29-30 MARCH 2001
THE TIES STILL BIND Families Remain Strong in Congress, but their Influence is Waning

by YVONNE T. CHUA and VINIA M. DATINGUINOO


This report distills the findings of an 18-month research conducted by the PCIJ. The research looked at family, business and other interests of the 11th House of Representatives and compared these with the findings published in the PCIJ’s 1994 book, The Ties that Bind. Overall, the findings show that the 220 members of the current House represent a wider range of families, groups, social classes and political leanings than the previous two-post Marcos legislatures. The new House that will be elected in May will either reinforce or retard this trend. On one hand, former congressmen who had been banned from seeking a third term in 1998 are eligible for election to the House.At the same time, 48 members of the current House are barred from seeking re-election.

THE HOUSE of Representatives is still the foremost gathering of political clans in the country. But electoral reforms introduced since the fall of Marcos in 1986, including the three-term limit and the first election of party-list representatives in 1998, have dented the stranglehold of political families in the legislature.

A generation of younger and better educated legislators drawn from a broader range of sectors and more concerned with national, rather than parochial, issues makes up the outgoing 11th House of Representatives, which will be remembered as the first House to impeach a president and to legislate such progressive measures as the Clean Air Act.

As the campaign for congressional seats for this year's elections reels off tomorrow, it would be worth watching how far electoral reforms can chip away at traditional and family-oriented politics in the legislature.

In the course of an 18-month research, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) looked at family, business and other interests of the 11th House and compared these with the findings published in its 1994 book, The Ties that Bind. Both the 1994 study and the current one were based on the biodata and statements of assets and liabilities of members of the Lower House, corporate documents and other public records.

Overall, the findings show that the 220 members of the current House represent a wider range of families, groups, social classes and political leanings than the previous the two post-Marcos legislatures.

The new House that will be elected in May will either reinforce or retard this trend. The 1987 constitution banned officials from serving more than three consecutive terms. Thus, 67 congressmen could not seek re-election in 1998 and new representatives took their place. But this year, those who had been excluded in 1998 can run again for Congress. A number of them like former Speaker Jose de Venecia are expected to stage a comeback.

At the same time, 48 member of the current House, or one in every five, are barred from seeking re-election. Although 28 have no known relatives currently in an elective post, they have the option of fielding their neophyte kin with no political experience. For example, Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez is fielding his son Jose Enrico as his replacement, while House Speaker Manuel Villar's wife Cynthia is running as Las Piñas representative. Michael Defensor, the new housing czar, intends to keep Quezon City's third district in the family by fielding his sister Maite.

But then, many more groups are taking part in party-list elections this year, including Bayan Muna, which marks the first time since 1987 that the hard-core Left has fielded candidates in legislative elections. Other Left groups that took part in 1998, like Akbayan and Sanlakas, now have more electoral experience and are likely to win more seats.

All in all, this means that there will likely be more party list representatives in the 12th House than there were in the previous one. The results of the May elections will therefore be an indicator of how far progressive legislation can democratize electoral politics.

On the whole, this election will probably bring no surprises. The new House will still have mainly wealthy legislators, a good number of them coming from traditional political clans. But there will also be younger faces, fresher perspectives and, hopefully, richer debate.

To begin with, the PCIJ's new study indicates that the grip of powerful families on the legislature is easing slowly. In the 9th Congress, which was in office from 1992 to 1995, 30 representatives (15 percent) came from families who have been in political office for at least three generations. The figure for the current House, which was elected in 1998, is 20 legislators (9 percent).

A similar trend is evident if the newer political clans are taken into account. In the 9th House of Representatives, 127 legislators or two in every three, had relatives in elective posts. The number is down to 120 or 55 percent for the current batch of congressmen.

The changing face of the House is partly the offshoot of the first election of party-list representatives in 1998, which brought in 14 members of Congress who represented not political districts but sectors or causes. Twelve of these new congressmen had no previous political experience and were drawn largely from nongovernmental organizations rather than political families.

Also in 1998, the prohibition against officials seeking a third term, which was provided for in the 1987 constitution, took effect. This meant 67 congressmen, nearly a third of the previous House, could no longer run for re-election. Although many fielded their wives, children or siblings, the change brought fresher and often, younger, faces into the legislature.

At the same time, local officials barred from reelection ran for other positions, including congressional seats. All in all, the 11th House has 140 first-term representatives (64 percent).

But the PCIJ study also shows that tradition remains strong: About a third of all congressmen still come from established political families. In addition, most legislators are wealthy, with only 11 of them declaring a net worth below P1 million. Landholding remains an important source of wealth for 42 percent of the legislators, although over half of all the members of the House are primarily involved in business, rather than agriculture.

