Drilon: Time to end wait for anti-dynasty bill

MANILA, Philippines – In a chamber dominated by members of dynastic families, does an anti-political dynasty bill stand a chance of becoming law?

Senate President Franklin Drilon sought to improve the chances of the bill’s passage in the Senate, calling on his colleagues “to allow a constructive debate” on the issue.

A staunch administration ally, Drilon reiterated his support for an enabling law to implement the provision in the 1987 Constitution prohibiting political dynasties and guaranteeing equal access to opportunities for public service.

“It’s time to end the long wait. I encourage our colleagues to give the bill a chance. Let us provide an avenue that will allow for a constructive debate on this very important issue which would bring positive changes in our political system,” Drilon said in a statement on Wednesday, May 21.

Anti-political dynasty bills have languished in the Philippine Congress, where children succeed parents, and siblings end up together in the same legislature. (READ: Only 1 in 7 lawmakers are fresh faces

Yet the debate was revived after a version of the bill reached the House plenary early May for the first time in 27 years. In the Senate, the bill is still at the committee level.

In pushing for the measure, Drilon again said that he has no relative even in the lowest levels of government. He said that the bill will reform the country’s political system.

“We believe that an anti-political dynasty law can contribute greatly to our political system. We started in the Senate with abolishing the pork barrel. We no longer have pork barrel because we heeded the people’s call,” Drilon said over radio dzRH. 

The Senate President was referring to the multi-billion peso pork barrel scam, the country’s biggest corruption scandal in recent history. The scam sparked outrage from citizens, and calls for the abolition of the pork barrel. The Supreme Court eventually struck it down in a landmark ruling last year.

Drilon too was implicated in the controversy but denied funneling his pork barrel funds to bogus non-governmental organizations and receiving kickbacks. He said in the debate on the anti-political dynasty bill, it is important for Congress to heed public opinion.

“Let us listen and study well the wishes of the people. Let us check the pulse of the people,” he said.

Drilon added that the time and conditions are “ripe” for the measure, a reference to President Benigno Aquino III’s popularity in the second half of his term.   

“Given the administration’s reformist stance, we enjoy a supportive political climate, so every opportunity that has been unavailable in previous years is now [for] us lawmakers to act on,” said Drilon.

No fixed definition yet

In the hearing of the Senate committee on electoral suffrage and people’s participation last week, resource persons accepted the definition of a political dynasty in pending bills but pushed for a stricter prohibition.

Senator JV Ejercito’s version of the bill prohibits a spouse or a person related to an incumbent elective official “within the 2nd degree of consanguinity or affinity” to run for any elective office in the same province in the same election. Ironically, the son of former President Joseph Estrada filed a version of the bill. 

Yet anti-political dynasty advocates said relatives should also be barred from holding national and local positions, or from seeking multiple offices. The Commission on Elections also presented its own proposals.

The committee will hold another hearing on Thursday. 

Out of 24 senators, 18 are related to current or former government officials. There are also sitting senators related to each other like Ejercito and half-brother Senator Jinggoy Estrada, and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and sister Senator Pia Cayetano.

Senators have mixed views on the bill. Senator Nancy Binay, daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, said it may violate the principle of vox populi, vox Dei while Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, grandson of the late Senator Vicente Sotto, said it is “very controversial” and has to be studied well.

Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, the president’s cousin, said he is willing to support the bill but depending on the definition.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, son of former Senator Edgardo Angara, has said he supports a version of the bill limiting relatives within the second degree of consanguinity from successively occupying the same position.

Senator Francis Escudero, son of the late Sorsogon Rep Salvador Escudero III, said he will vote for any version of the bill but will not participate in the deliberations because of conflict of interest. – Rappler.com