THE LIGHTER SIDE
Making (Non)Sense of Politics Election Lexicon Quickie Quiz for the Politically Insane All these from i’s special election issue Order your copy now!
THE LIGHTER SIDE
Making (Non)Sense of Politics
Quickie Quiz for the Politically Insane
All these from i’s special election issue
Order your copy now!
E L E C T I O N P E R S P E C T I V E S — B E T W E E N T I N S E L A N D T R A P O
THIS IS not to say that the days of the trapo are over. Far from it. They are very much alive, happily coexisting with the stars, who sooner or later end up as trapo in sequined dress. Trapo politics and celebrity politics are not as unmatched as most people think. Theirs, in fact, is a marriage of convenience: not terribly romantic or happy but likely long lasting as far as political marriages go.
Congress is still the biggest congregation of trapo, and it is there that the resilience of the species is best demonstrated. Congress is also the distillation of the inequity that is so prevalent in our society and so indicative of all that is wrong with our democracy. The post-Marcos legislature has so perverted the notion of representation that it has left the vast majority of Filipinos effectively unrepresented or misrepresented.
The truth is that our political system has become more regressive since 1986. The most telling indicator is the wealth of legislators. While poverty levels since the fall of Marcos have more or less remained at roughly between 30 to 40 percent of the population, legislators have become richer now than ever before. Simply put, a congress of multimillionaires makes laws for a poor country. Cynically put, democracy has enriched mainly the politicians.
In 1962, only 27 percent of representatives were classified as upper class. In 1992, it was 44 percent. Over time, the assets of legislators have grown. In 1992, the average net worth of congressmen was P8 million. By 2001, it was P28 million. In the Senate, the average net worth increased from P33 million in 1998 to P59 million in 2001. A quarter of all senators today have a net worth of above P100 million. It should be considered that many legislators underdeclare what they own.
The turnover in the legislature is also slower, despite the constitutional ban on officials serving more than three consecutive terms. From 1946 to 1961, an average of 51 percent of all members of Congress were new. The average for all the five post-Edsa congresses is only 46 percent. Moreover, two in every three members of the House of Representatives come from political families. The vast majority of these are second- and third-generation politicians with parents and grandparents who have held or are currently holding public office. In fact, the ratio would be higher, were it not for the entry of party-list representatives in the House.
It is true that in the Senate, political clans have lost their clout. Once reserved for the wealthiest and the oldest families of the land, the Senate has become since the fall of Marcos the preserve of the glitterati. The senators of the past — the likes of Vicente Madrigal, Gil Puyat, Oscar Ledesma, Gregorio Araneta — were fabulously wealthy men, landowners, or business magnates who did not need to slowly ascend the ranks of government service to get to what is still called the Upper House. Today, the senators are more likely to be TV news anchors or movie stars.
While the House of Representatives remains the bastion of local power and of families with a local political base, the Senate is a contested field where, at the moment, media power dominates, easing out traditional political clans and paving the way for the entry of new men and women to that most exclusive elite assembly. Nine senators, or nearly 40 percent of the chamber, owe their election to celebrity power, either because they were celebrities themselves or were married to one. These include actors Ramon Revilla and Vicente Sotto III, TV anchors Noli de Castro and Loren Legarda, TV host and lawyer Renato Cayetano (now deceased), and basketball coach/player Robert Jaworski. Those who married into celebrity were lawyer Francis Pangilinan whose wife is "megastar" Sharon Cuneta, former Batangas Rep. Ralph Recto who married "star for all seasons" Vilma Santos, and medical doctor Luisa Ejercito who is the spouse of Joseph Estrada.
Two senators are from the military (Rodolfo Biazon and Gregorio Honasan) and two from the police (Robert Barbers and Panfilo Lacson), both services having emerged after Edsa I as a source of senators, competing with big business and law. By 2001, only two had served in the pre-martial law Congress: John 'Sonny' Osmeña and Ramon Magsaysay Jr. Only one, Blas Ople, who subsequently left the Senate to become foreign secretary, had been in the Marcos Cabinet.
Most of the senators, especially those elected in more recent years, come from new wealth rather than old, as indicated by the relatively small percentage who own agricultural land. In comparison, nearly half of all representatives in the post-Marcos Houses own agricultural land.
Yet despite being unhinged from traditional politics and old political families, the Senate is not necessarily a more democratic House. For one, senators tend to be far richer than congressmen. It takes far more resources to run for a Senate seat, so the barriers to entry to the Upper House are more formidable. While family and old wealth have been eclipsed by media exposure as the prime considerations for a Senate seat, a new kind of exclusivity prevails in that more elitist House — the exclusivity of stardom.
All these show the two contrary tendencies that define our current politics. The first tendency is toward the new: The importance of name recall in national elections taking place in a media-inundated environment makes it easier for movie and media personalities, and harder for old-style politicians, to be elected. The second tendency is veering toward the old: At the district and local levels, trapo-style patronage and machine politics remain deeply entrenched, giving political families the edge in elections.
The contradictions of Philippine politics therefore coexist in Congress: the democratic and anti-democratic tendencies as well as the push and pull between tradition and modernity (or post-modernity) are played out in that body.
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PHILIPPINE CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM