“What do people get in the process?”
Familiar names in politics dominated the candidacies filed by aspirants for the May 2019 senatorial and local elections. Imee Marcos, Imelda Marcos, Bam Aquino, Sonny Angara, Mar Roxas, Serge Osmenã, the Binays, the Estradas, the Romualdezes, the Dutertes, the Villars, the Cayetanos, to name a few. It is as if the Philippines had been in a time warp for the last 30 years, perhaps longer, 50 years.
In the last half century, the seven presidents came from only five families. To think that the Philippines has 25-million families, in a population exceeding 106 million—the 12th largest on earth.
I blame the Cory Aquino Constitution of 1987 which broke up the two-party system that dated back to the mid-1930s. The Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party alternately provided the political leaders of this country in the half century before 1986. During the reign of the NP and LP, the Philippines was a prosperous country, the second richest in Asia, after Japan. The Philippines was exporting ten times more than either Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The peso could buy 50 US cents.
The Cory Constitution ushered in the so-called multi-party system to accommodate parties that could not break the two-party system, specifically the Communist Party of the Philippines and its allied parties and movements.
The same Constitution banned dynasties but left to Congress to enact a law to effect the ban. Being dominated by dynasties, Congress failed to enact an anti-dynasty law.
The Cory Constitution had a backup anti-dynasty provision—the so-called term limits. Hence, presidents can serve only one term, of six years. Senators can serve two consecutive terms of six years each, for a total of 12 years. Local government officials—congressmen, governors, and mayors are limited to three terms of three years each, a total of nine years.
Instead of curbing dynasties, the term limits encouraged dynasties, thus creating an even bigger monster—monopoly dynasties.
So you have the spectacle of two brothers running for senator at the same time; a family running for senator, governor, and congressman at the same time; a candidate running for mayor and a sibling running for vice mayor, with still another sibling running for congressman—and all three are unopposed.
In business, monopolies are an abomination and largely illegal. People hate business monopolies or duopolies like the case of Smart and Globe, but not in the case of ABS-CBN and GMA Network. Why do you think the Philippines has the world’s second slowest internet? Why do people complain about bad service, not to mention bad signals?
In politics, however, monopolies are a source of family or clan pride (“public service is a tradition”) a badge of honor (“the people love us, you know,” as if the people had any choice), and, most revolting of all, legal and constitutional.
The dynastic monopolies have morphed into political monarchies ruling large cities, large provinces, major regions, and indeed, the entire archipelago. This is democratic inclusion in reverse—a rule by no more than 100 families over the world’s second largest archipelago, 12th largest consumer market, and one of the most dynamic economies in Asia.
What has been the impact of dynastic rule by these 100 political families?
Is it a coincidence that the Philippines has one of the worst income equality ratios in the world, that it is the only major country that failed to solve its poverty after the entire world solved its poverty in 2015, that in ASEAN, it has the highest poverty incidence, the highest unemployment rate, the highest inflation rate, the highest interest rates, and the lowest level of foreign investments?
Thirty years ago when the Cory Constitution took effect, there were 20-million poor Filipinos. Today, three decades later there are still 20-million poor Filipinos. Probably more, because a survey says 52 percent of families (or 53-million Filipinos) claim they are poor.
The destruction of the two-party system produced two effects—one, a series of corrupt and incompetent governments, and two, corrupt and incompetent elections.
Under the two-party system, the NP and the Liberal Party LP contested the presidency. To capture Malacañang, the presidential palace, the NP and LP must first capture the Senate from where most of our presidents came before 1965. To capture the Senate, the NP and the LP must field the best and the brightest minds of each region.
Thus, you had the likes of Marcos from Northern Luzon, Ninoy Aquino and Jose Roy for Central Luzon, Jose W. Diokno and Lorenzo Tañada for Southern Luzon, Jovito Salonga and Arturo Tolentino for Metro Manila, the Osmeñas from Cebu, and one or two firebrands from Mindanao.
Movie actors must play the rules of the party convention. The parties financed unknown but talented candidates — like the bar topnotchers. Seven of Philippine presidents were bar topnotchers. During their time the Philippines was the most dynamic economy in Asia. So competence does count.
In the first Senate elections after 1986, without a two-party system, you had the funny situation of a subdivision in Quezon City (La Vista) having four senators, and the entire Mindanao island (which makes up 40 percent of our land area) without a single senator. No wonder the Filipino Muslims now want their own sub-state.
With the Cory Charter, corrupt and incompetent elections came about because with the destruction of the two-party system, the system of poll watchers was abolished.
Under the old system, the NP and LP were each represented in the three-man precinct-level poll body. No precinct election return could be cleared without the signatures of three people—the NP, LP and the teacher representative. The poll watchers were funded by the government.
Today, a presidential candidate must finance the salaries of poll watchers. If there you are 80,000 precincts, you hire 80,000 watchers. Multiply that by two —because the count takes two days and the watchers must be relieved to rest. So you have 160,000 watchers. Pay P500 per day for each of the 160,000 watchers.
A viable presidential candidacy will require a budget of P3 billion. If you are a well-known actor like Joseph Estrada, you can even save money, as he did in 1998.
Where will the candidate get huge sums of money? From two sources: One, donations, and two, from years of corruption (kickbacks, overpriced projects, shady deals with gambling, drugs, kidnapping and other syndicates) while in public service.
When you get huge sums from donors, you become beholden to them. You are their minion.
When you raise money from rackets, you become greedy, heartless and conscience-less. Because a president elected through corrupt means has to accommodate so many vested interests, he or she deliberately becomes incompetent. Because in the presidency, incompetence (often mistaken as honesty) is a valid excuse.
What do people get in the process? Corrupt and deliberately incompetent governments. A nagging poverty and the two longest-running insurgencies in the world—by the communists and the Muslim separatists.