We live in a society that prides itself as one of the champions of democracy. Influenced and fired by the ideals of Uncle Sam, the self-proclaimed greatest exporter of democracy, the Filipino people are always ready and proud to recite the popular uprisings of 1986 and 2001 as the greatest manifestations of the country’s love for democracy and its ideals. It is necessary to point here that most political theorists would define the word democracy as the practice or spirit of social equality, a condition of equality, and the common people.
How much of a democracy are we, really? We constantly boast that we have achieved an almost utopian level of democracy, thanks mainly, many would say, to our amazing display of people power in ‘86 and ‘01. But looking at some aspects of our political system and the way politics play in our society, it is interesting to note that the most basic, the most fundamental aspect of the word democracy simply does not apply to us. This article will discuss and tackle issues on democracy that will illustrate that we as a people have always been living in an illusion when it comes to the subject of democracy.
Political Dynasties and Social Status as Basis for Power
Enshrined in Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution is a provision meant to ensure the equality in access to public office. To quote: The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.
While the constitution of the land prohibits explicitly the perpetuation of political dynasties, it is interesting to note that any ordinary Filipino can recite as many political dynasties that do exist in their municipalities or cities. This is because the law has not clearly stipulated what can be classified as a political dynasty, and who are those who fall under this definition. It has been fourteen years since the 1987 constitution was ratified, but it was only in 1998 and 1999 that some legislators have actually attempted to define political dynasty in a bill. However, sad to note, not one of the 3 1998 bills or the 1999 bill Prohibiting the Establishment of Political Dynasties has ever been passed in Congress. Thus, without a clear definition, dynasties still exist.
To cite some important provisions of the 1998-99 bills banning political dynasties, a political dynasty is defined as the concentration, consolidation, or perpetuation of public office and political power by persons related to one another. By persons related to one another we mean people related up to the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, and these include an official’s parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, siblings, uncles and aunts, cousins whether full or half blood, and all their spouses. A cursory glance at the list of candidates for various public offices would reveal an astounding number of people who are related to one another, some many times over!
An interesting case study is the province of Cebu. The incumbent governor, Gwendolyn “Gwen” Fiel Garcia, is running for a third term as Cebu’s governor. Her father, incumbent Cebu second district representative and Deputy House Speaker Pablo “Pabling” Paras Garcia, is also seeking reelection. Pabling Garcia was Cebu’s former governor and upon completion of his three terms gave the reigns of power to his daughter Gwen in 2004. A brother of Gwen Garcia, Pablo John, is the incumbent 3rd district representative. It goes without saying that he, too, is seeking reelection. Two more Garcia brothers, Nelson and Marlon, are vying for Mayor of Dumanjug, Cebu and Vice-Mayor of Barili, Cebu respectively. A nephew of Gwen, Alvin Raymond Garcia, is vying for Councilor in Cebu City, while Duke Frasco, incumbent mayor of Lilo-an, Cebu, is Gwen Garcia’s son-in-law (him being married to Gwen's daughter Kristina). While other families like the Osmeña and Duranos are fielding various family members for different elective posts, none are as blatantly dynastic as the Garcias.
If truth be told, none of Cebu's electoral candidates, whether in the provincial, city, or municipal level, could actually qualify for public office, had the 1998-1999 bills on Political Dynasties been made into law. Not only are these public officials very closely related, as already opposed to the definition of related in the proposed bills, majority of these also own the major industries and businesses in their localities, thus making sure that the clout of their families would be perpetuated.
Although it has been clearly stated in our freedom constitution that everyone should have equal access to public office and that political dynasties should be discouraged, a look at our incumbent officials and election hopefuls would tell us otherwise. Thus, in the Philippines, equality to access of power is indeed an illusion.