The case against political dynasties

The theory is that if a society has to deal effectively with the challenges of an increasingly complex world, it must itself grow in complexity.  This means it must evolve differentiated and autonomous institutions.  This is what modernity is about.

Traditional societies assign multiple functions to dominant institutions like the family, the church, and the government.  Modern societies, in contrast, unpack these bundled functions and allocate them to distinct institutions.

Thus, for example, the quest for truth is progressively de-linked from ecclesiastical authority and becomes the prerogative of scientific institutions, usually housed in the modern university.  Governance is de-linked from the family and the church, and becomes the responsibility of a professional administrative service and of the political system.

Economic activity is de-linked from the family, and later from the State as well, and evolves its own independent operational code. Religion retreats from the political sphere, even as it tries to maintain its hold on the moral life of society.  The family sheds off its political, economic, and cultural functions and becomes exclusively a zone of nurturance and intimacy.

These are social processes that are triggered by a society’s need to adapt to a changing terrain.  They are the result not so much of legislation but of the accumulation of concrete changes in the societal environment.  There are times when the laws are promulgated ahead of the conditions that make their realization possible.  The result is dead laws.  Many of the provisions found in Article II (Declaration of Principles and State Policies) of the 1987 Constitution are of this nature.  They articulate a yearning for reform and indicate a desirable direction for societal development, but they do not create the conditions that bring about reform.

One of them precisely is Section 26 of Art. II:  “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”  This constitutional intention is evidently more honored in the breach than in the conformance.  The failure of Congress to pass a law that defines and prohibits political dynasties is proof that the present state of Philippine society is way behind the modernist thought that inspired this constitutional provision.

Even so, some groups have taken the intention of the Constitution to heart and are waging a crusade against candidates coming from perceived political clans. Among the most determined is the “Citizens Anti-Dynasty Movement” spearheaded by US-based Filipino author Roger Olivares.  He has compiled what is possibly the most complete list of Filipino political families ( This is a legitimate cause and is an integral part of the political function of the public in a democracy.  It hits both the administration and the opposition. It puts members of political clans on the defensive, and focuses attention on the need to actualize the democratic value of “equal access to opportunities for public service.”

This crusade, however, can only go so far in curing the problem.  The proliferation of political dynasties is itself only a symptom of a bigger malaise – the absence of any real political competition in our society. If you just treat the symptoms – for example, imposing term limits and banning political dynasties – the disease will likely manifest itself in other forms. For now, the political family is the carrier of the virus.  In the future, it could be the corporate mafia, or the religious cult.  In Central America, it is the narcotics syndicate.  Instead of political parties that promote clear social visions and programs, the preferred political vehicles are the feudal formations controlled by patriarchs and bosses that dispense protection and patronage.

This is not to say that Philippine society has remained static over the years.  While admittedly, we have not gone very far in developing modern political parties, we must also note that the dominance of traditional political clans has not gone unchallenged. The world of mass media has spawned celebrities that have found it natural to migrate to politics.  They are giving traditional politicians a run for their money.  They are only the most visible.  The managerial class is also bringing out a whole new breed of administrators that are keen to contest political positions.  They are, however, deterred by the increasingly astronomical costs of running for public office.  Without clear rules regulating campaign finance, and without strict enforcement of election laws, the entry of new players will only serve to inflate the costs of getting elected.

The more expensive elections get, the more they become a contest exclusively of the wealthy and the media celebrities.  But beyond that, the more expensive public office becomes, the greater the temptation to recover election costs through corruption.  It is a vicious cycle: the more public office is seen as a franchise to make money, the more money is poured to gain it.

The problem, in the final analysis, is our society’s lopsided structure of opportunities that allows a few to monopolize wealth and power, while consigning the vast majority of our people to a life of dependency and hopelessness.  Hopefully, through education, we are slowly moving away from this.  An articulate public is espousing new values.  That is a good start, but we have a long way to go.


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