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Timely tome on ‘patronage democracy’ is an eye-opener

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Political issues such as patronage, dynasties, and brokerage have been on the minds of many over the past months leading up to this year’s elections. For many politicians who chose to run, their decisions were based on their potential to win, based on the size of their support base, and their capacity to distribute patronage.

Political patronage in this country is a fact, and for many voters, the make or break in their selection decisions among different candidates. The framework, structure, and dynamics of patronage democracy are extensively discussed in a collection of essays by different scholars on topics that will give readers a broader and deeper understanding of the power plays that are the undercurrent of Philippine politics.

‘Patronage Democracy in the Philippines’ contains ten case studies that reveal the political dynamics throughout the country

Edited by political scientists and De La Salle University professors Julio C. Teehankee, PhD, and Cleo Anne A. Calimbahin, PhD, and published by Bughaw (Ateneo de Manila University Press), Patronage Democracy in the Philippines contains ten case studies that reveal the political dynamics in Isabela Province, the City of Manila, Makati City, Caloocan City, Camarines Sur, Cebu City, Cebu Province, Iloilo Province, Bacolod City, and Lanao del Norte, in relation to the 2016 and 2019 elections.

These essays show how patronage takes different forms and flows through the clientelistic and clan networks that animate Philippine politics, and how patronage is strategically dispensed.

In his introduction to the book, Teehankee explains Rodrigo Duterte’s rise to power, a city mayor capturing the highest office in the land, as a sign of the “emergence of ‘local power as national authority’” (quoting Abinales, 2016), and the “nationalization of the local way of doing politics, which includes the entire repertoire of coercion, vulgarity, and personalized patronage (Abinales, 2017).”

He quotes Shefter (1994) in defining ‘patronage’ as a “divisible benefit that politicians distribute to individual voters, campaign workers, or contributors in exchange for political support,” and is different from corruption in that “corrupt politicians exchange public benefits for private monetary gains” whereas patronage “involves the exchange of public benefits for political support or party advantage.”

Teehankee also says: “The cultivation and distribution of patronage have been an enduring feature [sic] of Philippine local politics. Its durability is built upon an intricate network of political clans, clientelistic ties, and political machines throughout the archipelago.

“Consequently, the term ‘patronage democracy’ is now used generally to describe democracies in which ‘parties and candidates primarily rely on contingent distribution of material benefits, or patronage, when mobilizing voters’ (Berenschot and Aspinall, 2020).”

The case studies in the book are thought-provoking and will prove to be eye-openers to some. In their essay on Cebu Province, “Clients as Brokers,” Allan G. Quiñanola and Kevin Nielsen M. Agojo write, “Money politics is prevalent in the district.” ‘Pagpanaltag’ (‘giving money’ in Cebuano) is a “personal decision” of the candidates because the parties do not have enough funds. Vote buying is a matter of public knowledge, and though “against the law…is being practiced by everybody,” they quote a “veteran politician” as saying.

In Matthew David D. Ordoñez’s chapter on Makati City, he discusses the Binay dynastic lineage in terms of the concept of ‘moral capital,’ which voters may use to select leaders. “Political machinery is definitely essential in winning elections,” he writes, “but the image of possessing moral capital may affect the voters’ interpretation and even reception of patronage mechanisms.”

Calimbahin, in her conclusion, writes of “disparate and harnessed” patronage democracy in the country, and touches upon the topic of dynasties: “The degree of contestation of the elections accounts for the variation in strategies employed by the candidates. Yet admittedly, highly contested elections spell no dirge for political dynasties in the Philippines.”

The “durability of dynasties,” she says, is evident in election results when the “winners are often culled from a roster of familiar surnames of political clans.”

City University of Hong Kong professor Mark R. Thompson, PhD, says this “important book will appeal to both students and academics interested in Philippine politics and the comparative analysis of political patronage.”

As the country reaches the height of election fever today, on the eve of the elections, it is important to have a more nuanced understanding of patronage democracy, clientelism, and dynasties so we can design and implement better electoral and political systems. To break away from the scourge that these issues represent will take not only political will but the will of the people, that when harnessed is greater than the power of the state or politicians.

This book is a step toward the knowledge that will help us bring positive transformational change to Philippine political institutions and systems. It is of value to any reader interested in having a greater appreciation of how Philippine politics actually works under the surface of posters, free concerts, and P500 bills tucked in envelopes. 

For comments and feedback, you may reach the author on Facebook and Twitter @DrJennyO.

Patronage Democracy in the Philippines: Clans, Clients, and Competition in Local Elections
Edited by Julio C. Teehankee and Cleo Anne A. Calimbahin
345 pages / P650.00
2022, Bughaw (an imprint of the Ateneo de Manila University Pr


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