How to Become a Philippine Senator

The latest survey covering the 2013 senate race shows that of those ranked among the top twenty five contenders for the thirteen senate seats, eighteen are related to a senator (either incumbent or retired) or official of equal importance. They are:

• Chiz Escudero (son of former MP and agriculture minister Sonny Escudero),

• Peter Cayetano (son of former senator Rene Cayetano),

• Jack Enrile (son of the current senate president Juan Ponce Enrile),

• Mar Roxas (son of a former senator Gerry Roxas and grandson of a former president Manuel Roxas),

• Koko Pimentel (son of former senator Nene Pimentel),

• JV Ejercito (son of former president Erap Estrada),

• Sonny Angara (son of current senator Ed Angara),

• Nancy Binay (daughter of the current vice president Jojo Binay),

• Cynthia Villar (wife of current senator Manny Villar),

• Ruffy Biazon (son of former senator Pong Biazon),

• Joey De Venecia (son of former speaker of the house Jose De Venecia),

• Vilma Santos (wife of current senator Ralph Recto),

• Mark Lapid (son of current senator Lito Lapid),

• Imee Marcos (daughter of former president Ferdinand Marcos),

• Grace Poe (daughter of presidential contender Fernando Poe, Jr whose supporters claim should have won the 2004 elections),

• Lani Mercado-Revilla (wife of current senator Bong Revilla and daughter in law of his father, former senator, Ramon Revilla),

• Risa Hontiveros (a grandchild of Jose Hontiveros, a senator during the American Commonwealth period), and

• Mitos Magsaysay (who married into the clan of former president Ramon Magsaysay).

Of those listed above, three, namely Escudero, Cayetano and Roxas, are seeking re-election to the senate. In this regard, they share similar circumstances with Loren Legarda, Gringo Honasan, Sonny Trillanes, Migz Zubiri, Jamby Madrigal, Dick Gordon and Ernesto Maceda. This means ten of the top twenty five have already had a crack at occupying a seat in the senate. Never before has the power of incumbency been so potent. Never before has the upper house become so incestuous.

Of those who comprise the top tier of candidates who have built their own careers as self-made individuals, two are former military rebels, Honasan and Trillanes, while two gained their fame from the media, Legarda and Santos (in fact one could argue it was the celebrity of Ate Vi that catapulted her husband to the senate, not the other way around). Similarly Madrigal, Zubiri and Escudero benefited greatly from their show biz connections.

One could argue that many of the second or third generation candidates earned their prominence through their own efforts having applied themselves in gaining very respectable academic and professional credentials and careers. That may be true, and no one can argue that they didn’t work hard to attain these, but of course, had they not been born into very prominent families, they probably would not have had the precious life opportunities that were available to them.

If this trend in our electoral politics tells us anything, it is that power is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a few. To join the exclusive club, one has to either marry or be born into it. Only media personalities and telegenic soldiers covered by the media during adventurist uprisings have been able to enter into this inner sanctum.

Indeed the upper chamber of congress is turning into a house of lords. Although educated and enlightened some of them might be, it does not negate the fact that the gene pool of senators is becoming smaller and smaller as the population of our country gets ever larger. If evidence was needed to show that the Philippines required some form of political reform, then look no further than this.

Or perhaps I am being too harsh. The senate race is after all an open contest open to all. What is going on is just some sort of natural selection where only the fittest survive. In the rough and tumble world of Philippine politics, what we get in these races is what the people decide. To go against their wishes would not be democratic, right? Why shouldn’t we allow this current state of affairs to continue?

Even if the constitution has an anti-dynasty provision, good luck with trying to get an enabling law through the dynastic congress. There is the cultural argument against change. We Filipinos put our trust in families and the personalities behind them, not political parties or institutions. Any attempt at changing the rules of the game would be undermined by this reality.

Even if we changed the way we voted for our executive and legislative branches, from first past the post to say a party-list, proportional, preferential, or some other voting system, nothing would prevent families from dominating the parties vying for elective office as well.

State funding of political parties would be another avenue to approach the strengthening of these institutions, but again the problem is that families do dominate our existing parties. Nothing would prevent them from using the funds for their own campaigns.

What harm will it do if power is concentrated on fewer and fewer families? Who cares if we resemble an oligarchy rather than a meritocracy? Well, we only need to look at the plight of land reform beneficiaries in our country to see what the repercussions are.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • UPnnGrd

     Good points including what gabbyD points to.   There are so many things in they way before a Conrado deQuiros or a Randy David can make it into House-of-Lords.

  • One can only hope the youth of the old families somehow rebel against the rigid ways of their parents and seek a different, more enlightened way forward. The candidates are like stars here, and the audience is like non-critical television watchers, staring vacant-brained with awe at the stars who are rather like family. MB makes a good point, the media is expert at feeding this audience its daily gore and glory. But I fault an educational system that is flat busted, for most of the nation, and can’t teach critical thinking.

  • Manuelbuencamino


    Barring massive cheating of course, do you agree with the proposition that media plays a big role in creating the situation you wrote about? Among the top factors affecting electability to a national position is awareness and conversion (converting awareness into votes). Media exposure creates awareness and conversion, to a large degree, is dependent on how one is portrayed by media. Am I giving too much importance to media?

