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POLITICAL DYNASTIES: A MAJOR CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUE IN PHILIPPINE POLITICS

The greatest evil which fortune can inflict on men is to endow them with small talents and great ambitions It is not unusual for a concerned citizen to criticize ambitious politicians who envision monopoly of political power in a country where the prevailing rule is equality of rights for public service. On the other hand, it is likewise not unusual for trapos to riposte that there is nothing legally or even morally wrong with political dynasties so long as the delivery of basic services to their constituents is their primary concern. The latter argument is in consonance with the popular notion that in a democratic society the people are free to decide as to who governs them and how their lives should be governed by their so- called public servants. Both arguments deserve careful analysis and utmost scrutiny since the issue of political dynasties is a complex yet a strange phenomenon in our political culture. To be sure, the discussion and disquisition of this issue is neither anticlimactic nor a nonissue during election period. On the contrary, it is high time that candidates aspiring for public office should make a stand and offer their resolute views to the voters. It is not enough that politicians simply addressed the problem as a dead issue in numerous election fora or media interviews. This kind of actuation should not be consented and therefore should be condemned by the people in the strongest possible terms. We, the voters have all the right to probe into the mediocre minds of our so called public servants so that we shall see in the open their respective positions on political, social and economic issues. Evidently, these basic issues directly affect the lives of the people they are sworn to serve. Moreover, it is also high time to expose these politicians hiding beneath sheeps clothing, preaching good governance and competence during campaign sorties, advocating change in the political system. But predictably when elected to public office, they act like cannibals ravishing one another in the name of survival and political power. Ergo, the issue of political dynasties is very relevant and timely in Philippine politics. The purpose of this paper is to enlighten and educate the voters in the simplest possible manner the legal underpinnings and political implications of political dynasties. It is likewise intended to remind or even educate ignorant public officials to the true concept of public office and public service as envisioned by the fundamental law.

THE CONCEPT OF PUBLIC OFFICE The fundamental law of the land, that is the 1987 Constitution is explicit when it says that, Public office is a public trust. Obviously, the framers of the constitution wanted to underline the sanctity of public office and most likely to remind public officials the cherished values attributed to public service. Ironically, a former senator opined that the reason for such inclusion is a clear indication that the contrary belief prevails in the Philippines. For if public officials believe that their office is a public trust, there is no need to remind them, just as there is no need to bring coal to Newcastle so to speak. In other words, this is a clear constitutional confession that in our political culture, public office is often viewed as an avenue for corruption, thus the need to return to the old and noble concept of genuine public service. In line with this basic constitutional principle, the 1987 Constitution under Article II section 26 enunciates, The State shall guarantee equal access of opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law. The thrust of this provision is to impose on the state the obligation of guaranteeing equal access to public office with the end view toward democratization of political power to hold public office. As such it denounces and sought to dismantle the concentration of political power among the ruling elites of society. This innovative provision also recognizes the necessity of widening the opportunities of competent, young but poor promising candidates to occupy important positions in the government. This sentiment is true especially in local politics where political neophytes armed only with pristine idealism, wrestle desperately with traditional politicos and the ruling elites in the political arena. This practice to my mind is very undemocratic, immoral and no longer constitutional. It is noteworthy however, that opportunity for public service is not a matter of right but a mere privilege for every citizen. As such, the State has the power to impose reasonable regulations (such as qualifications and disqualifications) as prescribed by the fundamental law and other pertinent laws such as the Omnibus Election Code. In fact the Supreme Court in the case of Pamatong v. COMELEC (G.R. No.161872, April 13, 2004) has ruled that the provision on equal access of opportunities for public service does not contain a judicially enforceable constitutional right and merely specifies a guideline for legislative action. It further ruled that said provision is not intended to compel the State to enact positive measures that would accommodate as many as possible into public office. The privilege may be subjected to limitations. POLITICAL DYNASTIES DEFINED Political dynasties are prohibited by the 1987 Philippine Constitution (Art. 2, Sec. 26) though enabling legislation has yet to define them. In general, they are understood as a situation where persons related to each other within the third civil degree of consanguinity or affinity hold elective offices simultaneously or the same office successively in a region, legislative district, province, city, municipality. (or barangay).Under the pending House Bill 3335- An Act Prohibiting the Establishment of Political Dynasties introduced by party-

