More than three decades ago, the people ratified the 1987 Constitution, which many saw as a reformist document aimed at addressing the ills and abuses of the past.
Aimed at preventing the monopoly of elective positions by a few powerful clans, Section 26 of the Declaration of Principles and State Policies clearly states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
Yet every year since 1988, the control of political dynasties has been growing by about 1 percent of all local elected positions, such that they now possess 29 percent of these posts, a study by the Ateneo School of Government showed.
"Fat dynasties"—families whose members simultaneously hold elective posts—occupied 19 percent of all local elected positions in 1988. Since then, the number has grown across gubernatorial, vice gubernatorial, congressional, mayoral, vice mayoral, provincial board member, and councilor posts, the Ateneo study shows.
About 57 percent of governors were fat dynasties in 2004. This swelled to 80 percent after the 2019 midterm elections. The same was seen among congressmen where fat dynasties accounted for 48 percent in 2004 and 67 percent by 2019.
The same trend can be seen in positions for vice governor, mayor, provincial board members and councilors.
"Research suggests that more fat dynasties weaken checks-and-balances in our democracy, leading to bad governance, and consequently weaker development outcomes," says ASoG Dean Ronald Mendoza.
"Fat dynasties" are also more prevalent in poorer provinces with unfavorable business climates and low levels of development.
Among all provinces, Maguindanao had the highest percentage of fat dynasties, with half or 51 percent of elected posts occupied by political clans with two or more family members in office.
This was followed by Pampanga (49 percent), Bulacan (45 percent), Davao Occidental (41 percent), Isabela (41 percent), and Sulu (40 percent).
From a legal perspective, political dynasties continue to exist because there is no enabling law that would institute the prohibition in Section 26 of the Constitution.
Attempts at passing such a law have failed over the last 30 years, largely because lawmakers from powerful clans have a vested interest in seeing to it that such legislation never prospers.
Mendoza suggests that instead of an outright ban on dynasties, it would be best to regulate them by prohibiting family members from serving simultaneously in office, while allowing them to serve in succession.
This compromise, he suggests, might help level the electoral playing field for all.
But even a law may not be enough. On a more fundamental basis, political dynasties thrive because voters simply keep voting mindlessly for candidates with the same family name, unable or unwilling to break from inertia or “tradition.”
Clearly, some kind of voter education will be required.
"Give a chance to others. Our democracy is not a family business," Mendoza says.
We fully subscribe to this view, but we should also recognize that for this to happen, voters will have to begin thinking for themselves.