The Dynastical Philippine Government

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Democracy of this manner has two preconditions: the society must be small enough for citizens to be capable of attending debates and voting on issues, and its economy must provide these citizens with enough leisure time to engage in politics. When the United States colonized the Philippines in 1898, it planned to gradually grant self-determination to the country as the principles of democracy were imbibed by the population. However, as education was not extensive, the elite and the educated benefited most from the system instituted by the US, which was largely executed by officers of the US army.

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Filipinos worked in the American administration and swiftly came to value the concept of self-government. By 1917, when the US decided to institute its policy of ‘Filipinisation’, the elite was equipped to assume positions vacated by departing US military officers. Between 1917 and 1935, when the Commonwealth came into existence, political parties were formed and most of the population was educated into accepting the principles of democracy, which meant having a ruling party and an opposition. In this respect, the Philippines was drastically different from many Asian countries which gained independence a few years later. These countries did not generally accept an opposition as a normal feature of a democracy. The small elite that controlled the political process realized that each party would have its turn in government. The Nacionalista and Liberal parties, which differed little ideologically, dominated politics; and politicians switched parties to gain office. However, the democratic system that developed did not represent the majority of the population. The concept of democracy in the Philippines is such that the majority of the less fortunate are the priority of the government. The Philippines has developed its different sections, fields, and specializations, which mainly depends on their resources and abilities to confront problems within the country. Democracy in the Philippines is the longest and oldest democratic government on record. Since we live in a democratic country we enjoy a definite portion of freedom within its limitations. However, on the other hand, the privileged classes, often the elite clans and families who sometimes hold positions in government, enjoy more power and often use it as per their will, whether for good or bad self-interest. Since democracy promotes individual freedom, political dynasties have arisen and have been the longest conflict in the Philippine government over a long period of time. If the Constitution opposed such a political dynastic government, then the right of suffrage could also be affected.

In relation to historical truth, Cabigao (2013) underscored the historical extraction of political dynasties arising in Filipino communities. The author described a political dynasty as a contemporary monarchy and aristocracy. Since pre-colonial rule, Filipinos were ruled by a monarch called ‘Datu’ who possessed all authority in the government. Successors came from only one family. During the Spanish era, dominance in power and wealth was already prevalent. A town aristocracy, known as the ‘principalia’, was composed of wealthy landowners. The members of these families often had the privilege of acquiring positions in the government, and the peasants working on their lands were expected to be subservient to them. These facts challenge the code of political equality presented in a democratic society. If a political dynasty is a manifestation of such a political system, then democracy is not truly valued by the majority. This suggests that the democracy, which people believe to be well-established today, is merely a facade masking the true reality.

A political dynasty is generally referred to by several informants from various scholarly journals. The consensus is that “The family is the foundation of Filipino political dynasties. Both in scholarship and, if not yet constitutionally, it is widely agreed that the definition and understanding of what constitutes ‘family’ in this context refers not only to blood relatives but also to ‘primary groups’ – small, informal, and non-specialized groups that openly and intimately interact with each other” (Tadem and Tadem, 2013). This suggests that a political dynasty is essentially the interaction of certain family members who have the ability to assume office or positions. Furthermore, Qeurubin stated in his paper, “Political dynasties illustrate a particular form of elite diligence in which a single or few family groups can monopolize political power.” This concept of a political dynasty also involves the conventional and birthright of the family, as they often want to continue the family’s legacy. Prominent families, such as those that are wealthy or famous, are typically associated with political positions. This has been particularly noticeable in the Philippines, where democracy has been historically dominated by these families. Since the 18th Congress in 1987, more than 50 percent of Filipino politicians have been members of longstanding political families. In broader terms, a political dynasty can be defined as a sequence of rulers from the same family. It could also be likened to an oligarchy, a power structure in which control effectively rests with a small number of individuals, who may be distinguished by their royalty, wealth, family ties, corporate affiliations, or military control.

