24 Jan 2024 – Root of poverty: Dynasties or economic restrictions?

Published by rudy Date posted on January 27, 2024

GOTCHA – Jarius Bondoc – The Philippine Star
January 24, 2024 | 12:00am

It would seem not. American governance mentors in 1899-1946 overlooked or perhaps bolstered democracy’s enemy: political dynasties.

Dynasties germinated in the last two decades of Spanish rule. Municipal elections were held for gobernadorcillos, today’s mayors. Wealthy mestizos participated and won. The US subsequently put them or their scions in executive and legislative positions.

Dynasties’ roots consequently deepened. A hundred of those Spanish-and American-era clans still reign today. New ones have emerged too.

Social critic Rene Valencia blames dynasties for unresolved poverty. The former SSS president-CEO and banker cites figures on the two maladies in his essay, “Political Dynasties: Boon or Bane?”

On dynasties, Valencia quotes two studies by Ronald Mendoza, PhD, Dean of the Ateneo School of Government:

• “Seventy-five percent of district representatives, 85 percent of governors and 66.67 percent of mayors could be considered as dynastic; that political dynasties tend to dominate the major political parties, and that candidates from political dynasties register larger winning ratios compared to non-dynastic candidates.” (“Political Dynasties in the Philippine Congress”)

• “Political dynasties are linked to weak political competition, poor accountability, concentration of political power and perpetuation of patron-client relations and traditional politics. Under these conditions, political dynasties contribute in sustaining poverty in a country.” (“Political Dynasties and Poverty: Resolving the Chicken or Egg Question”)

What is a dynasty? The consultative committee on constitutional amendments came up with a definition in March 2018:

“A political dynasty exists when a family whose members are related up to the second degree of consanguinity or affinity, whether such relations are legitimate, illegitimate, half or full blood, maintains or is capable of maintaining political control by succession or by simultaneously running for or holding elective positions.”

Second degree includes spouses, offspring, parents, siblings, half-siblings, grandchildren and grandparents.

The country grew moderately since the 1960s, Valencia notes: “[But] poverty level remained high compared to Asian neighbors – 41 percent of total population in the 1980s to 22.4 percent in the first half of 2023.

“Worse, per Social Weather Stations, close to 50 percent of Filipinos rate themselves poor, while another 30 percent rate themselves close to poor.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. A member of Philippine Military Academy Class 1963, Valencia cites Steven Radelet’s book “The Great Surge”:

• “Then a dramatic turn began in the early 1990s. For the first time in world history, the total number of people living in extreme poverty began to fall, and it fell fast.

• “The biggest force behind the decline in poverty is clear: China. In 1981 there were 838 million Chinese living in extreme poverty – fully 84 percent of its population. By 2011, the number of extreme poor in China had dropped to 84 million, and the share had plummeted to just six percent.”

Clearly the Philippines’ high rate of poverty can be considered failure in governance by its political dynasties, Valencia says.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution declares: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

“Thirty-six long years have passed since the Constitution was ratified; yet our Congress, dominated by dynasts, has failed to legislate against dynasties,” Valencia laments.

“It’s about time that the Senate and the House of Representatives are made to account for failing the Filipino people.”

The view from the dynasts’ side of the fence is that they’re not to blame for poverty. The culprit for them is the Constitution’s restrictions on foreign investments.

The Senate and House are to convene as a constituent assembly. The CA is to lift caps on foreign capital: 40 percent in public utilities and natural resources, 100 percent in education and 30 percent in advertising.

But nothing bars a CA from entertaining other agendas. Waiting in the wings are lawmakers who will push for extension of their terms. As well, for scrapping of re-election limits on the president, VP, senators, congressmen and local positions. The CA will be a grand fiesta for dynasts.

The provision against political dynasties can even be deleted. That will remove pressure on them to enact an enabling law.

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