Future of Asia

Philippines Vs. Political Dynasties

The Philippines badly needs a constitutional requirement for a law against political dynasties.

Credit: Prachatai (www.flickr.com)

Takeaways


  • The Philippines badly needs a constitutional requirement for a law against political dynasties.
  • Keeping things in the family is the basis of most Philippine politics. A constitutional requirement for a law against political dynasties has never been passed.
  • Duterte’s daughter has founded her own political party and has presidential ambitions.
  • Demonization of the media goes hand-in-hand with the erosion of liberal democracy. That is evident in the US as it is in the Pacific region.

Demonization of the media goes hand-in-hand with the erosion of liberal democracy. That is evident in the United States as it is in the Pacific region.

Consider the Philippines. The country’s foul-mouthed President Rodrigo Duterte has declared war on one of the few respected news sites in the country – Rappler. In January 2018, it had its certificate of incorporation cancelled and recently it was charged with tax evasion.

For now, Rappler carries on. But its fate is tenuous in a nation where the boundary between what is a legal matter and what is merely political is thin. It does not help that Filipino politicians are gearing up for mid-term elections in March 2019. The whole House, half the Senate and innumerable mayors are at stake.

Fair voting, not candidates

The voting itself will be free and fair. The same cannot be said for the candidate lists. Most conspicuously, candidates for 12 Senate seats include three politicians under indictment for plunder. They have allegedly siphoned off billions of pesos in public funds intended for public projects in what is known as the “pork barrel” scam.

One, Bong Revilla, is currently in jail while his trial grinds slowly forward. Two others are out on bail: One is 94-year-old Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos’ martial law enforcer who changed sides just in time to join uprising against Marcos.

Enrile was granted bail last year on grounds of ill-health, but he is standing for the Senate again and has recently made a point of defending the Marcos era.

The other is Jinggoy Estrada, a son of Joseph Estrada, the film star who was ousted as President in 2004 and convicted of plunder before being pardoned. Jinggoy’s half brother J.V. Ejercito is also standing again for the Senate.

Other Estradas have long ruled the city San Juan, part of Manila, where Jinggoy’s daughter is running for mayor.

While these candidates are free, one sitting Senator, Leila de Lima, has been in jail since February 2017 on plainly concocted charges of getting money from drug barons when she was Secretary of Justice under Aquino.

De Lima had long been a critic of Duterte extra-judicial killings. Duterte is also trying to engineer the arrest of another critical senator, Antonio Trillanes, for offences of which he had long been pardoned.

Keeping things in the family

Keeping things in the family is the basis of most Philippine politics. A constitutional requirement for a law against political dynasties has never been passed. As a result, candidate lists for all show a greater than ever dynastic tendency.

The candidate list for the Senate seats includes Sonny Angara, son of Edgardo Angara (who was a Senator for four terms between 1987 and 2013).

Sergio Osmena III, scion of Cebu’s most famous family and already a two-term senator is running again, as is Nancy Binay, daughter of former vice-president Jejomar Binay. Like her father, mother and sister, she is the former mayor of the nation’s business capital, Makati.

Sadly, relying on dynastic Senate candidates is a bipartisan tradition in the Philippines. In the opposition ranks, it includes Manual “Mar” Roxas, grandson of a president and Interior Secretary under Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino.

The latter’s cousin, Paulo “Bam” Aquino, is also up for re-election. Joining the race are Jose Diokno and Lorenzo Tanada, both sons of human rights lawyers who had made their names in the struggle against Marcos.

Duterte: A fine bad example

President Duterte himself continues to set a fine example of dynasticism. This stands in contrast to his claims to bring in new blood (although his father was a minister under Marcos).

Duterte’s daughter Sara is almost certain to be re-elected as mayor of Mindanao’s largest city, Davao, one son as vice-mayor and one as a Congressman. Sara is a major influence over her father. She has founded her own political party and has presidential ambitions.

The ousted dictator’s son, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, is another likely presidential contender. He is still trying to prove that he was robbed of the vice-presidency in 2016 by ballot irregularities.

With the winner Leni Robredo now heading opposition to Duterte, there are fears she will be pushed aside as the clout of the ill-gotten Marcos millions triumph over Robredo, a popular but low-key widow of a respected minister under Aquino.

Dynasties more entrenched than ever

Dynasties are more entrenched than ever, a fact that partly explains why plunder charges either never stick or are soon followed by pardons.

Former president Gloria Arroyo is again a power center as Speaker of the House, despite having been jailed for electoral fraud and misuse of public funds before being acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2016 – after Duterte came to power.

Impunity for the well-connected is everywhere. Two and a half years of Duterte’s “signature” war on drugs, several thousand petty drug dealers have been killed, but almost no major drug lords.

There also is little sign of reduced drug availability. After one recent huge undetected drug import, Duterte ordered the military to take over the Bureau of Customs, but it is poorly placed to counter the profits from smuggling. The rot starts at the top, the major national institutions.

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About Philip Bowring

Philip Bowring is an Asia-based journalist, formerly the editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and columnist for the International Herald Tribune.

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