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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on The Philippines



Update No: 105 - (26/04/13)

Dynastic politics
Summary: The Philippine elections are read by many as a sign of the health and vibrancy of democracy in this country. But dig a little and you will discover this is far from the case. While upon independence, the Philippines was given a western system of government patterned on the US model which appeared to work for a time, it was almost destroyed during the Marcos years and has not yet been restored to health. Indeed, and despite the efforts of the Aquino administration, in many areas the country appears to be retrogressing back to feudal values. The ongoing rise of self-serving political dynasties and the attachment of the judicial system to serve the interests of the wealthy shows signs of getting worse and not better.
As we reported last month, Filipinos will go to the polls on May 13 and more than 18,000 elected positions from national to local level will be contested. Nationally, 12 seats in the Senate are in contest together with 291 members to be elected to the lower house of the Philippines Congress.

The presidency is excluded. President Aquino has three more years to run before a new president is chosen in 2016.

Aside from debate over the Reproductive Health Bill (also reported last month) it is hard to discern the pressing issues that will influence voters. But this is the Philippines after all, where political parties and values are largely irrelevant and where political families use their influence to promote their personal agendas.

Strictly speaking ‘dynastic politics’ as it is called is banned under the 1988 Constitution; but there has never been an implementing law that would set out just what is allowed and not allowed. As one commentator put it ‘the law is toothless and vague…’ ‘…who in their right mind would… provide the gun and ammo to shoot their own feet.’

According to one local political rights group, ‘Movement Against Dynasties ‘MAD)’ there are 73 political clans controlling the country’s 80 provinces. Family members control key elective and official positions at every level – from congressional districts, through provinces, cities and municipalities. Furthermore, dynastic politics shows no sign of abating; rather, these political families are becoming more brazen in promoting their narrow interests.
The problem becomes more acute the further the distance from Manila and especially in the far-flung provinces of what is commonly called ‘dysfunctional Mindanao’ (the western provinces and the archipelagic areas where Muslim extremists are rife). As one recent study into the problem undertaken by the prestigious (and Manila-based) Asian Institute of Management recently pointed out, despite international condemnation of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre that took the lives of more than 50 people, the Ampatuan family that is alleged to be responsible for the massacre, continues to control the province and family members hold a number of elective positions at all levels of local government. The Ampatuans hold eight out of 37 mayoral posts in the 37 provinces of Maguindanao. Other adjacent provinces with similar dynasties include Apayao and Sulu, the Dinigat Islands in north-eastern Mindanao as well as Siquijor in the Visayas.

Political analysts following the 2013 election, claim that these dynasties are more prominent in these latest polls than they were even during the 2010 election. President Aquino himself is the son of a former president and as such is part of the dynastic breed although the interests of his own family lean more towards business than politics.

Taken as a whole it points to an inbred political class. It functions almost as an apartheid of sorts. Despite paying lip service to the idea of a universal participatory democracy, few among the ruling elite want to bring it about – or at least not in their lifetime. Most of them are dual passport holders with ties to the United States, Australia, Britain or Spain. Should anything go wrong with the Philippines (and, yes, it could go more wrong than it is now), they will bolt.

When the Philippines gained its independence from the United States after the Second World War, there were high hopes for the fledgling democratic nation of the western border of the Pacific. Some of the earliest politicians, post independence were among the best and it appeared for a while that the Philippines would enter a golden age. Laurel, Osmena, Quezon and Roxas remain as household names even today. These people and others like them were the political nobility of the Philippines and they were respected. While no doubt they were astute politicians, they were bound by a code of honour – what is termed in the Philippines a sense of ‘delicadenza.’

All of this broke down when Marcos came to power and societal values were stood on their head. The emergence of the Philippines from martial law in the mid-eighties saw Corazon Aquino installed as president and the introduction of a new Constitution for the country. Aquino was followed by Ramos who still commands respect today and for a while it appeared the Philippines could recover its honour.

But the media was taking hold and Ramos was in turn replaced by Estrada, the womanizing drunk movie star who, had he been left to his devices, might actually have done some good. Estrada was interested in the trappings of power but not power itself; running the country he left to his army of lieutenants and bureaucrats, many of whom were surprisingly good.

But of course, Estrada could not help making a fool of himself on the world stage and became such a national embarrassment that, despite his popularity (which he enjoys still today among the common people) he was overthrown in what was essentially a coup-d’état by Gloria Arroyo who promised much but delivered little if anything, except her own self-aggrandisement and that of her family. She too has established a dynastic political class in Pampanga province.

So why is it that these people keep getting voted into positions of power? At risk of gross over simplification it is because successive leaders in the Philippines have set about – quite deliberately – to destroy the institutions upon which the country’s political democracy is based. And with the power of the Catholic Church ensuring (until now) that birth control practices and information were denied the ordinary citizenry, the country remains steeped in abject poverty. Few people in the Philippines vote for ideas – not that many new ideas are being offered – rather they vote for whoever will deliver them a hot dinner – one hot dinner that is, and after they have voted.

While President Aquino is working to change the system, he has only three more years in which to do so. A promising start has been made at the top level but the effects have yet to trickle down and at lower levels the problem is actually getting worse. Increasingly, the Philippines is being perceived as a lawless place. The court system is totally rigged in favour of the monied class and Filipinos can make false claims against foreigners and foreigners can be charged, without any evidence of wrongdoing being presented, ONLY on the basis that the charge has been made by a Filipino. Never mind that foreigners and those hapless Filipinos that have become the victims of false testimony can languish in jails for months if not years without their cases being heard – if they run, then a hue and cry goes up that their guilt has been proven.

It's a system that is rotten to the core and shows no sign of any real change. The next time that the Philippines is held up as an example of democracy at work in Asia; think again.

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