The group of elite lawyers and constitutional experts tasked to write a draft constitution that may or may not guide the real writers of a constitution for a federal form of government struck an indecisive note on political dynasties—a perplexing issue from time immemorial. The Concom, as it is called, voted on what to do with political dynasties. And the vote for the “regulation” of the dynasties won over the proposal for a total ban by a grand total of one vote.
Two candidates from a family every election season? That is not a ban. That flexibility would lead to three candidates or even more.
That reminded us of the actual—and final vote—of the Constitutional Commission that wrote the 1987 Constitution. Then delegate Hilario Davide Jr., let out a sigh of anguish as his proposal to shift the form of government from presidential to parliamentary lost by one vote.
Davide’s resolution for the radical shift could have changed Philippine history but the old guards, led by the late Ka Blas Ople, backed by pre-Martial Law senators that played an oversized role in the drafting of the Constitution, narrowly prevailed.
The narrow victory of “regulating dynasties” was actually a big victory for the dynasties, for there is no middle ground on the approach to dynasties. Either they are banned or let loose to continue their century-old dominance of Philippine politics. If the current Concom can’t take a bold stand against dynasties, the actual writers of the constitution, if the shift to a federal form pushes through, will all the more lack the courage to write a ban on dynasties.
“The best lack all conviction…” We all know the immoral lines from WB Yeats. And the lines that follow: “…while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Those who will actually write the constitution, should a writing take place, will water down the already compromised recommendation on dynasties. As the old man Pimentel had warned, “regulation” would lead to loopholes that dynasties know how to exploit.
What is driving the indecision on dynasties, even from those who know best about law and the Constitution and political realities? The answer, sadly, is plural.
First, most Filipinos are just as divided as the Concom members. There is no overwhelming sense to ban dynasties and finally slay the century-old grip on Philippine politics.
Second, dynasties are a universal reality, from princelings such as Xi Jinping, to the Kims of Stalinist North Korea, to the Kennedys of America, to the Trudeaus of Canada, to the Lees of Singapore. You can find them in the most sophisticated democracies and tin-pot dictatorships.
There are good dynasties and bad dynasties. Robert Kennedy touring the Appalachians with sadness in his eyes in 1968 and vowing to reverse such kind of deprivation if elected President, spoke of the better angels that guide some members of political dynasties.
In the specific context of the Philippines, a family vocation, undertaking and tradition is a recurrent story through generations. Those in business stay in business through generations. A military tradition in one particular family finds sustenance through generations. Philippine families in the acting profession and in the movies beget sons and daughters and grandkids with the same passion and inclination. I am a sixth generation farmer, according to the stories of my late father.
With all these factored in, the context for a proper and learned appreciation of dynasties is lost. And that context is sadly this. Dynasties are a curse on Philippine politics.
Dynasties, once they take a tight grip over a particular province or region, dominate totally. The window for developing new leaders is forever closed. The best and the brightest from the provinces dominated by dynasties never see the full flowering of their potentials as dynasties crush and stymie these potentials.
The stymied talents take their acts elsewhere and the province and regions dominated by dynasties are the ultimate losers. Bad politics and dynasties are drivers of immigration of the talented kind.
Dynasties prematurely kill the entry/introduction of new ideas and platforms in political discourse. Dynasties are often the spear carriers of ideas in governance that are stale, moribund and warped in time.
Political science, even our own and underdeveloped political science research and study, has shown that dynasties are bad and has also offered empirical evidence to back this up.
Dynasties, in our sad, specific context, are a deathblow to our unstable democracy.
This set of negatives, tragically have never been enough to drown the domestic impulses of the nation as a whole. As a result, even the august body that is supposed to make a firm stand for the total ban on political dynasties has sought refuge in the usual timidity.
Again, “regulation” is another word for cop-out and surrender. Should the charter change writing pushes through, the “regulation” recommendation of the current Concom would be diluted further to write a dynasty provision that says status quo.
On dynasties, there is no middle ground. The constitutional provision on dynasties should be spelled out in black or white. Either a “ no” or a “ yes.”
Recommending “regulation” of political dynasties is cowardice of the lowest kind.