried with the Duranos) but migrated to Davao, so they had a base in both areas, which helped Alejandro Almendras's bid for the pre-martial law Senate, where he served seven terms. The multibillionaire Sarmientos who own the agribusiness giant Vitarich were natives of Bulacan but set up engineering and logging companies in Mindanao in the 1950s. They have represented both Bulacan and Davao del Norte in Congress. Then there are the Arroyos, who in the 13th House had presidential son Juan Miguel 'Mikey' as Pampanga's 3rd-district representative and presidential brother-in-law Ignacio 'Iggy' representing the fifth district of Negros Occidental.

But none of these families can match the business and political reach of Danding Cojuangco. By 2001, Danding controlled all but one of the five districts of Negros Occidental and four of the six districts of Pangasinan, which was Ramos country in the 1990s. He did this by bankrolling the candidacies of his allies so they could outspend their rivals and by dispensing largesse in their districts. The NPC had 55 seats in the 12th House, many of them held by some of the oldest political clans who also collaborated with Marcos like the Escuderos, Fuentebellas, Duranos, Espinosas, Imperials, and Josons.

Cojuangco's ability to cobble together a redoubtable political network attests to his dealmaking skills, considering that he was forced into exile with Marcos in 1986 and was a political pariah until his return to the Philippines in 1989. NPC members almost always vote as a bloc because of the patronage debts they owe Cojuangco.

Cojuangco has used the NPC to enter into a coalition with the ruling party briefly in 1992 and for a longer period from 2001 to 2004, even when he supported the losing presidential candidate both times. This has enabled him to wangle concessions from the presidents and the governments then in power by promising to deliver a bloc of votes for bills that presidents wanted passed. Together with his influence in the courts and the bureaucracy, Cojuangco's clout in Congress has enabled him to regain and retain control of the biggest chunks of his business empire that were taken over in 1986. The NPC remains part of the ruling coalition.

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