Political dynasties offspring of patronage TMT

Political dynasties offspring of patronage

Second of a series

PART 1 of this series sought to enlighten BBM on the fallacies of his contention that only the economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution are defective that need fixing, directed toward enticing foreign direct investments (FDI). It is our thesis that bad governance hinders the inflow of investments — trumping all economic provisions. We further argued that these defects are simply symptoms, not the root causes. A cursory historical review should give BBM a glimpse of political patronage as central to what ails our system of governance.

Additionally, the late professor Jose "Pepe" Abueva citing Gunnar Myrdal's book, Asian Drama, depicts the Philippines as a "soft state" and a "weak nation," arguing that it is unable to apply the law equally to all its citizens. Our institutions are captives of the oligarchy, and they serve mostly their own interest, the few rich allies and powerful politicians. Our leaders failed to unite and inspire our diverse peoples as a nation.

Another eminent Filipino constitutionalist, former chief justice Renato Puno, viewing political patronage from another angle, refers to dysfunctional democracy as its progeny: "I like to stress the failure of our electoral system to excise the virus of the politics of patronage that has infected our so-called elections ... xxx ... This vicious politics of patronage has allowed few oligarchs and bosses to rule us from colonial times to post-colonial times and their rule has brought us nothing but a facade of democracy, its mirage but not its miracle."

Parts 2 to 4 of this series will draw excerpts from this columnist and various literature by many progressives and even the conservatives in this country, disclosing the systemic defects of the 1987 Constitution that prevent our political leadership from emancipating us from the clutches of poverty, impunity, moral decay, contempt for law and authority, etc., leaving our country in the dust behind our progressive neighbors. It is often touted that shortly after World War 2 the Philippines was economically second only to Japan (after America rehabilitated the former enemy). Today, we find ourselves behind the leading tiger economies of South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and even Vietnam — that was itself devastated in an internecine war in the late 1960s. We aren't in a pissing contest with our neighbors. It is simply a demonstration that our constitution is the main hindrance to our achieving what others have done these past eight decades.

Political dynasties

Excerpts from my column ("Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy," The Manila Times, Aug. 5, 2020) could be relevant for BMM's discernment on political patronage as the root cause from which political dynasties sprung forth.

"Prior to the arrival of Spain, the islands of the Philippines were composed of settlements and villages called barangay with no central government. The barangay, the autonomous component for basic governance, was headed by a datu with a few hundred kindred individuals composing a stable sociopolitical unit.

The 300 years of Spanish colonization, introduction of a bureaucracy and influx of the Catholic Church hierarchy evolved a semblance of centralized government eroding the preeminence of the datu — the equivalency of rajah, hari or lakan of the ruling class — on top of the social order.

Antecedents

The Spanish colonial regime eventually converted the polity into its instrument for governing the territory, collecting taxes, keeping the peace — now all in the name of the Spanish crown. The bond between social classes maharlika and maginoo (the nobles) to the freemen and slaves were balanced on the padrino or patronage system, primitively feudal but a perfectly working arrangement before its nature was transformed over the centuries by Spanish and later, by American influence.

It was the imposition of another system of governance piggy-backed on this traditional bond that began to alter the character of the rulers and the ruled. The Philippines was America's first colony ever, and this baby step at colonization was a trial-and-error stage. For instance, America, whose people pride themselves on their individual freedoms, injected "Western concepts" of democracy and republicanism, particularly the idea of representative government, bypassing the cultural, political practices and roles of the datu and maharlika.

American tutelage

The concept of a "Filipino aristocracy" never was subscribed to by the Spanish colonialists nor by the Americans, effectively dismantling the concept. But the cultural imprint of centuries of clan interrelationship was indelible, where the clan heads/patriarchs/patrons were expected to perform their old traditional roles. Thus, they had to provide protection and even livelihood to their clansmen. The patrons therefore had to accumulate the wherewithal, wealth and political power to perform these obligations and tasks. And thus is a clan/family simply driven to preserve its prerogatives, its wealth and power — patronage politics at its barest.

America introduced alien institutions like the three co-equal branches of government, further complicating traditional governance. Yet, what was structurally imposed was a far cry from the American system itself. Instead of a federal structure, suitable to diverse clans proliferating in the islands, a unitary system of government headed by a president was instituted. But the most glaring defect of the presidential system is that this became the embryo upon which patronage politics was centralized, nurtured and dispensed from.

When we claimed full sovereignty from America after the Commonwealth period, the traditional patronage system was structurally ingrained as a systemic anomaly buttressed by the Constitution of 1935. Thus was bequeathed to our Philippine presidents the role of the top patron reaching its apex during the Marcos years. Marcos Sr. elevated patronage politics, practiced to perfection during the martial law years where "crony capitalism" came into our political lexicon. To hold on to power, patrons and padrino could dip their dirty fingers into the public coffers — thus a new subspecies of the oligarchy appeared in the glossary, "kleptocracy."

And in our presidential system, where the president — the most powerful position in government is elected at large — is expected to provide the resources for an expensive election campaign. This opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite, which was coming into its own, to influence the outcome. And we can only speculate at the quid pro quo this capture of political power entails.

And this goes down to all levels of elective positions. Today, political patronage has become more pervasive fomenting corruption. Our electoral processes for instance are the overarching environment upon which political patronage incubates. Paradoxically, democracy cannot exist without elections; except that in our culture, we managed to debauch the same.

With the constitutionally mandated term limits of elective officials, the desire for continuity in office easily morphs into a deviant model of "public service as a private business," becoming a strong impetus toward the perpetuation of this power base — thus the need for the patron/clan head to pass this on to wife, husband, children, or relatives. This assures the family control over its portion of the local government unit, seeding public elective or appointive positions of power with blood kin. Thus, the flowering of "political dynasties." ("Presidential system, patronage politics and political dynasties," The Manila Times, March 28, 2018.)

Next week, March 8, 2023: Political dynasty, party-list and oligarchy intertwine

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