[Opinion] ‘Gluttons for power and privilege’

A succession of family members that rule over the political affairs of an area or country for a considerable period of time constitutes political dynasty. It is defined as a sequence of hereditary rulers, or politicians in our case, from the same family line.

This reminds us of the political system that thrived in China through a succession of rulers that monopolized military rule and politics like the Yuan and Ming dynasties or the imperial Tang dynasty that ruled the country from 618 to 907.

Recently, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago tagged the Philippines as the “world’s capital of political dynasties.” There is basis to this claim. Jigger Latoza of the University of San Agustin, during his lecture on political dynasty to the members of local media, revealed that there are about 178 dominant and active political dynasties scattered all over Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Some of their members have been in the position of power for 20 to 30 years and don’t show any signs of retiring as the new and younger members of the family are active in civic and political affairs in their respective localities.

Political dynasty, according to Latoza,  dates as far back as the pre-colonial Philippines established by the maharlika class. The maharlika class system prevailed even before the Spanish colonialism but this  was cultivated by the Spaniards in their more than 400 years of colonial rule. It is in this period that political dynasty became fully solidified in the political life of Philippine society because  Spanish-backed local elite were put in the position of authority over the people as administrators of political affairs and taxation through the principalia or gobernadorcillo.

The 50 years of US colonialism sustained this through the system of regulated candidacy and limited voting during elections. Land owners were accorded the privilege to run as candidates during elections. The same section of society exercises the privilege of the right of suffrage in spite of the fact that the elite represents less than one percent of the total population at that time.

It is through this system that the local elite were catapulted into power in the elections of the early 1900’s. The Philippine Assembly or the Philippine Congress from 1907 to 2004 has since become the breeding ground of some “160 families continuously serving each with two or more members, accounting for 424 of 2,407 men and women elected during the period.”

Moreover, in the “post-war House of Representatives or the 1946 Congress, of the 98 congressmen elected, 61 came from families with elective positions from 1907 to 1941.”

The statistics are of course increasing through the years as the old elite are expanding their interests from agriculture to industries while younger elites are emerging and were slowly taking strong foothold in new industries and the services sector. Their participation has become more pronounced in the local and national positions. In Maguindanao alone, 73 members of the Ampatuan clan are candidates in the 2013 elections.

Sen. Miriam Santiago branded those persons that are benefiting from political dynasty as “gluttons for power and privilege.” She can likewise be criticized of nepotism, but her description of political dynasty and why we must not vote for candidates that represent the latter is interesting in itself. She depicted them either as “stationary bandits” or an “equivalent of Mafia crime families,” and “monopolies and combinations in restraint of opportunities for others.”

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