EDSA’s failed legacy: Political dynasties

Aries C. Rufo
Former ConCom Commissioner Rene Sarmiento says, 'We did not foresee that after EDSA 1, change will take time'

MANILA, Philippines – It was supposed to be one of EDSA 1’s lasting legacies – the dismantling of political dynasties and oligarchs which invest political power and perks in only a few.

But apart from restoring democracy, the original EDSA people power revolt also democratized political dynasties to include a few more families.

The 2013 midterm race is but a confirmation that political dynasties are alive, kicking and thriving: 2 major senatorial bets (Juan Edgardo Angara and Jack Enrile) have fathers as incumbent senators; one (JV Ejercito) has a former president for a father and a sitting senator for a half-brother; another (Nancy Binay) has the Vice President for a father, and still another one (Bam Aquino) has the President as cousin.

Moreover, one candidate (Cynthia Villar) seeks to assume her husband’s seat in the Senate, while another one (Alan Peter Cayetano) wants to rejoin a sister in the chamber. Then you have the wife of the President’s uncle (Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco) also vying for a Senate post.

Graft and corruption 

Before the Marcos dictatorship, in what has been described as an era of elite democracy, political control was dominated by a relatively small class of political families like the Ortegas in La Union, the Abads in Batanes, the Albanos in Isabela, the Cojuangcos in Tarlac, the Laurels in Batangas, the Fuentebellas in Camarines Sur, the Aquinos in Sorsogon, and the Cuencos and the Osmeñas in Cebu, to name some.

Under the authoritarian regime of Marcos, some survived and thrived like the Ablans in Ilocos Norte, the Asistios in Caloocan, the Dys in Isabela, the Escuderos of Sorsogon, the Josons in Nueva Ecija, and the Romualdezes in Leyte.

Brimming with idealism after Marcos’ ouster, the framers of the 1987 Constitution, painfully aware of the potential abuse and excess of allowing select families to have political control, introduced Article II, Section 26, which states that the State “shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

One of the members of the Constitutional Commission (ConCom), the recently retired poll commissioner Rene Sarmiento — in supporting the anti-dynasty provision during the ConCom debates — argued that “political dynasties are the bane and waterloo of young, promising but poor candidates to occupy important positions in government. While it is true we have government officials who have ascended to power despite accident of birth, they are exceptions [as] most officials would show that they come from powerful clans with vast economic fortunes.”

Another ConCom member, Jose Colayco, pointed out that a political dynasty “breeds graft and corruption,” citing the case of a former Manila mayor who had been in power for 20 years. Having been into power for so long, the mayor allowed his children to control illegal activities in the city, Colayco told the ConCom.

But 27 years after the 1987 Constitution was ratified, the political affairs of the country remains the monopoly of a select few, revolving around family members and relatives.

Change takes time’

When the ConCom was drafting the charter, they were under extreme pressure to finish the job, given the volatile political environment at the time. Sarmiento recalled: “There was political instability, coups were being staged. There was an urgency to stabilize the country and we were pressed for time.”

In their haste, ConCom members deemed it wise to allow Congress to define some of the provisions in the 1986 charter, and one of them had to do with political dynasties. Still, they inserted the term-limit provision to decrease the power of political dynasties.

But if there’s a will, there’s a way to get around this constitutional provision.

In hindsight, Sarmiento said, the ConCom failed in this aspect as they put too much trust in Congress. “We did not foresee that after EDSA 1, change will take time.”

Actually, Sarmiento said the intent of the ConCom was not a total ban on political monopoly by a select few families.  “We wanted to regulate the control of political power.”


After EDSA 1, while some political dynasties weakened their hold, new ones emerged. Now, we have the Estradas, the Villars, the Cayetanos, the Angaras, the Arroyos, the Gordons, the Rectos, the Remullas, the Singsons, and even the Aquinos.

In Congress, several bills have been filed to define and put a lid on political dynasties, including those filed by the left-wing Bayan Muna. In the Senate, Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Panfilo Lacson, Teofisto Guingona Jr, and Alfredo Lim filed their respective bills to prohibit and impose violations on political dynasties.

As one-term senator, Lim delivered a privilege speech in 2005 lamenting that his anti-dynasty bill had not been reported out in the committee level for discussion and debate.

“Now, you will see the governor has been in power for decades. His wife is a congresswoman or mayor; his children councilors or members of the provincial board; his other far or distant relatives, barangay captains or kagawads. This is a clear case of political dynasty of the worst and detestable form because the entire family practically governs and runs the whole gamut of local government leaving their constituents at their mercy and the electorate helpless in fairly choosing their deserving leaders,” Lim said.

Eight years since he delivered his speech, Lim could well be referring to his mayoralty rival in Manila, former President Joseph Estrada, who reigned as San Juan mayor for years. Estrada’s wife Luisa became senator, her term overlapping with their eldest son Jinggoy. Now, JV, Estrada’s son by another woman, is doing well in surveys and might just be elected senator, his term to overlap with his half brother.

‘This is not the spirit of EDSA’

Frustration over the political status quo prompted retired Maj Gen Ramon Montaño to seek a senatorial seat, his second after an aborted bid in 2004. He ran under Eddie Gil’s Partido Isang Bansa Isang Diwa, but later withdrew his candidacy.

This time, there is no withdrawing for the former chief of the defunct Philippine Constabulary, who is running as an independent.

One of Corazon Aquino’s favorite generals who helped defend her fledgling government, Montaño observes that the political landscape has not changed since EDSA. “I am not happy. It’s the same. This is not the spirit of EDSA.”

Montaño, 75, said that contrary to EDSA’s legacy, “We see politicians passing the torch to family members and relatives.”

The Binays, for instance, “have perfected the concept of political dynasty…from the local to the national.” As chief of the PC-Integrated National Police, he helped remove Mayor Nemesio Yabut when he and his supporters refused to leave Makati City Hall after President Aquino declared all local posts vacant when she assumed office. This allowed Jejomar Binay, appointed by Aquino to replace Yabut, to assume the post.

Since then, Binay was mayor of Makati for 18 years, replaced for 3 years by his wife Elenita when a first term limit came, and then succeeded the second time by his son Junjun, now the incumbent. His daughter Abigail is congresswoman of the city, while his other daughter Nancy is running for senator and doing well in surveys.

Montaño also has misgivings about re-electionist Sen Gregorio Honasan, whose fortunes changed from EDSA hero to senator with a less than stellar stint in the Senate. “As someone from the military, Honasan could have helped institute reforms in the institution. But he did not.”

On the other hand, he expressed satisfaction over the Senate performance of another coup plotter, Sen Antonio Trillanes IV.

Montaño laments that abuse of power has remained almost 3 decades after EDSA 1.

The very thing that Marcos’s critics and other EDSA heroes accused the former dictator of – perpetuating himself in power – has been adopted by current political leaders, albeit with more finesse.

Montaño pointed out: “’What are we in power for?’ That’s how our politicians think.” – Rappler.com

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