[OPINION] Comelec’s role in implementing ban on political dynasties

In the hearing, Dean Mendoza cited statistics to show that some of the poorest areas in the country also have the highest concentration of dynasties. Maguindanao, for example, which is the second poorest province in the country, has the highest concentration of political dynasties. 

He advocates that these political dynasties should be the target of a law, calculating that banning dynasties can free up 25% of local government positions for the young and upcoming leaders. 

Now how do we restrict political dynasties for a more inclusive elections? 

As early as 1986, or 33 years ago, in the drafting of the 1987 Constitution, its framers were already aware of the evils of political dynasties. Thus, in Article II, Section 26, of the final version of the Constitution, a policy was unequivocally set: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Unfortunately, despite the clear thrust of the provision, its framers tasked the dynasty-populated Congress to define “political dynasties” – a constitutional design seen by many as self-cancelling. It was a flaw that could potentially reduce the supposedly strongly-worded prohibition to a mere lip-service. 

Those fears turned out to be true. After many decades, the phrase “political dynasties” remained undefined, and the prohibition unenforced. In law school, we have been taught of a defeatist interpretation that said the prohibition is “non-self executory,” that an enabling law is needed to implement it. Congress failed to rise above its members’ self-interest. People, in turn, have lost their enthusiasm and accepted it as national fate, an inescapable curse on Filipinos.  

On January 15, 2016, however, Congress surprisingly compromised and promulgated Republic Act No. 10742 or the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015. It provided the qualifications for Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) officials and, more importantly, effectively defined the phrase “political dynasty” for the very first time since 1987, or after 29 years, to wit: 

SECTION 10. Qualifications. – An official of the Sangguniang Kabataan, either elective or appointee, must be a citizen of the Philippines, a qualified voter of the Katipunan ng Kabataan, a resident of the barangay for not less than one (1) year immediately preceding the day of the elections, at least eighteen (18) years but not more than twenty-four (24) years of age on the day of the elections, able to read and write Filipino, English, or the local dialect, must not be related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national official or to any incumbent elected regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay official, in the locality where he or she seeks to be elected, and must not have been convicted by final judgment of any crime involving moral turpitude.

Although passed in the context of SKs, it cannot be denied that Congress, in Republic Act No. 10742, has effectively defined “political dynasty” to mean relationship “within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national official or to any incumbent elected regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay official, in the locality where he or she seeks to be elected.”  

Now, did Congress, in defining “political dynasty” in Republic Act No. 10742, unwittingly “enable” the anti-political dynasty provision of the 1987 Constitution? 

Many would readily argue that the law was exclusively intended for SK officials, not covering other local and national elective positions. This interpretation, however, gives Congress too much discretion than what the text of the 1987 Constitution actually provides.  

To interpret otherwise is to give Congress a discretion to rewrite or even reverse a clearly-defined constitutional policy by mere inaction. It must be noted that the Constitution did not give Congress a magic switch to turn on or off its anti-political dynasty provision or an option for its selective application – i.e., only to SK candidates. No such discretion was written or can be inferred in Section 26 of Article II. To me, what was clearly asked of Congress is for it to “define” what a “political dynasty” is and to determine the extent of the prohibition. And it already did in Republic Act No. 10742.

This is further apparent in the fact that the framers especially used the phrase “as may be defined by law.” It was only used twice, unlike “provided by law” or “provided for by law,” which were used 46 times, “prescribed by law” for 11 times, and “fixed by law” for 5 times. The only other instance that it was used is as regards the mandate to expropriate idle or abandoned agricultural lands “as may be defined by law” for distribution to the beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program. Clearly, a different meaning was intended for the phrase. To me, it is a specific and a limited mandate to define, surely not a discretion to enable or not to enable.

If indeed enabled by the definition in Republic Act No. 10742, the constitutional prohibition can already be made a basis for the filing of an appropriate Petition for Disqualification before Comelec – that is, on the ground that a candidate is related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national or local official. 

Since late-2018, I have been advocating this argument every opportunity I got – in election cases I filed with the Commission on Elections. I hope that the Comelec can take up this issue and rule on it, so I will have the opportunity to bring this matter to the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling or interpretation.

If successful, this can potentially rewrite our political sphere in the same way that the face of the earth was cleansed by that mythical Great Flood in the story of Noah – freeing it from self-interests and ushering new bloods in the world politics. This analogy is admittedly exaggerated, but I am pretty excited about the prospect of great changes that this constitutional prohibition on political dynasty can bring if finally implemented as intended. – Rappler.com 

Emil Marañon III is an election lawyer specializing in automated election litigation and consulting. He is one of the election lawyers consulted by the camp of Vice President Leni Robredo, whose victory is being contested by former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Marañon served in Comelec as chief of staff of retired Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. He is a partner at Trojillo Ansaldo and Marañon (TAM) Law Offices.