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COMMENTARY: To the Con-Com: Beware of Feudarilism!

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews / 12 Feb) – It is an accepted fact that traditional political families control the Philippine political system. Hence, it is only prudent to be circumspect in pursuing federation. We certainly do not want to see feudal masters lording over the constituent states of the federal republic.

To begin with, let us recognize the problem of political dynasties making local governance a family enterprise. Father is governor; mother is congresswoman; brother is mayor; sister is councilor; niece is SK; cousin is barangay captain; kinakapatid is vice-mayor, and so forth. This phenomenon is summed up perfectly by respected Mindanao civil society activist, Guiamel Alim, asclan-inclusive government.

Worse of all, political power concentrated in select families has meant accountability in local government is no longer a standard for public service. Experience has shown that blood relations always trump over the public’s demand for checks-and-balance amongst officials of the munisipiyo and kapitolyo. Obviously, when this happens, unabated graft and corruption infects local governance itself.

This lack of leadership accountability has then led to the current reality we are all suffering now, fittingly described by political commentator Alex Lacson as follows ─ “In the 1970s, there was only one dictatorship in the country: the Marcos dictatorship. Today, we have many “small dictatorships” in the form of political dynasties.”

Sadly, as local communities continue to suffer inept and corrupt dynastic leaders, those who can, and are willing to, push for reforms but do not have the inherited political advantage are effectively denied the right to run for public office because of the monarchical nature of local government. Indeed, Filipinos who are more qualified, passionate and patriotic, including many from the youth ranks, are deprived of the opportunity to establish clean and effective local governance simply because they do not have the right surname.

This dire circumstance has become the bane of local communities seeking socioeconomic progress. According to a ground-breaking study on political dynasties by the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center in 2012, lower standards of living, lower human development, and higher levels of deprivation and inequality persist in the districts governed by local leaders who are members of a political dynasty. A more alarming development is that the ‘fattest’ dynasties — those with the most family members in office — are ensconced in the poorest parts of the country.

Clearly, the chokehold of local dynasties on local governance brings to bear serious doubts on the country’s readiness to shift to a federal form of government. There is a very real fear that enhancing local autonomy with political dynasties still having their way in local government will prove disastrous for local communities. Increasing local authority can further entrench these traditional families in their positions of power thereby condemning many Filipinos in perpetual misery.

Let me clarify though that the presence of political dynasties does not mean forgoing federation. However, the continued domination of these families in our political system demands a nuanced approach. Meaning, simply changing the structure of government through charter change without addressing the fundamental distortions identified here will not bring the development outcomes we all desire.

Therefore, the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) organized by the administration must incorporate mechanisms in their draft charter that regulate, if not prohibit altogether, local dynasties. At the very least, there should be a provision that explicitly allows only one member of a family to be in local government.

Moreover, the draft charter must establish a credible and coherent political party framework. There should be a provision that unequivocally prohibits turncoatism. A sensible political finance regulatory regime is imperative as well.

Lastly, the administration’s Con-Com must consider enhancing sectoral representation in local government. The draft charter must institutionalize the presence of civil society in local governance because this can diminish the influence of traditional elites in local politics.

During the campaign, the President promised bringing substantial change in the way government works. Making sure that these reforms are duly considered in the constitutional revision process is one way of delivering on that promise.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.”)

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