list Representatives Teddy Casino and Satur Ocampo, it is defined as the concentration, consolidation or perpetuation of public office and political power by persons related to one another. As an elaboration, the bill also defined political dynasty relationship as follows: (1) It exists when a person who is the spouse of an incumbent elective official or a relative within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity of an incumbent elective official holds or runs for an elective office simultaneously with the incumbent elective official within the same city and/or province or occupies the same office immediately after the term of office of the incumbent elective official. (2) A political dynasty shall also be deemed to exist where two (2) or more persons who are spouses or are related within the second civil of consanguinity or affinity run simultaneously for elective public office within the same city and/or province, even if neither is so related to an incumbent elective official. The term political dynasties, however, nowadays, are not to be confined or limited by territorial/geographical limits or familial lines. In fact, in recent times, members of political dynasties may have its members elected in different provinces. The main criterion therefore, is their ability to withhold and concentrate power amongst themselves though generations. Neither does the term include only the immediate and extended families. Pertinently, political dynasties strengthen their power more by not having their own members elected but by supporting protgs. Other political observers perceive this act as a means of the political dynasties to preserve their prestige and glory in the absence of any other nearest kin to continue the political heritage. In such a case, the main purpose of concentrating the power is significantly still within them since the heirs (which are not family members or relatives) are politically indebted to them. (Dimaano and Bonoan It runs in the blood? Political Dynasties: Issues and Perspectives, 2004 unpublished paper) THE ANTI-DYNASTY PROVISION UNDER THE 1987 CONSTITUTION Legally speaking, whether we like it or not there is no clear-cut prohibition to ban political dynasties under the 1987 Constitution. In legal parlance, said provision is a non-self executing provision, therefore not an enforceable right to be invoked any citizen. Let me illustrate the uniqueness of this provision in comparison with the rights protected and guaranteed under Article III of the 1987 Constitution which is the Bill of Rights. For example, the right to life, liberty and property or the right against unreasonable searches and seizure are generally considered self-executing provisions. Meaning, these rights may be invoked by any individual in proper cases and do not depend its invocation through legislative enactment or congressional action. Clearly, to be considered as an enforceable right, the rule is Congress must first pass legislation or an enabling law specifically prohibiting political dynasties as provided for by the Constitution. Unfortunately, up until now no enabling law has been passed by Congress to fulfill this novel constitutional mandate. The reason is obvious; Congress is the principal playground of political dynasties

and traditional politicians. For them to pass a law that essentially threatens their very existence in the game of politics and power is tantamount to committing a political hara kiri. To understand more clearly, let us examine from a legal standpoint the essence and nature of the provisions found in Article II of the 1987 Constitution entitled, Declaration of Principles and State Policies. Accordingly under constitutional law, this article is intended to lay down rules underlying our system of government and must therefore be adhered to in the conduct of public affairs and the resolution of public issues. It is also regarded as the basic political creed of the nation because it lays down policies and fundamental obligations that the government is bound to observe. (Bernas, S.J., The 1987 Constitution: A Commentary, 2003 ed.) But the more important consideration is that, this article serves as a statement of the basic ideological principles and guidelines basically addressed to all departments of government. Logically, it is safe to assume that equal access to public service and the prohibition of political dynasties found in the Declaration of Principles and State Policies are among the basic political ideologies of the state. It is therefore crystal clear that the spirit of the constitution is to promote democratization of power and to avoid concentration of power in one person or among ruling cliques in our society. Viewed from a different perspective, the 1987 Constitution is designed to eradicate the vestiges and rectify the excesses committed by the Marcos regime, among which is the resilience of small political kingdoms in the provinces. (Bernas, S.J., The Intent of the Constitutional Writers, 1995 ed.) This being so, it is safe to argue that on the basis of history as well as legal principles applied, it is the policy of the state to democratize political power for public service. This policy is mandatory and explicit. Ultimately, the prevalence of political dynasties directly counters this policy, hence it is likewise the policy of the state to prohibit them at all cost. The crucial problem however is, no clear clear-cut definition of the term political dynasties has been provided under the 1987 Constitution perhaps, the framers of the constitution thought it best to leave the matter to our legislators. Evidently, the framers assumed that as a collective body they have all the time to deliberate and to conduct consultations relative to the definition, limits and even exceptions to the term political dynasties within the context of our political culture and legal system.