Three scholarly journals have developed a study and researched the rise of political dynasties in the Philippines, which are worsening economic deficiency while also influencing historical events. Some of the main reasons why political dynasties remain a significant challenge in the Philippines are highlighted in these journals. One academic paper points out that while political candidates need votes and compassion from registered voters, the reality is that voters are often caught up in the murky world of vote buying. However, as Cranston (2013) emphasizes, the persistence of political clans can often be attributed to popularity or name recognition. He explains that “In the USA or in most democracies, voters are more likely to be fed up by political advertisements and propaganda during elections. As a result, they often fail to recognize potential candidates in the poll. Consequently, voters are more likely to vote only for names that are familiar to them.”

This point of view supports Kenawas’ argument, which posits that one of the factors leading to the rise of political families is the voters’ tendency to vote based on a candidate’s popularity, even if this leads to their choosing candidates who are evidently aligned with political families. Furthermore, Querubin, in his research paper, argues that “in terms of voter preference, dynastic candidates are more likely to benefit from their surnames representing integrity and quality governance.” This can be linked to the self-perpetuating nature of power, wherein dynastic status itself is mainly beneficial to dynastic politicians. However, Dal Bó, Dal Bó, and Snyder’s conclusion that “the longer the tenure, the greater the chance of politicians to establish a political clan” contradicts the findings of several academics. Conversely, Mendoza, Veja, Venida, and Yap agree with this claim, having stated that “the longest preparation and tenure in office result in long-term planning and implementation of their political clan agendas.”

Querubin’s research aligns with that of several academics, who collectively state that “the significant factors influencing voters’ choices are the candidates’ dominant personality and fame.”

In addition, one conclusion of an academic paper from UP’s political departments states, “This conveys that the effects of political dynasties on democratic governance are generally detrimental in terms of the distribution of public goods and services for the people in terms of political elections” (Tadem and Tadem, 2013). This means that these disproportionate distributions of public commodities and services increase financial gaps among citizens, driving them into poverty. They’re thus inclined to choose candidates (within the political elites’ agenda and manner) that offer them beneficial access to their needs. This gives the impression that these disadvantaged citizens are the main targets in securing votes. However, after the elections, there’s no more assistance or projects for the people, and this occasionally results in graft and corruption.

However, this view was challenged by Querubin when he stated in his academic paper, ” A person is able to establish a political dynasty if he/she has built a certain loyalty. These benefits can be described as indulgences that affect the voting behavior of the citizens, rather than the impulsive granting of beneficial access to needs” (Querubin, 2016). These revelations uncover the fact that people choose leaders based on the benefits they receive. It also implies that most of them are really assisted in terms of financial aspects and job assistance. Thus, it is considered as a moral obligation in choosing electoral candidates. However, such behavior doesn’t indicate wise voting. Querubin (2016) argues in his paper that existing research on the political economy of development emphasizes the role of elites in shaping the economic and political institutions that form the fundamental determinants of economic development, relative to the length of their tenure and hold over office.

Classic elite theorists such as Mosca (1939) and Pareto (1968 [1901]) highlighted the unbalanced power of certain elite groups in society. Michels (1911) noted the propensity of elites to entrench themselves in power and persist across time. More recently, Acemoglu and Robinson (2008) emphasized the manner in which elite persistence may undermine attempts to reform institutions. This leads to “captured democracies” in which economic institutions and policies disproportionately benefit the elite.

Here in the Philippines, many lawmakers are proposing laws like the anti-dynasty bill that might prohibit political dynasties. “Political dynasty should be abolished because it promotes and defeats the purpose of democracy,” according to Senator Merriam Defensor. There are two sides to this matter of political dynasty: the advantages and disadvantages. Many lawmakers, indeed, many of us, are against political dynasties. However, there can also be positive outcomes. First, a new member of a political family can complete the unfinished projects of the former leader. They can continue the legacy left by their family, and it can be easier for future leaders to develop new projects with the support of their families and familiarity with their region. The legal foundation of these arguments was agreed upon by two academic researchers, Tadem and Tadem. In their paper, they first introduced and defined what political dynasty is, according to their arguments. “A political dynasty, as defined by many, is a family wherein most members, either by blood or marriage, are involved in politics or in the acquisition of government positions.” Furthermore, in Senate Bill 2649 introduced by Sen. Santiago, a political dynasty is described as a practice where a family of an incumbent elective official holds power distributed across different government positions. These definitions influence citizens’ and politicians’ perceptions about the issue. Despite this, it remains important for citizens and political elites to understand and interpret this concept. The definition of political dynasty revealed by key informants is:

