TWO years ago, in a different column for another paper, I wrote my objections to political dynasties as they have evolved in the country. Let me review what I said.
1. A succession of rulers from the same family or line.
2. A family or group that maintains power for several generations: a political dynasty controlling the state.
[Middle English dynastie, from Old French; from Late Latin dynastī, lordship; from Greek dunasteia, from dunastēs, lord; see dynast.]
Some social scientists, including political scientists, work on their theoretical constructs and argue that they can make equal cases for political dynasties being a force for social good, even as others make a case for these being social evils. I do not question the possibility that dynasties can be benign and prove helpful to a people. I will accept that probably there are examples in history the distant and the recent, of families that benefited a whole population by staying in power and introducing stability to a population.
However, we need to deal with our current realities and our experiences with the phenomenon of Filipino political dynasties. The original anti-dynasty bill several years back may well have targeted the Binays of Makati. But the Binays are only one of the obvious targets. They are not the sole targets. Our official history, incomplete to be sure, and many times inaccurate, records all kinds of socially, economically and politically powerful families, acting solely or in collaboration, that dictated what happened in municipalities, districts, provinces, regions, and even the nation through their collaboration in Congress.
We have heard the names, like Osmena and Duranos in Cebu; the Arroyos at one time and then the Lopez brothers of Iloilo; in Negros, the dynasts were more socio-economic rather than political but they, too, were known to support certain politicians. There were the Romuladezes of Leyte; and the Teveses of Negros Oriental. And there were the Muslim overlords in Mindanao – names like Kiram, Ututalum, Pendatun and Alonto. In Luzon, we heard of the Crisologos and Singsons of Ilocos Sur; the Montanos of Cavite; the Lazatins of Pampangga; the Cojuangcos of Tarlac; the Romans of Bataan; and the Reyeses and the Santoses of Bulacan. When one observed the political turnstiles, we see how family members take turns in occupying the office.
To be fair, many of these families initially did a lot of good for the people they served. A number of family members were known not to have abused their position. Many of those families are still there but are no longer considered dynasties. They are just “well-situated”. It has been pointed out that while people benefited, the family benefited even more.
What made these powerful families remain as powerful as they had?
The shift to the “dynasties-as-evil” phenomenon came with the Marcos-Romualdez reign. Marcos was probably the most intelligent and far-thinking President we ever sat in office. He parlayed his skills to build political, economic and social capital, and once seated, worked to increase all of those. Assured of his popularity with a re-election, he then connived with his cabal to consolidate his hold on the country by declaring martial law. Within this context, he was able to do what he wanted, but always cloaked in legality. The allies who worked with him were given the chance to develop their own fiefdoms, their own satrapies, their own dynasties.
The Marcos-Romualdez alliance developed the first of the deep dynasties – family members holding appointive positions in many sectors and elective positions in many layers of government. Through various means he managed to hold a nation in thrall as he used various means of securing agreement or negating dissent. Ferdinand’s dreams fell apart as the illusion of prodigious Philippine growth development melted away, at first slowly, then with gathering speed, and the lies were revealed.
Marcos is no longer in power, though the rest of the family is around, unrepentant, defiant, eager to re-establish itself. But the family’s resurrection into prominence isn’t “Ferdinand’s Revenge”. His revenge is the way he has corrupted the minds of even some of the best of us, people who spoke the right sentiments when in rebellion against him and his cabal, but who were astute students of the cabal’s ways and means.
These people, given the opportunity, built their own empires. They got either appointed or elected into positions of power and influence from where they built their political, social and economic networks. Instead of dismantling the mechanisms of abuse they retained and improved them, drawing more resources than even the Marcos cabal did. Today we have the Binays, the Revillas, the Remulas, the Ejercitos, the Ampatuans; and there are many more that have chosen to stay regional and provincial but dynastic nonetheless.
They used existing laws and prevalent cultural values. Our current cultural norms, rooted in agrarian society and feudal systems, in confluence with the poverty of our people to ensure a system where powerful politicians can distribute ill-gotten largesse, handing these out freely, promising more benefits while keeping people in a state of false hopes.
The system of providing patronage through “KBL” – kasal, binyag, libing (marriage, baptism and burial) – gifts and contributions help the poor, as do helping them get jobs; subsidized basic but substandard education; subsidized health services; birthday cakes plus a P1,000 gift; free movies for seniors, etc. But the social costs are clear to those who would understand.
We need to change our corrupted system. It will be a steep uphill battle. But fight it we must, for our self-respect and dignity as a people, and especially for our children and grandchildren who will inherit all these.
The author teaches at the Asian Institute of Management and consults with business, government – civilian, police and military–, not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations in the Philippines and abroad, and has worked as line manager in all four sectors.