(Findings of the sequel will be posted on a new website called i-site that will be launched Friday. I-site contains the center's databases on the 9th and 11th Congresses, statements of assets and liabilities of selected government officials and election-related information.)

On the average, members of the present House are two years younger than those in the 9th Congress. The youthfulness can also be gauged from the number of congressmen who are 40 years old and below. They make up a fifth of the lower chamber, compared to only 10 percent six years ago. Representatives who are 60 and above, meanwhile, now only make up 23 percent, as against 28 percent in the 9th House.

The 11th House remains predominantly male, although it has 27 female members or six more than the 9th Congress. Whether male or female, they attended among the best schools in the country, much like their predecessors. Thirty-seven of them went to the University of the Philippines for their undergraduate program; the rest went to the Ateneo de Manila (17), De la Salle University (17), University of Santo Tomas (15), University of the East (14) and Far Eastern University (13). Twelve congressmen went overseas for college.

Of the 220 representatives, 97 have training in law, seven graduated with a medical degree, 57 took masteral studies, and seven have doctorates. Representatives tend to enroll in masteral programs in business administration, management, law and public administration, usually at UP, Ateneo, Asian Institute of Management and U.S. schools like Harvard University.

The data for the current crop of congressmen reinforce a trend already evident in previous legislatures: The recruitment ground for the House is local politics. This is hardly surprising. After all, local politicians work years to put together vote-getting machines that can be mobilized for any electoral post. Many started in politics when they were still fairly young, usually in their 20s.

Emilio Espinosa of Masbate, the most veteran politician in the 11th House, cut his teeth in politics in 1952 as provincial board member of Masbate. He went on to be the province's congressman (1958-65, 1970-72, 1978-80), a labor secretary (1966-67) and then governor (1976-78, 1980-98).

From a barrio councilman in 1959, Antique Rep. Jovito Plameras became vice mayor of San Jose and then a member of the province's sanggunian. After a 20-year hiatus, he was elected governor in 1988 and congressman 10 years later.

Capitol or city hall remains a favored path to Congress. Fifty-three representatives (24 percent) are former governors and mayors, and 23 or a tenth are former vice governors and vice mayors.

Compared to the previous post-Marcos legislatures, this one also has more former provincial, city and municipal councilors. They made up only 18 percent in the 9th House, but now account for a fourth.

One of the more noticeable changes between the 9th and the 11th Houses is the dramatic slide in the number of representatives who were lawmakers (in the old Congress, 1971 Constitutional Convention (Concon), Batasang Pambansa and the 1987 Congress). The 9th House had 57 former legislators and Concon members (29 percent); the 11th House has only 28 (13 percent).

Alongside this is the doubling of congressmen who once held high positions in the executive branch, including Cabinet portfolios. They make up for 33 (15 percent) in the present chamber and include former agrarian reform secretaries Florencio Abad and Heherson Alvarez and former tourism head Eduardo Pilapil.

Another significant change is the entry to Congress of a corps of successful entrepreneurs, professionals, and corporate and government executives with little or no political pedigree. Most of them took advantage of political opportunities that opened up after the EDSA revolt of 1986.

Of the 220 representatives, pre-martial politicians today number only 20, while congressmen who were first elected to public office between 1972 and 1985 total only 25. The rest-175 members of the House-sought elective office only after 1986.

Interestingly, 100 or 45 percent of them are first-generation politicians; they have no parents, uncles or aunts or grandparents who have held important political offices. A number of them, however, do have siblings, cousins and children in elective positions. The first-generation politicians include the likes of businessmen Harry Angping and Benjamin Lim, former police and military officers Tomas Dumpit and Eduardo Ermita, former diplomat Jose Apolinario Lozada, customs collector Benjamin Cruz, lawyer Aniceto Saludo and financial analyst and economist Jose Ma. Salceda. Equally interesting is the number of representatives whose first elective position is their congressional seat. There are 105 of them (47 percent) in the present House.

For all the changes noted by the latest PCIJ research on Congress, one observation raised in Ties remains valid: Politics is all in the family, and political office can be passed on from father-or mother-to son and inherited like property.

At least 52 congressmen (24 percent) are children of well-known political figures. Of these, 29 (13 percent) are children of former members of Congress. Twenty-three of the 29, in turn, are children of the post-1986 Congress.

There are even two children and two grandchildren of former presidents in the present House. Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino III is the son of former President Corazon Aquino. He is descended from three families that have been in politics since the American period. On his mother's side were Melecio Cojuangco and Jose Cojuangco, who were both Tarlac representatives during the American period, as well as grandfather Juan Sumulong, who was a senator. His late father, Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr., was a congressman and senator.

