Who’s Afraid Of Dynasties?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

A most controversial subject for some, but some of the noisiest kind, for sure. In the Philippines, derived from a Constitution that spoke against political dynasties but no specific law to define what dynasties are, and how to prevent them, and consequently, no implementing rules and regulations.

We have nothing but dictionaries to work with as far as definitions are concerned. Unfortunately, though, dictionaries are good at giving definitions but no help whatsoever in suggesting how to dismantle a cyclic reality in many societies.

Let me cite two main definitions of dynasties:

1) a line of hereditary rulers of a country, and

2) a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics or another field.

It really gets more interesting when dictionaries help in definitions. It objectifies many emotional and partisan views, and even expands the playing field to the more substantive. The 1987 Constitution says “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” No deadline, no definition, and equals no nothing.

Not that it is bad, the no nothing part, in a democracy, that is.

A line of hereditary rulers of a country. In a democracy, there is no line of hereditary rulers, period. The succession to power is through elections, the winner being those chosen freely by the majority (or plurality) of qualified voters. That knocks out the most important definition, and reality, of dynasties.

Let’s go the the other major meaning – the succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in business, politics or another field. This meaning is even more fluid, not subject to control precisely because it is fluid, and because prominence in business cannot be divorced from prominence in politics. Not in the Philippines, anyway.

In fact, referring to two articles ago about poverty triggered by some statements and statistics from World Bank officials, it can appear by logical correlation that corruption is the lesser evil compared to poverty. If only a handful of families, let us say 100 out of 18 million Filipino families, through their wealth and business empires, can control three fourths of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do they qualify to be dynasties?

Not according to the Constitution. But according to reality, they are a greater force that is familial as well, meaning there are hereditary successions, which may not be engaged in politics directly but can dictate to politics from the power of money and influence. Put all the politicians together and they cannot control the economy as much as the dynastic moguls or taipans do. So who controls who? So which dynasty ought to be prevented more?


In the case of the business or economic elite, the citizens of the republic do not elect them. The ones who begin the dynasty may just have been an ordinary Filipino who got lucky, and we have many examples of that from Henry Sy to Lucio Tan. But as they grow bigger and reach the status of mogul or taipan, practical reality forces them to engage politicians, and vice versa. There is no person among the business elite who have no political engagement, mostly as political donors or even as political backers, maybe even as kingmakers.

It is again corruption that drives the noise against political dynasties. Politicians with good public records and supported by their constituents are not the objects of anti-dynasty moves, they are, in fact, the opposite. And by being politicians with bad service record and not supported by their constituents, they cannot become dynasties.

Except by force. And we don’t need new laws against that, just a no-nonsense police or military.

Except by bribery or vote-buying. Again, we don’t need new laws against that but an effective application of those laws.

The problem is solving one problem by being blind to what caused them in the first place. If the use of force or intimidation is addressed, dynasties will have to be popularly elected. If vote-buying is confronted effectively, then dynasties will have to be popularly elected. And if they are elected by their popularity, no law should intervene to subvert the popular will. In a democracy, that is.

Social media, and an outspoken politician or two, often point to the electorate as the cause of corrupt politicians getting into office. I have often heard the word “bobo” to describe voters who elect politicians who are not the choice of the ones calling them “bobo.” I wish these voters will keep electing candidates they like, especially if these candidates are not the preferences of those calling them “bobo.” The lack of respect for others, poor as they may be, less educated as they may be, is worse than corruption, period. In the past, bloody revolutions have cut their heads off.

Those who are extending the state of poverty from colonial times to the present are not corrupt politicians, they are also corrupt businesses. Can politicians buy businessmen or can businessmen buy politicians? Can politicians really scare businessmen, especially the top 50 families who control the economy? Or are businesses playing ball because they want advantages for their businesses?

We cannot be selective in wanting to dismantle dynasties. We cannot be stupid in our reasons for wanting to do so. If it is corruption we wish to dismantle, dynasties make it easier for us to identify whom to watch. We just need to know who has the power. More than that, we just need to know who can buy power.

Some good news, though. Studies have it that family corporations last only from two to three generations. Politicians will not fare better.



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