Just let the people decide

Ronald U. Mendoza, PhD

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The voice of the people actually leans toward change, but the choices are very much limited

Ronald U. Mendoza, Ph.D.The title of this article was the response of one of our former Presidents, when he was asked about the rise of political dynasties in the Philippines. He overcame a plunder conviction and was recently elected Mayor of Manila. Two of his sons are now in the Senate, which is solidly dominated by the scions of political clans. Defined simply as an elected official with relatives in elected office presently or in the past, political dynasties now form a very elite group of leaders in our country.

As many have pointed out, we could further clarify a “working definition” of what might constitute a political dynasty, if we wish to have a law tempering its proliferation. The main point, however, is undiminished by these adjustments — leadership in our democracy appears to be headed towards ever-greater exclusivity, and more pronounced political inequality.

If so, isn’t the electorate pushing the country in that direction anyway? Isn’t it a reflection of the voice of the people and therefore a fully democratic choice? At first blush, it would seem so, and you might think the new Mayor of Manila is correct. A brief review of emerging evidence from the local government election results, however, suggests a different picture. Given a viable set of alternatives to choose from, the voice of the people actually leans toward change. More often than not, however, the choices are very much limited, and people have little resort but to vote for members/scions of political clans.

Fat dynasties trimmed down

Newspapers and political analysts chronicling the results of the 2013 elections observe how some notable political dynasties have suffered losses (e.g. the Ampatuans in Maguindanao, Villafuertes in Camarines Sur, Gordons in Zambales and Jalosjoses in the Zamboanga Peninsula), while others have maintained or even expanded their hold on office (e.g. Marcoses in Ilocos Norte, Romualdezes in Leyte, Dys in Isabela). But what really happened to the political dynasties in 2013? Have they increased their share in their respective provinces? Or have their numbers been reduced? If so, is it due to voters rejecting them or is it because they themselves fielded fewer candidates? Is it because their stronger and more recognizable candidates could no longer run for reelection (due perhaps to term limits)? And if voters rejected them, who were the alternatives? (New faces or members of yet another political clan?)

Using data from COMELEC and GMA News, researchers at the AIM Policy Center analyzed the fate of the top 20 largest political dynasties in 2010 with regards to how they fared in the elections in 2013. This article represents the first results of this stocktaking – and the numbers could still change, as COMELEC has not finished proclaiming all the winners. Nevertheless, we predict any changes should be minor given that most of the numbers are already in.

We computed the share of political dynasties in a province by counting the number of winning candidates with the same last name and then dividing this by the total number of elected officials. (These include Congressman, Governor, Vice-Governor, Provincial Board Member, Mayor and Vice-Mayor.) The country’s “fattest dynasties” would then be those clans with the largest shares. (In our studies, we call this indicator “DYNLAR”, or the share of the largest dynasty in each province. It captures the phenomenon of multiple family members simultaneously occupying elected positions in a province. The dynasties with the highest DYNLAR values are the “fattest” ones.)

Our analysis of the emerging election results show that roughly half of the top 20“fattest dynasties”—about 10clans—are likely to see a decrease in their share of positions. Of the top 20,7clans are likely to maintain their share, while 3 clans are likely to increase their share. The notable expected decreases include the Fuas of Siquijor (from 19% of positions in the province to 5%); the Ampatuans of Maguindanao (18% to 9%); the Villarosas of Occidental Mindoro (9% to 3%); the Omars of Tawi-tawi (9% to 0); and the Balindongs of Lanao del Sur (11% to 5%). On the other hand, the largest potential increases include the Trias’ of Occidental Mindoro (9% of positions in the province to 14%); the Ahajas of Tawi-tawi (9% to 12%); and the Tans of Western Samar (9% to 12%) (see table 1).

On a side note, the researchers at the AIM Policy Center applied this analysis to the Top 45 fattest dynasties and found that the number of fat dynasties being reduced gets smaller as we move down the list. This suggests that the fattest dynasties are the ones which are expected to be trimmed the most.

Table 1. Top 20 Fattest Dynasties in the Philippine Local Government in 2010 Source: AIM Policy Center Political Dynasties Database.


Province Family Dynlar_2010 Dynlar_2013 Results
Dinagat Ecleo about 30% about 30%
Siquijor Fua about 19% about 5%
Maguindanao Ampatuan about 18% about 9%
Camiguin Romualdo about 16% about 16%
Biliran Espina about 15% about 15%
Lanao del Sur Balindong about 11% about 5%
Guimaras Nava about 10% about 5%
Agusan del Sur Plaza about 10% about 5%
Western Samar Tan about 9% about 13%
La Union Ortega about 9% about 7%
Tawi-Tawi Ahaja about 9% about 12%
  Omar about 9% about 0%
  Sahali about 9% about 6%
Quirino Aduca about 9% about 4%
  Cua about 9% about 9%
  Pagbilao about 9% about 9%
  Ylanan about 9% about 9%
Marinduque Lim about 9% about 9%
Occidental Mindoro Villarosa about 9% about 3%

Of the 10 clans which saw their shares decrease, clans decreased due to electoral loss, 2 clans decreased due to fewer candidates fielded and another 2 clans experienced both defeat at the polls and decrease due to fewer candidates fielded. Of those clans that fielded fewer candidates, 1 out of the 4 total candidate cutbacks were due to term limits of the incumbent.

With regards to the people who displaced these fat dynasties, we also found, for the provinces and municipalities which have proclaimed their winners or exhibited a running tally, 65% (11 elected officials) are non-dynasties and 35% (7 elected officials) are dynasties (albeit “slimmer” ones, or those that don’t have large numbers of clan members simultaneously holding office). This suggests that there could be a latent demand for viable non-dynastic leaders. The question, however, remains as to whether they would be able to offer alternative leadership without firm support from properly functioning political parties.

A true democracy requires strong options

We may think we have options going through this exercise of electing leaders every three years — but unless the political party system is revamped to give proper political parties (and alternative leaders) a fighting chance to get their message across and show our people a different leadership is possible, then this democracy will continue to deteriorate.

Some people ask whether political dynasties will usher the very reforms that will diminish their grip on power. Perhaps the simple answer is this: If they don’t, we may yet see more unsavory (and even less democratic) options emerge, peddling the message of change. Surely, dynasty and non-dynasty, elite and average Juan – we all will lose if our democracy suffers that blow. – Rappler.com

The author is Associate Professor of Economics at the Asian Institute of Management and Executive Director of the AIM Policy Center. The author thanks Tristan Canare, David Yap and Monchi Roderos for their helpful inputs. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the institution. Questions and comments could be addressed to policycenter@aim.edu.

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