People whose faith is in the monarchial system believe that the right to rule is hereditary. A birthright. In this system, only representatives of one or a few families can morally represent a group of people, or a nation.
Anachronistic and elitist though it may sound, such system, or a semblance thereof, exists in Philippine politics. Since the proclamation of the first republic in 1898 by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo, those who followed him were his relatives by blood or marriage, or both. Though not from one ruling family, the Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and other elected officials of the Philippines have, since 1898, been related to each other, others many times over. (For further discussion on this, please read RP Politics: A Family Affair).
A case in point is Argao, a coastal town in southern Cebu, which reveals a similar, if not more pronounced, pattern. Out of approximately 4,000 unique families in the municipality, only about 170 families have ever held both hereditary (Spanish-era cabezas de barangay) and elective positions, or about 4.25% of the total families. Even the town’s church officials in the nineteenth century were from four families only.
Spanish-era politicians of the town were culled from the principalia, or the native aristocracy. Its cabezas de barangay were related by both blood and marriage. For instance, in the Birondo family, Don Salvador Birondo was the nephew of Don Bonifacio Birondo; in the Lucero family, Don Jose Lucero and Don Juan Lucero were brothers who were later followed by the next generation, Dons Leandro and Justiniano Lucero (sons of Don Jose Lucero) and Don Anacleto Lucero, son of Don Juan Lucero, while Don Jose Lucero Villanueva was their first cousin; Don Tiburcio Ceballos, who was also a Fiscal of the San Miguel Church, was married to a Flores, who was a niece of Don Hermoneges Flores; Don Tiburcio Ceballos’s first cousin, Don Vicente Espina, was also the Church Fiscal and a cabeza; Dons Julian and Feliz (Felix) Sabado were brothers, while Don Gutardo Remonde was their nephew.
Intermarriage among the principalia and their children was also very common. For example: Don Claudio Albarracin’s son, Rafael, married Veronica Camello, who was the niece of Don Eufracio Camello, whose own daughter Manuela Camello married Don Esteban Mendes (Mendez). Don Lucas Albotra’s daughter, Bonifacia, married Vicente Rubia, who was the son of Don Julian Rubia. And, of course, there are several intermarriages between the Lucero and Quintanar (Kintanar) families.
Aside from the Parish Priests, who were assigned from other towns and provinces and were usually Castellan, there were several lay people who were working for the church in Argao. The first group were the Fiscals of the Church and between 1866 to the late 1880’s first cousins Don Tiburcio Zamora Ceballos and Don Vicente Villafuerte Espina alternated every other month as Fiscals of the Church. Later on, they were replaced by Don Melecio Gonzaga and Don Jose Villamor, the former replacing Don Vicente Espina upon his death in 1880 while the latter was replaced by Don Juan Villamor. It is interesting to note that these Fiscals of the Church were also, at the same time, serving as cabezas de barangay, and thus were members of the town’s principalia.
Like the position of Fiscal, the position of Sacristan Mayor or chief sexton of the Church seemed also a life-long appointment, and only ended when the Sacristan Mayor was already bedridden or dead. Between 1863 up to the early 1900’s, when their names were mentioned, the Sacristan Mayores of the San Miguel Arcangel Parish were Don Felipe Cabrera Lucero, who alternated with Don Filomeno Albarracin every other month. Upon Don Felipe’s death, his nephew, Don Mariano Lucero, the Church’s trusted gatekeeper, or described as portero, temporarily filled in his post in the early 1880’s but was later filled full-time by Don Felipe’s only son, Don Numeriano Dias Lucero, and then Buenaventura Lucero, who was one of the last Sacristan Mayores listed in the records of the Church. Just like the Fiscals, the Sacristan Mayor position seemed to have been a monopoly of two members of the hereditary principalia, the Lucero and Albarracin families.
Don Manuel Ceballos, the nephew of Don Tiburcio Ceballos and Don Vicente Espina, was the organista of the Church. He also later became Argao’s second Municipal President.
With the turn of the 20th century, and the coming of the Americans, Argao’s ruling class simply changed titles, but the same families held elective posts. Many of the former cabezas de barangay stood for local elections and became municipal presidents, vice-presidents, and councilors. Some families even managed to extend their political dominance elsewhere. Don Alejandro Ruiz, the first American period chief executive of the town, had a brother, Don Antonio Ruiz, who was also Sibonga’s president. A Lucero descendant went to Ronda and promptly became its first municipal president and later on followed by two sons and a granddaughter.
As already mentioned above, the former church organist and nephew of two former fiscals and cabezas de barangay, Don Manuel Ceballos, became president of Argao after Alejandro Ruiz.
Of the total 34 Presidents, Mayors, and Vice-Presidents/Mayors of Argao, 24 belong to the five main political dynasties of the town. These big dynasties are Kintanar, Lucero, Miñoza, Albarracin, and Ceballos-Espina, which have produced an average of five members who have held (or still hold) chief executive positions.
The Kintanar family has produced two Vice-Presidents, one Mayor, and the caretaker official after the 1986 People Power Revolt. It shares wartime Mayor Jose Lucero Kintanar, and his brother Jesus Lucero Kintanar, with the Lucero family, itself producing two Vice-Presidents and one Vice-Mayor. Another Mayor, Antonio A. Almirante, Jr., was a Lucero descendant, as was Vice-Mayor Anacleto K. Bajenting, married to a Lucero first cousin of Mayor Jesus and Jose Lucero Kintanar.
Incidentally, the head of the guerilla forces of southern Cebu during the Second World War, Hilario P. Davide, was married to a second cousin twice removed of the Japanese-sanctioned government of Jose Lucero Kintanar. The Albarracin family produced two brothers, Lorenzo and Jacinto, who became Presidents (one of whom was a former Vice-President of the other), while their sister, Vicenta, became Argao’s first female Vice-Mayor. The Miñoza family has produced two Presidents (one of whom married a Lucero), one Mayor, and one Vice-Mayor, Azucena Miñoza Sesaldo, who, apart from being the daughter of a former Mayor, is married to another past Mayor, Daniel Sesaldo. The Ceballos-Espina family has produced two Presidents, one Vice-President, and the current Mayor, Edsel A. Galeos. Needless to say, all these belonged to families who formed the hereditary and elected principalia of Spanish-era Argao, and were related to each other in complicated and many ways.
Truly an amazing display of the resilience and continuity of political families in the town of Argao, Cebu. Some people call political dynasties evil and corrupt. Believers in the theory of divine right to rule say that people will choose those whose blood has been tried and tested through time.
Whether this is true or not, this illustration on Argao’s political families is another reminder of how interesting Philippine politics is.
Text (C) 2008 Todd Lucero Sales, Genealogist and Project Officer, Argao 400 Genealogy Project.