BACOLOD, Philippines – Supporters of the two main rivals in the May 2022 national elections frame the exercise as existential.
For the opposition, independent presidential candidate and Vice President Leni Robredo is the best hope to block a Marcos return to Malacañang and end President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody, autocratic legacy.
Supporters of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the dictator who ruled the Philippines for two decades, view Robredo’s defeat as their final revenge on the Aquino clan seen as the nemesis of the late tyrant.
But a cursory look at politicians who have openly endorsed Robredo and Marcos should provide a reality check for those dreams of inclusive, participatory democracy.
The hype over political alignments covers a painful truth: IOUs to the country’s powerful political dynasties.
Fatter after all these years
After the 2019 midterm elections, Rappler counted at least 163 political families whose members included a senator, a House representative, or governor, serving at the same time as relatives in other local positions.
Clans whose members have served across several terms are called dynasties. The 1987 Philippine Constitution prohibits political dynasties, but Congress has not passed a law to implement Article II Section 26, which mandates “equal access to opportunities for public service.”
An Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) study published after 2019 says that, from 1988 to 2019, political dynasties grew by about 1% or 170 positions per election period.
“Fat” political dynasties – where members simultaneously hold elective posts – now occupy 29% of local posts, up from only 19% in 1988. They hold 80% of the country’s gubernatorial posts, compared to only 57% in 2004. In Congress, they control 67% of seats from 48% in 2004.
Philippine political dynasties have their roots in the country’s feudal past, where landowners’ words were often law to the vast impoverished masses.
Dean Ronald Mendoza, who heads the ASOG, said in a 2012 study that dynasties were the “mirror image of income inequality in the political sphere.”
Progressive political analyst Nathan Quimpo notes how the division of political spoils hews to the Philippine elite’s economic practice of “keeping it in the family,” referring to both wealth and power. But, like land, there is a limit to the number of available political posts. As clans grow bigger, feuds erupt over who gets what.
In a country with hundreds of political parties, dynasties also split and morph political identities like viruses that squirm into every inch of the body politic, injecting venom into an already fragile democracy.
In this series on political dynasties, Rappler will feature key political clans from Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Get to know some of the country’s political aristocracy lining up behind the presidential candidates in the 2022 Philippine elections.
Battle for Luzon
The Singsons of Ilocos Sur, the Mambas and the still-powerful but diminished Enrile clan of Cagayan, the Dys and the Albanos of Isabela, and much of the “Solid North ” retain Marcos loyalties.
In Pangasinan, reelectionist Governor Amado Espino III and his rival Ramon Guico endorsed Marcos Jr. and running mate Davao Mayor Sara Duterte.
Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, however, has made inroads among Dagupan City incumbent and former officials from smaller political families. Tarlac Governor Susan Yap introduced Moreno as the “next president,” but said it was not an endorsement.
Nueva Ecija Governor Aurelio “Oyie” Umali hosted but did not endorse the Marcos-Duterte tandem.
The Pinedas of Pampanga hosted a gathering for Marcos-Duterte. In 2016, Governor Lilia Pineda endorsed administration bets Mar Roxas and Robredo but failed to deliver the votes.
The Remullas of Cavite, Marcos backers, have bared their fangs at Robredo and her supporters.
Not so solid
Robredo recently stormed Northern Luzon, drawing crowds in Cagayan and Isabela provinces and roars of “Awan ti Solid North!” (There is no solid north!)
In Bicol, Marcos has Masbate Governor Antonio Kho and Camarines Norte Governor Edgar Tallado.
The Khos are the fattest of Bicol dynasties. Aside from the governor and his wife, Masbate 2nd District Representative Elisa Olga Kho, there is Vice Governor Olga “Ara” Kho, 3rd District Representative Wilton “Tonton” Kho and his wife, 2nd District Representative Elisa T. Kho.
Robredo has her share of Bicol’s political families, too.
Governor Al Francis Bichara and challenger, Legazpi Mayor Noel Rosal, have appeared together for her. Rosal’s wife, Carmen Geraldine, is running for mayor, a position she also occupied when Noel took a break after three terms.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman and daughter Tabacco Mayor Cielo Krisel Lagman-Luistro are Robredo stalwarts. Reelectionist Vice Governor Edcel Greco Alexander Lagman filed his certificate of candidacy under Aksyon Demokratiko but backs the Vice President.
Sorsogon Governor and returning senator Chiz Escudero, also from a dynasty, enjoys the endorsement of Robredo and Sara Duterte. Camarines Sur Governor Miguel Villafuerte and his father, 2nd District Representative Luis Raymund, endorse Duterte only and not her standard-bearer.
Robredo clobbered Marcos in the Visayas in 2016, except in Eastern Visayas.
Recent surveys show her lagging in almost all Visayan provinces, except for Iloilo province and Iloilo City. But her rallies in Cebu, Bacolod, and other Negros Occidental cities indicate that Marcos’ advantage is soft.
Marcos in February won endorsements from 28 of 31 Negros Occidental mayors, many from political families with close links to his father and cronies.
These include the Benitezes. Former 3rd District representative Albee, now a Bacolod mayoralty candidate, and congressional successor Kiko, are offspring of Imelda Marcos’ human settlements deputy Jolly Benitez and Betty Bantug, one of her “Blue Ladies.”
Marcos’ key Negros campaigner, Vice Governor Jeffrey Ferrer, is the husband of 4th District Representative Juliet, granddaughter of Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto.
Even with only three mayors, Robredo’s March 11 rally in Bacolod City gathered 70,000 people.
Robredo supporter Cadiz City Mayor Salvador Escalante comes from a political family, though his reelectionist cousin, Manapla Mayor Manolet Escalante, endorsed Marcos. Another supporter, Sagay Mayor Thirdy Marañon, is the son of the late Alfredo D. Marañon III, the former governor who succeeded his brother Joseph.
