i am not running for Senator but…(a different take on political dynasties)

S&P investment grade confirmed!!! 😀 (How will a trapo now argue against success?) While we are giddy, and understandably so, the underlying task remains — that is, to see the trickle down effects of our efforts take root. That will come in time. We like-minded public officials, in that DoF attached agency known as the Bureau of Customs, remain committed to seeing the process through. Mabuhay!!!

– Atty. Juan Lorenzo “Jorenz” T. Tanada, Deputy Commissioner, Bureau Of Customs

Red herring is an English-language idiom, a logical fallacy that misleads or detracts from the issue.

– Wikipedia

MAKATI, Philippines – The current election campaign for 12 seats in the Philippine Senate can be seen as notable in the sense that 18 of the 33 candidates have either themselves held national office or are relatives of those who have. Thus, it is probably no surprise that many of these candidates and those running along with them are asked about their take on political dynasties.

Some kind of avoid directly answering the question, some use the “good dynasty, bad dynasty” rationalization to defend their candidacies while some use the “let the people decide” excuse. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone has yet come out saying that the political dynasty provision in the Constitution should be struck down for being a violation of their right to run for public office.

English: Composition of the Philippine Senate.

English: Composition of the Philippine Senate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The framers of the 1987 Constitution sort of washed their hands of the issue by appending the phrase “as may be defined by law” to the political dynasty clause. In management, one of the considerations for setting goals is that it should be attainable. Unless some sort of miracle happens, the passage of an Anti-Dynasty Law by any Philippine Congress will fail the test of being attainable.

The goal of having an Anti-Dynasty Law is to sever the seeming monopoly of public office by a few. Political dynasties are said to spawn corruption and as PNoy’s line goes “kung walang corrupt walang mahirap.” Ergo – walang mahirap kung walang political dynasty. Such a neat storyline. Unfortunately, things are not that straightforward with simplistic generalizations.

Atty. Jorenz Tanada is a friend of mine. We met through our common love for football. We worked together in the organizing committee of the 2014 World Cup Qualifying matches that we hosted for our Philippine Azkals’ campaign in 2011. Prior to that, Jorenz and I along with a common friend would muse about his wanting to go into public service. At that time, he was thinking of seeking an appointive position with a government agency but was not sure how to go about it and had qualms about doing it through the “padrino” system. I haven’t asked him what happened but he either never applied for that position or applied but was not selected.

Just over a year ago, Atty. Tañada finally joined government as part of Ruffy Biazon’s team at the Bureau of Customs. I am happy for him not because he got THAT appointment but more so because he finally gets to do what he has wanted to do – be in public service in the true sense of the phrase.

Jorenz belongs to the Tañada clan of Quezon. He belongs to the fourth generation of Tañadas who have been in public service. The Tañadas, as a political dynasty, are respected and held in high regard. An Anti-Dynasty Law will likely cut short any dreams that Jorenz and his cousins have of running for any elective public office.

The Constitution sets rules as to who may run for public office. Those rules currently do not include disqualifying those who have the same last name as someone else in public office.

The anti-dynasty provision of the Constitution and the current clamor for the passage of an enabling law makes for good political theater. The question is – is it the right thing to do?

If we are to divine the apparent logic behind the anti-dynasty provision, we can take that it follows from the first phrase of Section 26, Article 2 which states:

The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” (Emphasis mine)

I would argue that the two ideas expressed in this provision are not necessarily a “buy one, take one” proposition. They can be taken separately based on the thought that equal access does not necessarily mean banning political dynasties nor that the prohibition of political dynasties does not necessarily mean having equal access.

Those who propound the anti-dynasty story make a presumption that the two go together which may not necessarily be true. Yes, our current situation does prevent people from being elected to public office or even think of running for one because certain advantages are conferred upon an opposing candidate belonging to a politically-entrenched family namely name-recall, better organization and (more often than not) more resources (i.e. money). Yes, an anti-dynasty law may prompt more people, who may otherwise be disinclined from doing so, to run for public office.