Ma. Imelda 'Imee' Marcos is the daughter of ousted strongman Ferdinand Marcos and former Leyte representative and Metro Manila Governor Imelda Marcos. Marcos's grandfather, Mariano Marcos, was congressman from 1925 to 1931 while a granduncle, Daniel Romualdez, was Speaker of the House.

Less visible in the public eye is Jose Macario Laurel, who is descended from Jose B. Laurel Jr., another former House Speaker; Jose P. Laurel, president during the Japanese occupation; and Sotero Laurel, a member of the 1898 Malolos Congress.

Also among the other congressmen whose grandfathers or parents once sat in the House of Representatives are Joseph Felix Durano, grandson of Ramon M. Durano Sr., who was Danao's representative for six terms, from 1940 to 1977; and Rodolfo Albano III, Erico Boyles, Juan 'Jackie' Ponce Enrile Jr., Rosenda Ann Ocampo and Ralph Recto.

There are also the likes of Ranjit Shahani, whose grandfather, Narciso Ramos, was Pangasinan representative from 1936-46 and former ambassador to Taiwan, while his mother, Leticia Ramos Shahani, was a senator. Former President Fidel Ramos is his uncle. A great-grandfather was also mayor of Asingan, Pangasinan.

Altogether, 120 representatives (55 percent) have close relatives-grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews, and in-laws-who hold or once held elective positions. For instance, Francis Joseph Escudero's great-grandfather, Salvador Escudero, was governor of Sorsogon. The grandfather of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Vicente Belmonte, was a mayor.

At least 36 members (16 percent) of the 11th House of Representatives have brothers and sisters also active in politics. Agapito Aquino's sister, Teresa Aquino-Oreta, is a senator. Oreta was Malabon's representative before she ran for the Senate. Both, of course, are siblings of Ninoy Aquino, father of Noynoy.

Faustino Dy Jr.'s brother Benjamin is governor of Isabela, while another brother, Faustino III, is mayor of Cauayan, Isabela.

The siblings of Prospero Amatong, Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, Luis Asistio, Manuel Ortega and Jacinto Paras are politicians.

Marriage into highly political clans has helped pave the entry of 25 representatives (11 percent) into the "family business." Former Speaker Manuel Villar's foray into Congress, for example, was obviously influenced by his in-laws, the Aguilars, who have lorded over Las Piñas for decades.

Luwalhati Antonino, Aurora Cerilles, Nancy Cuenco, Vida Espinosa, Norma Imperial, Ma. Victoria Locsin, Emily Lopez and Clavel Martinez are not only spouses of members of the 10th Congress, but have in-laws, including fathers- or mothers-in law, who are or were in politics.

Both Antonino's father- and mother-in-law were senators. Cuenco's grandfather-in-law was a senator while her father-in-law was governor of Cebu. Lopez's husband, Alberto, is descended from Benito Lopez, governor of Iloilo in the 1950s, and Fernando Lopez, the country's vice president from 1965-69. Congresswomen Espinosa and Martinez and Rep. Emilio Espinosa all became related by marriage.

Indeed, the 11th House of Representatives is home to many fascinating intertwined family trees like those of the Espinosas and Martinez. Palawan's Vicente Sandoval and Malabon's Federico Sandoval are father and son. Emily Lopez of Guimaras is the aunt of Negros Occidental Rep. Julio Ledesma.

Marcos of Ilocos Norte and Alfredo Romualdez of Leyte are cousins. Marcos is also a cousin of Shahani, both having descended from Damaso and Leona Marcos of Batac, Ilocos Norte.

Also cousins are Rogelio Sarmiento of Davao del Norte and Angelito Sarmiento of Bulacan, and Carlos Cojuangco of Negros Occidental and Gilbert Teodoro of Tarlac. Cojuangco is likewise a cousin of Benigno Aquino III, although their families are estranged. Aquino, in turn, is Agapito Aquino's nephew.

Durano and Raoul del Mar, both of Cebu, and Eduardo Veloso of Leyte are relatives. Emerito Calderon is, in turn, related to the Duranos by marriage.

But the circle of these "congressional families" spreads beyond the confines of the House, which only shows that while family ties may no longer bind Congress as tightly as before, they still have a stranglehold on the country's politics. The sons and daughters of 17 congressmen (eight percent) are into politics themselves. They serve as mayors, vice mayors, councilors and even barangay kagawad. Two of Gerardo Espina's sons, Gerandro Jr. and Rodolfo, are mayor and vice mayor, respectively, of Biliran, Leyte. Roseller Barinanga's daughter Faith Esther and son Saint are both members of Dipolog City's sanggunian.

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