    • No, you are not giving too much importance to them. We live in a mediated society where our knowledge and understanding of the world comes to us through the media. Thus, the quality of our media determines what kind of society we live in.

      I often see Fozzie (Filipino-Aussie) kids make fun of the reporting of the evening news whenever it is broadcast here: the exaggerated pronunciation of syllables, the sound effects every few seconds, the loud voice overs, the sudden zooming in of the camera, the over abundance of TV screens on the set, the emphasis on showbiz news. One would get the impression that the viewers suffered from attention deficit disorder. The news is packaged as a form of entertainment. It is not surprising that what gets featured are personalities who already have name recall. It is in the end all about ratings.

  • GabbyD

    example of a survey that pulse earns money from. there is no other reason to do this survey, other than political intelligence. politicos give them money to be in the short list that respondents choose from.

    i wonder, if they arent on the list, do people still choose them in the same volumes? doubt it.

    • Manuelbuencamino


      “example of a survey that pulse earns money from. there is no other reason to do this survey, other than political intelligence. politicos give them money to be in the short list that respondents choose from.”Pulse Asia is above board. They do commissioned political surveys, when a politician wants to gauge his electability and what he can do to improve it. But Pulse Asia does not do push polls or any kind of poll meant to mold public opinion. Politicians are not its only clients so it has to maintain an above board reputation if it wants to continue in the business of taking the public pulse. Pulse Asia and SWS have always been quite accurate in predicting election results. That’s the best measure of their legitimacy and their methods. The poll firms that you refer to, the ones bought by politicians to make them look like winners, are those whose surveys did not even come close to predicting the outcome of the elections. Those are the poll firms for sale, not Pulse or SWS.

      • GabbyD

        by “earns money from”, i simply meant that this is a source of income for them, NOT that the outcome is predetermined.

        i also said that the ranking in the question depends on whether you are on the list of candidates to choose from. 

        i was surmising that pols pay to get their name on the list of senatoriables. is this true?

        • Manuelbuencamino

          No. Pulse does not sell slots as in “if you want us to include your name in our survey it will cost you x amount”. However they do conduct “personalized” surveys to assess the electoral chances of anybody who pays for it. That’s different from buying a slot in an open survey. 

          A survey like that one on senatoriables is superficial in that it does not provide deep insights into the whys behind the rankings. A personalized survey which can cost millions, depending on sample size and depth of analysis, goes into why you are number 40 and not number one. It identifies your strengths and weaknesses and what you can do about them, it helps not only with crafting your campaign strategy but also your tactics as well. 

          The senatorial survey results that we are talking about is available to all the candidates and the general public because they were undertaken at poll firm’s expense. It is part of their regular survey cycle, Look at it as advertising on the part of the survey firm. However, along with those open surveys, there are also “private surveys”, rider questions specific to a candidate. Those questions cost a lot and since they are “personal” only the candidate who paid for them gets to see the findings. He also gets a special briefing interpreting the findings. Now it is up to the candidate who asked additional questions whether or not to make his personal survey public. Often candidates do partial liftings on embargoed findings to hype what is favorable to them. Of course they keep unfavorable findings hidden, at least until they can turn them around. 

          Now some shady survey firms probably sell slots. But Pulse, SWS, and one or two other polling firms do not. First of all income from selling slots is chump change in terms of the big picture. One rider question alone depending on sample size can cost an amazing amount of money. Second, selling slots is a shortsighted way of doing business. It’s hit and run. It does not build a track record which is what legitimate survey firms want. 

          • GabbyD

            i knew about the specific question costing alot of money. 

            thats interesting. how do they determine who gets on the list people choose from? jack enrile for example — why is he there? 
            i cannot imagine a list pages long that includes all of the cabinet, re-electionist senators, congressmen. is that how it works? that must be 200+ names at least. 

            so they show respondents 3-4pages of names and they pick 12? 

          • Manuelbuencamino

            Jack Enrile is there for the same reason that JV Ejercito is there. They announced their intention to run, they are big political names.

            I don’t know the mechanics of polling. Maybe they are asked to pick from 200 names.

          • GabbyD

            i’d be curious to know how the list is generated, and whether it is in fact true that pulse doesnt accept money to guarantee one’s inclusion in the list of candidates.

            being in that list means ALOT to the probability of being called out as a candidate you are likely to vote for. this alone tells me there is money to be made selling this. 

          • Manuelbuencamino

            give them a call and ask them

  • UPnnGrd

    Gringo-Honasan and Trillanes have shown one way —   the COUP!!  —  and the military-route (e.g. FVR,   Congressman “Berdugo”)  definitely a route that is available.

    Lito Lapid, Erap Estrada — have shown another way to break into the HOUSE-OF-LORDS.  I like Erap’s route  with a stint as mayor ///  soon-to-be-President Binay seems to be on this route, too ( without the beating-up-some-college-kid-in-a-bathroom step).

  • cocoy

    I agree.