Robredo’s main Iloilo backers, Governor Art “Toto” Defensor and Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas, head dynasties.
Former 3rd District congressman Defensor replaced his father, Art Sr., as governor in 2019. Brother Lorenz took over the third district seat, which the patriarch also occupied in the early 2000s. Treñas’s son, Jose Maria Miguel, is running for a council seat being vacated by a nephew, Jose Efrain III. Daughter Raisa Maria Lourdes is the 2nd nominee of the Uswag Ilonggo Party List.
Marcos counts on the dynasties of the Garins, the Birons, and segments of the Tupas clan in Iloilo.
Eastern Samar Governor Ben Evardone, a Duterte ally, spearheads the new movement of local executives for Robredo. Many come from political families. They remain loyal to the President, openly endorsing Sara for vice president.
Ormoc City Mayor Richard Gomez and wife, Representative Lucy Torres, support Marcos. They are switching positions in these elections.
The Romualdezes, cousins of Marcos, control Tacloban. But the Petillas, who are also Leyte powers, have reportedly been talking with Robredo brokers.
Cebu’s political clans are divided. House Deputy Speaker PJ Garcia backs Moreno. Liloan Mayor Christina is Sara’s spokesperson. Governor Gwen Garcia has yet to endorse a presidential candidate. The clan, however, seems united behind Sara.
The once-dominant Osmeñas have only one next-gen member, Bea, running in 2022. Former Cebu mayor Tommy and wife Margot, who is running for mayor, back Robredo and senator Tito Sotto for vice president.
Incumbent Cebu Mayor Michael Lopez Rama has endorsed Marcos. His grandfather, Vicente, was mayor of the city, and his uncle Osmundo was governor of the province.
Bohol remains a battleground, with Governor Arthur Yap keeping his options open.
Robredo won four Mindanao regions in 2016: Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Caraga, and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Marcos topped the Soccsksargen region.
In Davao City, under Duterte, beating the Marcos juggernaut is a far-fetched notion even with the President’s snub. But a growing local opposition could whittle away votes as PDP-Laban officials go every which way. (READ: Duterte rejects alliance with Lakas because ‘Marcos is a weak leader’)
In Northern Mindanao, Robredo gathered a big crowd in Cagayan de Oro, where she has the support of Mayor Oscar Moreno and rival Rufus Rodriguez, though both do not lead fat dynasties.
Bukidnon’s dominant Zubiris are non-committal. Senator Migz is on the Senate slates of Robredo, Marcos, Lacson, and fellow senator Manny Pacquiao.
Robredo doesn’t have the Caraga political dynasties, but she mustered a big crowd in Butuan on March 10.
She also gathered 5,000 to 7,000 rain-soaked supporters in General Santos City, where rival Pacquiao holds sway – with seven kin and buddies contesting various posts, including in Sarangani. Former Sarangani governor Migs Dominguez, nephew of Duterte finance chief Sonny Dominguez, introduced Robredo.
In Basilan, House Deputy Speaker Mujiv Hataman gave Robredo a big push on March 16, calling her the best chance for peace of the Philippines’ still restive Moro minority. He also slammed Marcos, not only for the massacres inflicted on the Moros by the late dictator’s troops, but also for rejecting the law that created the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Hataman, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the BARMM’s predecessor, is younger than the armed resistance’s aging lions who now control BARMM. But he is a veteran politician in the traditional mold, a Liberal Party member who knows to work all sides of a fluid legislature.
His wife, Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, the mayor of Isabela City, was part of the President’s supermajority in Congress as the lead representative of party-list organization Anak Mindanao (AMIN), but stepped down in 2017 to focus on peace-building after the Marawi siege. AMIN won a seat in the House in the mid-term 2019 polls, two down from 2016.
Hataman’s passionate call for Moros to back Robredo is critical since BARMM officials led by Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim have been hedging. On March 16, Murad said he would like to see Robredo as the “next president” and called her “like-minded” leader but stopped short of openly endorsing her.
Murad had also called Moreno the “incoming president” in February, when the Manila mayor opened his campaign in Maguindanao. Thousands attended his rally, including officials and members of the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP), the political party of the MILF, which includes many powerful clans. The UBJP gubernatorial candidate, 2nd District Representative Toto Mangudadatu, also from an entrenched but squabbling dynasty, has endorsed Moreno.
Alliances in the BARMM and other Mindanao regions will continue to shift before the May elections. The mercurial but still popular President Duterte remains a key factor in the political landscape.
There is only one constant in the May 2022 elections: the clout of political dynasties. This often leads to candidates leaving ideals by the wayside in the race for votes. It will be up to the voters to make sure that political debts do not cripple democracy post-elections. – Rappler.com
Read the other stories in our Political Dynasties 2022 series:
- Political Dynasties 2022: Amid controversies, Pinedas of Pampanga expand reach
- Political dynasties 2022: Espinos still lynchpin of Pangasinan politics
- Political Dynasties 2022: Evardones reach Eastern Samar summit
- Political families crowd Eastern Samar candidates’ list
- Political Dynasties 2022: No heirs for Osmeña, Rama in Cebu City
- Political Dynasties 2022: Garin patriarch of Iloilo hard act to follow
- Political Dynasties 2022: Benitez clan guns for Bacolod City
- Negros Occidental big clans offer ‘soft’ support for Marcos
- Political Dynasties 2022: Zubiris rule Bukidnon after Fortich
- Political Dynasties 2022: Clashing families spring from Dongkoy Emano
- Political Dynasties 2022: Dongkoy Emano morphs into kingpin after EDSA revolt
- Political Dynasties 2022: Two families dominate Zamboanga Sibugay politics