MANILA, Philippines — Another civil society group has joined the snowballing campaign against the rule of powerful political families, launching a signature drive in Baclaran Church, where similar movements that changed the course of the country’s history had been initiated decades ago.
The Movement against Dynasties (MAD) staked out all day at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Redemptorist in Parañaque City until the last Mass was held, drawing registered voters — from young to old, residing as far as Zamboanga City — to sign in their petition.
The initiative petition, which is hoping to gather 5.2 million signatures, the minimum requirement of Republic Act 6735 or the People’s Initiative and Referendum Act, is hoping to result in the adoption of a national law prohibiting political dynasties in the country.
The target signatures, which should come from 250 legislative districts, appears impossible to achieve. But it is possible with the help of the Church, which has more parishes than legislative districts in the country, according to MAD co-chair Danilo Olivares.
A similar move was launched last week by the Bicol Autonomy Movement, hoping to gather at least 1.5 million voter signatures by the end of April this year or a couple of weeks before the May 13 automated midterm elections.
“[We are going to ask the help] of the parishes all over the country so in one sweep, we can easily reach the 5.2 million signatures… imagine, a people power through the churches,” said Olivares in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Sunday.
He said the group dared to take the first step in the “very long, long process” of enabling a law against political dynasties after the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for the first time in recent history, came out with a pastoral statement denouncing the rule of the few powerful political clans in the country.
In the pastoral statement, the CBCP vowed to back any popular initiative to pass a law that would put an end to political dynasties, which the proliferation of such “breeds corruption and inhibits general access to political power, which is a fundamental mark of democracy.”
“If all the churches will help, and I am sure they will help because the CBCP declared their support for anti-dynasty movements and we can definitely meet the target. It seems impossible but it isn’t,” said Olivares.
According to Olivares, MAD will launch signature campaigns at the Quiapo Church, the Sto. Domingo Church, the Binondo Church in Metro Manila and ultimately in big churches and cathedrals in Cebu, Baguio, Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro and Davao, among others.
MAD, composed of advocacy groups, including civic clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis and Jaycees, will also tap the help of other churches like the Iglesia Ni Cristo and Protestant churches.
“Realizing that Congress will never pass an enabling law that will make Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution operational and enforceable against its members’ own political dynasties and that the Supreme Court will never rule against political dynasties for the very convenient excuse that there is no enabling law yet that will enforce this provision of the constitution, MAD intends to use the only option left — a People’s Initiative,” the group stated.
Clad in red shirts that read “I am MAD,” some 50 group members kicked off the signature campaign by attending the 9 a.m. Mass at the Baclaran Church, where the petition that propelled the late President Corazon Aquino to power was first initiated.
Olivares said he helped in the Cory Aquino for President Movement (CAPM), initiated by the late Manila Times newspaper publisher Chino Roces in 1985, to convince the late President Aquino to accept the people’s draft for her to run for president and topple the Marcos dictatorship.
In 2009, the Noynoy Aquino for President Movement also launched a signature campaign in Baclaran Church for then Senator Benigno Aquino III to accept the same draft.
“I was with Chino Roces and we started gathering signatures way back in 1985…We are starting here again because we would like history to repeat itself,” said Olivares.
Ironically, the current initiative was aimed at political families that included the Aquinos.
“Nothing is permanent in this world … the dynasties are evolving … and since the 1987 Constitution is a Cory Constitution, we hope that [her son] will initiate the observance of the law…the President should also heed, respect and lead in the dismantling of dynasties,” said Olivares.
Aside from the Aquinos, the family of Vice President Jejomar Binay, deposed president Joseph Estrada, Davao City Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and the Ortegas of La Union are considered political dynasties as with the families of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, siblings Senators Pia and Allan Cayetano and the Singsons of Ilocos Sur.
“The list is endless,” he said, citing a recent study showing that at least 70 percent of the current senators and congressmen belong to political dynasties, many of which have family relatives by consanguinity or affinity simultaneously occupying elective positions down to the barangay and sanggunaing kabataan levels.
“Our campaign is not about personalities…we are not zeroing in on just one family. As what they say, ‘Bato bato sa langit, ang tamaan, wag magagalit (Let the chips fall where they may),” he said.
While it was too late for the People’s Initiative to take effect in the upcoming elections, he said their efforts now were groundwork for the 2016 elections.
“With our information campaign now, we hope that people will not vote anymore for members of political dynasties. But the final result will be in 2016, which is more critical because that’s the presidential elections,” he pointed out.
The campaign signature inside the church premises was approved by its rector Fr. Victorino Cueto and Lito Latorre of the Parish Pastoral Council.
As of 10 a.m. on Sunday, MAD volunteer Juanito Bacero, 62, had been able to gather 10 signatures from people going to and from the Baclaran Church.
Oliveros said the group was hoping to gather at least 100,000 signatures from Sunday’s daylong activity at Baclaran Church, visited by thousands of devotees every day.
Bacero, as well as his colleagues collecting signatures on Sunday, were careful to explain to interested people what the campaign was all about. They also showed them a copy of the petition that would be filed before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) after the gathering of a sufficient number of signatures.
The initiative petition included a proposed bill, titled “The Anti-Political Dynasty Act,” which will impose a “one politician per family rule.”
The proposed bill also defined political dynasties as a situation wherein “a person who is the spouse of an incumbent elective official, or a relative within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity of an incumbent elective official holds or runs for an elective office simultaneously with the incumbent elective official, in national or local elections … or occupies the same office immediately after the term of office of the incumbent elective official.”
Majority of those who signed the petition were middle-aged voters while some were senior citizens.
Among those eager to sign was 75-year-old Rolandrino Datu, residing in the neighboring barangay. Datu said he signed the petition because he believed that change must come from the voters themselves. “It’s really because of the voters why these politicians are elected,” he pointed out.