military adventurism

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.