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Rafael M. Alunan III

To Take A Stand

Just exactly do we mean when we talk about dynasties? Far from what we read in myths and legends, and see in the movies, dynasties are machineries of power that seek to perpetuate their own bloodlines and expand their reach.

They thrive on inequalities and present themselves as naturally superior to the common people they rule or dominate. Dynasties look upon marriages as ways of forging alliances with other dynasties, thereby expanding and extending their hold.

Two deans of Schools of Governance, Ronald Mendoza (Ateneo de Manila University) and Julio Teehankee (De La Salle University) point out the dangers posed by dynasties to development and good governance. They not only limit voters’ options but also hinder local government units from reaching their full potential. Where dynasties reign, the typical results are lower standards of living (as measured by average income); lower human development (as measured by the Human Development Index); and higher levels of deprivation (as measured by poverty incidence, gap and severity).

Political dynasties — characterized as families that dominate their local jurisdictions through politically and economically coordinated efforts — have long been a fixture in Philippine politics. Used as a base to gain national prominence and positions of national political importance, a family dynasty allows its members to lead or represent their areas for successive generations either successively or simultaneously.

The 1987 Constitution bans political dynasties but subject to an enabling law by Congress. Congress, which is dominated by political dynasties, has failed to pass an enabling law defining a political dynasty since that time. While there were attempts in the past to define a political dynasty such as the Anti-Dynasty Bill, the attempts miscarried and ended in failure.

As a way out, retired Supreme Court associate justice Vicente Mendoza proposes that the 1987 Constitution, should it be amended, must have a self-executory anti-dynasty provision that directly prohibits political dynasties. The degree of consanguinity must also be precisely defined and determined. The PDP-Laban Federalism Institute version concurs that an amended Constitution should have a self-executory provision. Their draft is currently under review.

I really think it is important that we remove dynasties from the equation if we are to shift to a federal form of government. Dynasties have kept society divided, mercenary and parochial. Federalism may be stillborn if dynasties remain a fixture in Philippine politics and governance. Federalism is seen by its supporters as a fresh start to catapult the country toward real change. It cannot start on the wrong foot, corroded and weighed down from the start by the rust and barnacles of the old order. Here’s why.

Patterns of political dynasties offer a very sobering view of political inequality. A 2012 study of the 15th Congress (2003–2007) suggests that about 80% of dynastic legislators experienced an increase in their net worth. Dynasties in Congress also tend to dominate the major political parties, comprising anywhere from 60–80% of each of the major parties (see Figure 1).

Dynasties In Political Parties

At the Senate hearing this February, Dean Mendoza cited studies that fat political dynasties are behind worsening poverty in the poorest areas of the country. He also repeated this in my DZRH TV-radio-online show Thinking Out Loud with Raffy Alunan on Saturday. Fat dynasties have more than two family members simultaneously occupying government positions (sabay-sabay), while thin political dynasties have members succeed each other in office (sunod-sunod).

From 2007 to 2016, Mendoza said the powerful clans per position rose from 75% to 78% among congressmen; from 70% to 81% among governors; and from 58% to 70% among mayors. There is definitely a correlation between the poorest areas in the country and the concentration of dynasties there. The Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao, the second poorest province in the country, is a good example — more than 20 relatives in local government units.

Prof. Amado Mendoza (University of the Philippines) cites a socioeconomic reality: “The poor need a ‘padron (patron)’ which explains why dynasties thrive.” They’re the ones the poor run to when they need money, or during natural calamities, or be their godparents in weddings and baptisms. The debt of gratitude or “utang na loob” keeps them on top. This cultivated dependency entrenches the political dynasties.

Dean (Ronald) Mendoza adds that democracy is endangered because most voters don’t have the power to choose wisely and freely. Checks-and-balances don’t work, resulting in impunity and corruption in governance. Mendoza’s 2012 study correlated poverty to fat political dynasties. His findings identified 10 provinces with the largest dynastic representation as the following: Maguindanao, Apayao, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Ilocos Norte, Abra, Negros Occidental, Ilocos Sur, Quirino, and Cebu. The Philippine Statistics Authority’s 2012 official poverty statistics revealed that six of these provinces were among those with very high poverty incidence.

Dynasties in provinces

The poor under the dynasties do not have the capacity to challenge them. Fat dynasties maintain their power through webs of patron-client relations that enforce their hold through a combination of coercion and suasion. They disempower the citizenry from appropriately and adequately responding to socioeconomic problems; compromise the common good for self-serving interests; and thwart the deserving from government service. And they operate at strategic levels that lead to “state capture” hijacked by the elite to further their interests.

But are political dynasties necessarily all bad, Lila Ramos-Shahani asks? Those who defend dynasties argue that they provide strong and capable leaders, well-known and respected in their regions, who are in the best position to promote positive development outcomes and pursue long-term, continuous structural reforms. Political dynasties can thus produce qualified and dedicated officials. True, but, unfortunately, exceptions are not the general rule, not by a long shot.

In the main, dynasties have held a stranglehold on the Philippines political and economic landscapes. There is a correlation between our state of poverty and underdevelopment to the dictates of those who continue to dominate our lives. The time has come to break through. Onward to real change!


Rafael M. Alunan III served in the Cabinet of president Corazon C. Aquino as secretary of Tourism, and in the Cabinet of president Fidel V. Ramos as secretary of Interior and Local Government.