For the first time in recent history, the country’s Roman Catholic bishops have come out with a pastoral statement denouncing political dynasties, powerful and influential families in the government and vowing to support any popular initiative to pass a law that would put an end to them.
In a statement, the 120-strong Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on Tuesday said the spread of political dynasties was one of a “long litany of storms” facing the country amid violent natural disasters.
The Church hierarchy said it was offended that lawmakers themselves had defied the mandate of the Constitution to push for an enabling law that would ban such dynasties, which the CBCP stressed “breed corruption and ineptitude.”
“As monopolies in business, monopolies in politics limit the entry that can bring in new ideas and offer better services,” according to the pastoral statement titled “Proclaim the Message, In Season and Out of Season.”
The CBCP statement could not have been timelier, coming as it did two weeks before the official start of campaigning for the May 13 national elections, where senatorial and congressional seats and more than 17,000 provincial and municipal posts will be up for grabs.
Many candidates are either veteran politicians returning to protect or reclaim their posts or are members of families long entrenched in politics.
A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that candidates considered part of political families were on the list of probable winners in the senatorial races.
A tally by the nongovernment Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) puts down at 178 the number of “dominant political dynasties” in the Philippines, excluding those in local areas.
Of the total, 100—or 56 percent—dynasties are “old elites,” the rest being so-called “new elites” which emerged from the time of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Of the country’s 80 provinces, 94 percent have political dynasties, CenPEG said.
The CBCP statement also touched on other social issues, like the “deepening … culture of impunity,” extrajudicial killings, fear of “wholesale” cheating during the automated 2013 elections “and the unabated suffering of the poor.”
‘Not for family interests’
The CBCP president, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Antipolo Bishop Gabriel Reyes and Manila Auxiliary Bishops Broderick Pabillo and Bernardino Cortez took turns in reading the statement at a press conference. The statement was crafted at this year’s first CBCP plenary assembly, which ended on Monday.
It was the first time in recent years for the Church hierarchy to address in a pastoral statement the issue of the growing number of political dynasties in the country.
It said: “Political authority exists for the common good. It is not to be exercised for the sake of private and family interests or simply for the interests of a political party.”
“When political authority is exercised merely for these narrow interests, it betrays the reason for its existence. Moreover, such situation breeds corruption and inhibits general access to political power, which is a fundamental mark of democracy,” the CBCP said.
“Therefore, we denounce the continued existence of family political dynasties and the continuing delay of passing a law to implement the constitutional provision banning political dynasties.”
The bishops said that if Congress was unwilling to act on the need for such a law, the Church would back the holding of peoples’ initiatives provided for in the Constitution that would push for an enabling law against political dynasties.
Talking with reporters, Palma said that since the May elections were fast approaching, passing a law against political dynasties might be too late. It will be up to the electorate to vote or not for members of dynasties, he said.
“We raised the issues so that the people will think about it,” Palma said. “What we also want to show is that we are one with them and we understand their longings, hopes and dreams,” he said.
For his part, Pabillo said that while the pastoral statement did not identify which candidates should not be elected in the upcoming balloting, it was clearly telling the people that political dynasties were wrong.
“We respect the dictate of the voters’ consciences so we are not telling them who they should vote for. We are just telling them that political dynasties are wrong and will not be of help to our country. It is for them to weigh these factors when they vote,” Pabilllo added.
A senatorial candidate on Tuesday said he would file a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to compel President Aquino to certify as urgent the passage of antidynasty bills pending in the legislature.
“The law on political dynasties is overdue,” lawyer Samson Alcantara of the Social Justice Society party said on the phone. “Congress has failed to pass such a law for more than 25 years. Not only the legislative but the executive branch should be compelled to work for the passage of the antidynasty bill,” he said.
On Monday, another independent senatorial candidate, businessman Ricardo Penson, filed a petition for mandamus to compel Congress to pass an enabling law that would give substance to Article II of the Constitution, which provides, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
Alcantara said he would file a petition for intervention so he could join Penson in the case.
Hoping for SC to reconsider
The high court early this month dismissed a petition seeking to compel the Commission on Elections to enforce the constitutional provision, ruling it was not self-executory and needed an enabling law.
Alcantara said he hoped that with the new composition of the court, the justices would reconsider an earlier ruling which established that the high tribunal may not force the legislature, a coequal branch of government, to do its job.
“I’m hoping that the justices will change their minds. The antidynasty provision has been rendered useless due to congressional inaction. Our legislators took an oath to uphold the Constitution. How can they do so if they refuse to enact the antidynasty law?” he said.
“The President also took the same oath. He can speed up the legislation through his power to certify the antidynasty bill as urgent,” Alcantara said. With reports from Jerome Aning and Inquirer Research