‘Political dynasty is continuity of good projects; Political dynasty is a sharing of cooperation in the government’ (Guarde A.E.; Rosaroso R.; Rama, F.; Batac R; Lasala G.). These utterances indicate that a political dynasty is project continuation and completion. Projects initiated by politician A should be continued by politician B. Also, in terms of bureaucracy, projects proposed by politician A should be approved by politician B. Most key informants stated that members of a political family usually exhibit cooperation and unity in their decisions. However, sometimes these projects die a natural death. For instance, if politician A is not a party mate of politician B, the initiated project of politician A might be wasted. Considering the situation in Philippine politics, most politicians try to establish a name for themselves or something to be attributed to them when they take office. When the preceding official is from a different party, the programs started by the initial interest are usually the first priority. Second, future leaders who have substantial politics background can seek advice and suggestions from their relatives. If their parents are politicians, their offspring might inherit their leadership skills. This hypothesis supports Bershidsky’s findings that a Political Dynasty is not consistently a bad influence. It can, in certain circumstances, also be advantageous, as it promotes politically powerful families’ simultaneous expansion of power and care for their constituents. The rule of one political family ensures the sustainability of projects implemented by members of ruling clans. Moreover, the advice from a previous family member who was officially elected and held office can be beneficial. In this context, it suggests that they are well-versed in governance. They are trained and educated in politics and know what they need to do for their country’s betterment. However, every positive has its negatives, as mentioned earlier. Many Filipinos contradict the idea of a Political Dynasty in our country and cite Querubin’s (2016) paper. Querubin proposes and states that ‘Power, as a self-expanding element in politics, really has a great impact on every civilization. Political dynasties can undermine the quality of democracy and hamper economic development. They also promote corruption due to self-interest.’ A number of scholars argue that the dynastic nature of Philippine politics has led to a personalized style of politics that undermines the creation of a strong state, which in fact is a vibrant characteristic of every dynastic government.

Several studies corroborate these points, as agreed by a number of researchers referenced in this paper, such as Querubin (2016), Tadem and Tadem (2013), and Guardo A.E et al. (2013). They address why a dynastic government might arise: each voter has personal considerations during elections, and their behavior toward a candidate can often be the deciding factor. However, this behavior is usually a result, not a cause.

A certain provision in the 1987 Philippine Constitution surmises the right of suffrage – Article V, Section 1 – stating that “Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirements shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.” In this regard, this provision can be directly applied to foster and practice the right of each individual to participate in the political concept ‘the right to vote and to be voted into office’. Importantly, it signifies that there are no other requirements aside from the following qualifications to be a candidate in politics: being a registered voter, a natural-born citizen, of legal age, and possessing the ability to read and write. This suggests that there are no explicit qualifications preventing other family members from seeking a political office even if another family member already holds a distinct government position. Such a situation raises huge questions and potential issues if anti-political dynasty laws are proposed. However, contrary to this, Article II Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines states that ‘the State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.’ Thus, providing the legislators with a basis to propose laws that prohibit political dynasties. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago proposed Senate Bill No. 2649, or the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill, in conjunction with House Bill No. 3413 by Rep. Teodoro Casiño. Both bills are currently pending, subject to further discussion and debate. The Constitution falls short due to its inadequacy. Lores contended that while the Constitution recognizes the problem, it leaves the solution to Congress. In light of this, there may be apparent contradictions between certain provisions in the 1987 Philippine Constitution, leading to potential controversies. See Article V for reference, with the proposed bills.

Regarding the particular political concept where democracy is practiced, components like popularity, name recognition, wealth, loyalty, and tenure play a significant role in shaping political agendas and the duration of political dynasties. Understanding the thoughts and behaviors of the political families, particularly their response towards prohibiting political dynasties, is crucial. Indeed, several studies have shed light on the reasons for the existence of political dynasties in the Philippine Democratic system. These include the underlying political and socio-economic structures that enable political dynasties, the inability to effectively implement constitutional provisions by enacting enabling laws, the weakness of other forces challenging political dynasties, and notably, the attitudes and behaviors of voters during elections. It is of utmost importance to discern why people choose political clans, as this shapes the political landscape.

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The Dynastical Philippine Government. (2021, Oct 16). Retrieved from