Given this analysis, is there really a constitutional prohibition on political dynasties as enshrined under the 1987 Constitution? The answer is YES! It is just a matter of providing a hard and fast rule pertaining to the definition and limitations of the term. It is just a matter of realization and reflection among our lawmakers as to the noble intent of this provision. It is just a matter of believing the true spirit of the 1987 Constitution, after all this supreme law of the land must be interpreted not by the letter that killeth, but by the spirit that giveth life. Again, as a matter of state policy, the Constitution expressly prohibits political

dynasties in our country. BOONS AND BANES In our country, the fundamental cultural importance of kinship affiliation explains the power and resilience of political dynasties in the present time. According to Alfred McCoy, author of the best-selling book Anarchy of Families, In a society that lacks interest groups organized as persistent voting blocks based on categories such as class, religion, ethnicity, or ideology, families are the units that compete for power within a local area and combine into ever-changing factions. This observation is true especially in our political setting, where political alliances and the interests they advance tend to be defined along familial lines and not through the advent of strong political parties having unshakable political ideologies or beliefs. It further adds instability and weakness of political institutions that are supposed to be governed bureaucratic rationalism and universalistic norms. (Jayme, Ma. Elissa R. et. al., Politics and Governance, 2001 ed., Ateneo Press) In a macro level perspective, the resilience of political dynasties only manifests the necessity of social survival when the nation-state is weak. The inevitable effects of political dynasties solely dominating in any political arena are dangerous and alarming. It is in this situation that the ruling elite and traditional politicians are under the impression that public office is a safe and convenient haven for fame, fortune, and perpetual political power. Corollary to this, the primacy of political dynasties also encourages nepotism and favoritism norms in government, and of course corruption in public office, further buttressing popular disenchantment with it. The primacy of kinship ties has also resulted in individual conservatism in economic decision-making. Emphasis is put on preserving family wealth and status rather parlaying it into productive activities with consequent risks. Moreover, the democratic rules no longer apply in the manner of selection of candidates to public office; elections have become mere formalities and an idle legal process. Needless to say, that under the present set up what we have is a monarchial type of government, where public officials are chosen not by sovereign people but by virtue of inheritance. What happen then to the spirit of the Constitution? The best answer lies in the hands of the people. If we allow this to continue then be prepared to witness the death of democracy before our very eyes. True, we do not really value our rights and freedom until we are deprived of it. Then we understand why throughout the ages, men have fought for their rights and freedom as primordial ingredients of human dignity. CONCLUSION The evils spawned by political dynasties in this country remain unresolved and continue to persist in Philippine politics. For enormous decades traditional politicians whether in the local level or in the national scale, subsist in the political arena like a pack of wolves in

sheeps clothing. Obvious as the sun, the dominance of political dynasties both in the past and in the present remains to be the central obstacle to the deserving but poor candidates from running or winning in elections. The worst part is, these affluent and powerful politicians do not confine political power within themselves, but with alacrity, it enables them to appoint or designate relatives and cohorts to various appointive positions in the government. By doing this, competence is not the prevailing qualification but indelible loyalty to his master suffice. These practices are already deeply imbedded in the roots of Philippine politics in fact it has already become a tradition by inaction. It is high time to reexamine and to give serious thoughts on this matter; we have to make a stand if we want our nation to survive. At this juncture, I think its about time that the Filipino people should realize and learn how to passionately appreciate their right to vote. History tells us that elections serve as an invincible instrument to effect change towards our political, social and economic system. Indeed with one powerful stroke of the pen in our ballots, we

have the opportunity to either break the chains of political dynasties or to further tighten the cuffs of corruption that tends to slowly sap out our flesh.