Presidential bets split over dynasties, turncoatism
MANILA, Philippines — The touchy topic of political dynasties and turncoatism elicited revealing responses and abrasive exchanges among the presidential contenders during Sunday’s debate, as they crossed swords over national and foreign policy issues, each seeking to have a standout moment five weeks before Election Day.
As in the earlier face-offs, government corruption remained one of the de facto themes, as the nine candidates — except for Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who was again absent in the debate hosted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) — were asked whether they believed it was a problem of people or systems.
The first confrontation of the night occurred when labor leader Leody de Guzman, who had answered the question by saying it was a problem of the electoral and political system, challenged Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who differed with him and said the problem lay with the officials running the system.
“The biggest problem is the trapos (traditional politicians) and the political dynasties are the ones who keep getting elected in government,” De Guzman said, rebutting Lacson’s earlier contention that the lack of leadership was the root of the problem.
“That’s why I said it’s people who are the problem. For me, the test of character to any official is to offer them power or money. If they pass the test, their character is good,” the senator said.
“It’s the leader who needs to set the example so that they could fully implement their policies,” Lacson said.
But De Guzman argued: “What I’m talking about is the system of election, not of people. What I’m saying is even if the law allows the Comelec to ban trapos and dynasties, they are able to come in anyway.”
‘Take it easy’
The exchange was cut short when the moderator, broadcast journalist Ces Drilon, asked De Guzman “to take it easy” as the next topic would focus on political dynasties.
By the next round of questioning, it was Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s turn on the hot seat after he defended the existence of political dynasties, without mentioning that besides himself, multiple members of his clan were running in the May elections.
“I’m okay with [banning] political dynasties… but remember we are a democracy. People vote for those who get to sit in office. They are not appointed,” the retired boxer argued.
“It would be unfair to families who are giving honest service and making changes… Not everybody steals from the government,” Pacquiao added.
His statement immediately drew stinging rebuttals from his opponents.
“We would like to remind Senator Pacquiao, with all due respect, that political dynasties are not allowed as provided by law. Whatever the reason, the law says that the state prohibits political dynasties,” lawyer and doctor Jose Montemayor Jr. said.
“We should be doing something about thick and fat dynasties, instead of defending them,” he added.
Businessman Faisal Mangondato chimed in, saying the senator was wrong to claim that political dynasties were okay as long as people kept voting for them.
“That cannot be, because [political dynasties] are the [reason] why politics is being dominated by rich families,” he said.
But Pacquiao insisted that banning members of a political clan from running for office would infringe upon their freedoms.
“The Constitution says each one has the right to run in an election. So if you stop them from running, you are preventing them from exercising their right,” he said.
The next question on the party system and turncoatism also showed a glimpse into the candidates’ political savvy.
Vice President Leni Robredo said she believed that politicians jumping from one party to the next every election “weakens the party system because those running don’t look at what the parties are fighting for and only join them for convenience.”
“As long as we allow turncoatism, we cannot expect to strengthen our political parties. We need a law to strengthen our political parties and force politicians to join parties because of the principles of the party,” she said.
Robredo said it might also be high time to revisit whether the current multiparty system was still working for the Filipino people and entertain the possibility of a return to the two-party system.
De Guzman agreed that there should be a law against “political butterflies” with a caveat: “My reservation is that [most parties] have the same agenda and protect the same interests: for capitalists, big business and elitists.”
Former defense chief and national security adviser Norberto Gonzales lamented how easy it was for Filipino politicians to switch parties “because they don’t understand what parties mean.”
“But if we look at mature democracies, political parties are extremely important, because they represent not only the coming together of politicians but the formation of collective sentiment — what kind of society do they want to create?” he said.
Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, who has been criticized for changing parties several times throughout his 24-year career in politics, said it was time for major political reforms in the Philippines.
He launched into a summation of his campaign proposals, including the return of the two-party system, the election of the president and the vice president under the same ticket, a regional composition of the Senate, and an overhaul of the party-list system.
“Are they (party-list systems) really representing the marginalized? Are they really representing the intent of the law? I think we need to pass another law, through Congress or a people’s initiative, for a change in our political system. It’s high time,” Domagoso said.
The candidates were also asked about their stance on issues affecting the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the plight of overseas Filipino workers, and regional cooperation.
In particular, they were quizzed about their take on human rights violations in other countries, particularly the ongoing military coup in Myanmar.
The government must first improve its own human rights situation and global standing before it can even ask other nations, like Myanmar, to observe international treaties on human rights, De Guzman and Pacquiao said, even as other candidates asserted that the Philippines must take the lead in demanding that these nations observe international obligations.
Both De Guzman and Pacquiao agreed that the Philippine government must first prove that it respects the rights of Filipinos or it would not have the credibility to speak on such matters.
“The government will not have the moral credibility to speak on such matters if it itself is the prime violator of human rights,” De Guzman said, alluding to the numerous violations flagged under President Duterte’s twin war on drugs and insurgency. “Our country must first have a government that will protect human rights before it can have a standing before Asean nations.”
For Pacquiao, it was hard to make a suggestion “to other countries on issues like this when our own country [does] not have a good image or reputation [before the world].”
Lacson and Domagoso, meanwhile, pushed for a more proactive approach to the problem and argued that the Philippines must lead the charge in asking other nations to observe international treatises.
“Let’s ask them because we shouldn’t be the only ones asked by other nations all the time to observe our obligations,” Domagoso said, alluding to how several governments and international groups had repeatedly called on the Duterte administration to show respect for human rights locally.