All these argue that an anti-dynasty law may indeed make running for public office a more realistic option. But then again, is this really what is meant by equal access?

We must remember that running for public office entails winning votes from more people than your opponent. Theoretically anyone can do that. Does getting the votes needed to win an elective position necessarily entail the passage of an anti-dynasty law? Our current reality may say yes.

I would, however, propound that the advantages of a candidate belonging to a political dynasty can be mitigated or even offset. A candidate just has to work harder and smarter to do this.

Name-recall? If you are worthy of the position that you are running for, there are ways to package your accomplishments and qualifications to generate name-recall. You may be starting further back relative to a well-known candidate but it can be done. Moreover, movie stars and professional athletes also have name-recall, so this is not solely the domain of political dynasties.

Better organization? Win the right people to your cause and you can chip away at this presumed liability.

More resources? It’s not necessarily having more resources that wins elections (though realistically it goes a long way), it’s also how smart you are with spending the resources that you have.

There are also existing laws which already address these items such as limits on campaign spending and others. Our enforcers just need to be serious and more forceful in punishing transgressors.

I devote Part 2 of this series to the anti-dynasty issue not necessarily because of where I stand on it. I do this to show our propensity to solve our problems by treating the symptoms rather than the root causes. Our problem is not that we have too many Arroyos, Aquinos, Cojuangcos, Cayetanos, Binays, etc. in public office. Our problem is that our system allows mediocre people to be elected to public office. Our problem is that when we elect mediocre people to public office, we leave the solving of our serious and real problems to people who are neither equipped nor capable of doing so. Note that being a member of a political dynasty is not a qualification for being mediocre.

Other than the citizenship, age, residency and literacy requirements of being a candidate for public office, the Constitution only requires that:

“…Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

The anti-dynasty debate is a red herring. It is propounded as part of the solution to our real and serious problems when it is not. The inequalities that it seeks to address are only real because we fail to address with real solutions, the underlying issues of income disparity and poverty. It is an issue that is taken seriously because we have not acquired the intestinal fortitude of confronting the real issues kasi mahirap and there is no political will to make decisions that will upset the unacceptable status quo.

In the meantime, an anti-dynasty law (if enacted) and by extension, the anti-dynasty provision of the Constitution, do real damage. They seek to deprive a Filipino citizen of his right to freedom of expression, his right of suffrage (i.e. being able to vote for himself), his right to equal protection of the law – rights that are enshrined in the same Constitution. It discriminates against someone solely because of his last name and/or fault and punish him for being born into a family which chose to serve the Filipino people.

For those who will argue that the rights of one end where the rights of others begin, we can debate the point relative to this topic. For those who will say that depriving someone of his right to be selected by his fellow Filipinos to be their leader will be for the greater good, I ask – is it really?

I, for one, would rather see someone like Jorenz be allowed to stick their hat in the political arena because, at the end of the day, his heart is in the right place and he is capable of making a difference – Tañada or no Tañada.

[Editor’s Note: Atty. Juan Lorenzo “Jorenz” T. Tañada is not running for any public office in this election nor do I know whether he ever will.]

(To be continued. In Part 3 – realism and the tough choices we need to make as a nation.)


One Comment on “i am not running for Senator but…(a different take on political dynasties)”

  1. Jorenz Tanada says:

    Dude , na-conscious naman ako sa sinulat mo. 🙂 I thank you for the kind words; and yes, I agree that our problems are structural in nature. I also will go one further and state that for any efforts at correcting these “inefficiencies” to work, they must me COLLECTIVE and not individual. These efforts need to be taken in the context of: 1. Our emergent liberal democracy, and all the attendant “inefficiencies” that in turn implies; 2. The residual political realities on the ground which a liberal democracy abhors but “due processes” rather than directly stamps out; and, 3. You got it – the present economic conditions we continue to face, inclusive of the grinding poverty many of our countrymen still face. My thesis though, will probably align with yours — it doesn’t matter what your name is as long as you work, whether in the public or private sectors, for the greater good of “inang bayan”. I hope though that one one day, you can consider crossing over as I have. Cheers!

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