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GMA News Research: Political families reign in almost all of RP

Political families thrive in all but one province in the Philippines. From Batanes to Tawi-tawi, with the exception of Kalinga, members of political families hold public posts, both elective and appointive. In a recent study, GMA News Research has identified at least 219* political families that dominate the country’s political landscape. Some of these families entered politics as early as the birth of the Philippine nation, like the Aquinos of Tarlac, Laurels of Batangas, Lacsons of Negros Occidental and Manila, Aguinaldos and Abayas of Cavite, and Duranos of Cebu. The Duranos of Cebu were already in politics in 1902, when Demetrio Durano, great grandfather of Tourism Secretary Joseph Felix "Ace" Durano, was a Consejal de Danao. Demetrio’s son, Ramon Sr., would later become a six-term congressman from 1949 to 1972. Ramon Sr.’s sons, Ramon III and Ramon Jr, who are now on their second term as Danao mayor and vice-mayor, respectively, also held other elective positions. Ace, a son of Ramon III, was a two-term congressman before he took over the tourism department in 2005. In a special elections following Ace’s cabinet appointment, his brother, Ramon VI, was elected to succeed him. At least ten other members of the Duranos hold local posts. In the Visayas, political families that occupy at least four incumbent positions in local or national government include the Yaphas of Cebu, Chattos of Bohol, Espinas of Biliran, Garins of Iloilo, Loretos and Caris of Leyte. In Luzon, the thriving political families include the Macapagal-Arroyos of Pampanga, Marcoses of Ilocos Norte, Estradas of San Juan, Magsaysays and Diazes of Zambales, Cojuangcos of Tarlac, Singsons of Ilocos Sur, Dys of Isabela, Angaras of Aurora, Gordons of Zambales, Abaloses of Mandaluyong, Albanos of Isabela, Espinos of Pangasinan, Espinosas of Masbate, Josons of Nueva Ecija, and Ortegas of La Union. The Datumanong-Ampatuans of Maguindanao, Zubiris of Bukidnon, Ecleos of Surigao del Norte, Bautistas of Davao del Sur, Tys and Pimentels of Surigao del Sur, and Plazas of Agusan del Sur—all from Mindanao— are poltical families whose members hold at least four incumbent elective positions. Building new dynasties? Compared to the century-old political families, others may be considered relatively new. In 1984, Jose Livioko “Lito" Atienza Jr. was elected assemblyman of the Batasang Pambasa. He then became Manila vice mayor in 1992, and mayor in 1998. Kim, one of his sons, was a three-term city councilor. His other son, Arnold, is running for mayor, while his son-in-law, Manila. Rep. Miles Roces, is running for reelection The Cayetanos of Taguig-Pateros, Akbars of Basilan, Fernandos of Marikina, Lapids and Pinedas of Pampanga, and Syjucos of Iloilo are also among the emerging political families in the country. Coming back While others are just beginning to blaze their own trail in politics, some have come back to reclaim the political power that they lost for some time. The Chongbians of Mindanao are among these families. They returned to the political arena in 1987 after losing power during the martial law period. From 1953 to 1961, William Chiongbian was the congressman of Misamis Occidental. He occupied the same post again while his brother, James, was the representative of then lone district South Cotabato in 1965 to 1972. After the fall of Marcos, James regained a congressional post for the third district of South Cotabato. During the Ramos administration, James’ brother Benito was the governor of Misamis Occidental, while Benito’s wife, Priscilla, was the governor of Sarangani. At present, James' son, Erwin, is the representative of Sarangani, while Erwin’s daughter, Mary Bridget, is the vice-governor. Historical roots The power that the political families enjoy in the Philippines dates back to the last years of the Spanish colonial period and the American occupation, says political analyst Bobby Tuazon of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance. The native political elite held political posts during the Spanish period, and when the Americans took over, they created the Philippine Assembly “to coopt the illustrados who would collaborate with the colonials" and “as a way of introducing a semblance of democracy," says Tuazon. “But the political elite—the landlords, loggers, well-educated elites— who took over when the Americans granted nominal independence does not represent any ideology except the pursuit of their own interests," Tuazon adds. He said the use of money and the support of their own clan and trusted loyalists down to the barangay contribute to the success of the political families. Another reason they continue to win is the lack of effective alternative candidates who would represent new politics—or, if there were, their lack machinery to counter fraud and violence. Not all political families, however, are bad, he says. He cited the Tañadas of Quezon, who are known for their patriotism. Wigberto and his late father, Lorenzo, were former senators and ardent advocates of nationalism. Lorenzo II, Wigberto’s son, is an incumbent Quezon congressman. Sec. Ace Durano, a member of the Durano clan of Cebu, believes political families continue to thrive because of cultural reason. “In this country... it is quite common to see a family of doctors, lawyers, or engineers," he says, adding that Filipino children often follow the career of their parents. But for Dan Olivares of the newly formed Citizens Antidynasty Movement, politics in the Philippines has become an industry—a family industry that “stunts the development, discovery, and growth of other leaders." Corruption and poor leadership often result in the concentration of power in one or two families in a given area, says his brother Roger, who is also with the antidynasty movement. Durano counters this charge by pointing out that political families “who have not delivered on duties and responsibilities have been rejected…In any democracy, the greatest check is the vote of confidence of the people." Constitutional ban The Constitution bans political dynasties. Article 2, Section 26 states: “The State shall guarantee equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasty as may be defined by law." But this provision has no implementing law. Durano says the most developed democracies have no prohibition on political families. That provision in the 1987 Constitution, he says, is very specific because it was a response to martial law. He adds the focus should be more on reforming the electoral system, saying, “This really requires a deeper study. I think the most effective measure against political families is really the right to vote, and having fair, clean, and honest elections." Tuazon seconds the need for electoral reform. “There should be an infrastructure that would make politics more conducive and accommodating to fair participation of new emerging forces who will truly represent the people," he says. The House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms during the last Congress recommended the approval of House Bill 5925, which discourages “the concentration of political power among persons related to each other in the same city or province." But the bill, authored by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, was not passed before the Congress adjourned. In the Senate, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago’s Senate Bill 1904 and Sen. Juan Flavier’s Senate Bill 12 are both pending in the Committee Constitutional Amendments, Revision Of Codes And Laws. Realizing that it may be impossible to have such bills passed because the lawmakers themselves are members of political families, the Olivares brothers opted to directly appeal to the people. “We are asking people to make a comment, make opinion heard," he says. They uploaded a list of political families on Site visitors are asked to sign up and pledge that they will not vote for candidates with relatives in the House of Representatives or Senate, as well as for local candidates whose relatives are already holding local positions. --with a report from Richard Rodriguez *as of April 25, 2007