In its “Declaration of Principles and State Policies,” the Constitution, in Article II, Sec. 26, declares, “the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
The seemingly innocuous phrase “as may be defined by law” has proven to be the breaker of our people’s hopes.
Since the ratification of the Charter in 1987, the nation’s legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate have seized it as an excuse not to enact a law to prohibit dynasties in our government system.
If Congress has been derelict in its constitutional duty, it is on this primordial issue.
How important the issue was to the 1986 Constitutional Commission is explained by Con-com member Jose N. Nolledo in his book, “The Constitution Explained” (National Book Store, Manila, 1987).
He opined in the plenary session of the commission: “Political dynasties in the Philippines constitute social maladies that have limited, if not obstructed, the opportunities of young, talented but poor candidates to climb the political ladder. Political dynasties have made political positions the object of family inheritance (an aristocracy), have spawned graft and corruption, as well as the formation of private armies, and have resulted in the proliferation of little monarchies in various parts of the country.”
All that Nolledo lamented and feared may have come to pass in national politics and government since the Charter came into effect in 1987. For three decades, the Congress deliberately placed the constitutional provision in the freezer. It has not moved to consider passing an enabling law, except allow some legislators to posture by filing an anti-dynasty bill.
The wretched effects of this dereliction of duty and the unmitigated harm of dynasties on our system of government have now been charted by a research study conducted by the Ateneo School of Government. The study is provocatively titled, “Fat dynasties govern poorest provinces,” no doubt with an eye on publicity.
The findings of the study cannot be dismissed as just politically motivated or opportunistically disruptive. Among the findings are:
1. The poorest provinces in the country are governed by political dynasties, with more than a dozen of top local officials belonging to a single political clan.
2. The reality may be even worse. As many as 20 members of a political clan are elected to office. They could include, for example, the governor and vice-governor, and three out of the five mayors in a province. The province’s representatives in Congress also belong to the clan.
3. The top 15 poorest Philippine provinces where dynasties reign are: Lanao Del Sur, Maguindanao, Northern Samar, Sarangani, Sulu, Bukidnon, Siquijor, Zamboanga del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Agusan del Sur, Western Samar, Eastern Samar, Masbate, Negros Oriental and Lanao del Norte.
4. Political dynasties affect governance. They affect anti-poverty policies. They affect the business environment.
The study was presented by Dean Ronaldo Mendoza of the Ateneo school during a public hearing on six Senate bills seeking a ban on political dynasties in elected office.
The six bills were authored by various senators, some belonging to the majority coalition, and others to the opposition.
A Senate majority could be cobbled to support one consolidated bill.
What is uncertain is whether members of the House of Representatives will even take note of the highly negative Ateneo study. Congressmen have traditionally had a vested interest in preventing an anti-dynasty law from passing in Congress. The House is where every anti-dynasty bill goes to die.
This dismal state of affairs should be brought upfront every time congressional leaders talk about hustling the nation on constitutional reform, which could go as far as radically changing the nation’s system and structure of government.
We say Congress must prove first its resolve and capacity to enact a serious anti-dynasty law before the nation could consider at all a shift to federalism or any change that catches its fancy.