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DEMOCRACY IN THE PHILIPPINES:


A STUDY ON HOW POLITICAL DYNASTIES AFFECT FEATURES OF DEMOCRACY

Zachary Bryan Li Haw


44721132
Political Science 100: Introduction to Politics (Dr. Chris Erikson)
Discussion Section 002 (Stephanie Meitz)
March 28, 2014
University of British Columbia

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Introduction
The Philippines is one of the few practicing presidential democracies in Asia, particularly
Southeast Asia. This system, that was placed back in 1986 after a successful People Power
revolution by the people against the Dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, became known to the
entire world (Philippine History 2014). This was seen by the world to be an effective way to
exercise the accountability of the government to the people. The system that the Philippines take
is similar to the United States, especially since the 1935 Constitution was adopted from the US
Constitution, then the 1987 Constitution a revision to the 1935 one. The practice of the
Philippines is not the best form of democracy in the world. In reality, it is far from what the
United States practice. Major constraints include an influential elite class, political dynasties,
corruption and election cheating.
Given all of the factors and background, I will attempt to answer the question: To what
extent is the Philippines an example of a democracy? I will focus on the presence of political
dynasties most specifically after the Marcos government and the implementation of the 1987
Constitution. Another factor that I will investigate, together with political dynasty, is electoral
cheating. Given the two factors, I argue that the Philippines is not a good example of what a
democracy is given that the majority of rule is concentrated on a political elite which usually
does not reflect the needs or wants of the constituents; electoral cheating allows for self-
determination in the part of the candidate which does not reflect the views or votes of the voters.
Definition of Terms
Political Dynasty - A family that has most, if not all, of its members to be part of politics;
future generations of family members also join politics.
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Nepotism - A preferred option to put relatives in positions in government. They may or
may not be qualified in this position but a certain relative is favoured over other people.

The Idea of a Democracy


An ideal democracy is hard to define given different people would prefer different
definitions and features. In this paper, I choose to use the theory by Dahl in his book On
Democracy (1998) to define what an ideal democracy is. An ideal democracy, according to Dahl,
would require five standards (37-38):
I. Effective participation - people should inform other people about policy equally and
effectively.
II. Voting Equality - people should have equal opportunities to vote.
III. Enlightened Understanding - people should be able to discern on alternative policies
effectively.
IV. Control of the Agenda - people get to choose on what to do, if needed, revive past policies.
V. Inclusiveness of Adults - everyone must be given the equal opportunity to vote and discern.
In Dahls theory, the idea of having equality is important given that intrinsic equality
embodies so fundamental a view about the worth of human beings (65). In other words, by
having equality is by valuing other peoples dignity and capability. Allowing equality enables
people to respect the view of other people. Dahl further proposes why we should adopt ideal
democracy; these include: first ethical and religious ground, second weakness of superiority,
third prudence and lastly acceptability (66-67).

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Structure of the Philippine Government
The Philippine Government has a structure that follows the presidential form of
government. According to Article Two of the Philippine Constitution (Declaration of Principles
and State Policies), The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in
the people and all government authority emanates from them. According to the Official Gazette
of the Republic of the Philippines (2012), the Philippines has three branches of government,
mainly the executive, judiciary and legislative. The basic functions of each include leading and
representing the country for the executive, interpreting and upholding the law for the judiciary
and finally making and altering laws for the legislative. These three structures of the government
is used to ensure the check and balances of each branch in the government.

Issues with the Current System


Political Dynasties
Political Dynasties are a big component in the Philippine Government. Trend for political
dynasties have been steadily rising ever since the end of the Marcos regime (1987-onwards)
(Coronel et al. 2007 quoted in Tusalem and Pe-Aguirre 2013). According Mendoza et al. (2012),
about 70% of the 15th Congress (2010-2013) is dynastic. The method that was used to define
Political Dynasties were based on relatives with the same last name in the government. The 70%
estimate only suggests the minimum and can even be larger. According to Rufo (2013), some
prominent political dynasties include the Aquinos, Laurels, Cojuangcos, Marcoses, Abads,
Osmeas, Romualdezes, etc. These political dynasties control provinces.
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According to Tusalem and Pe-Aguirre (2013), political dynasties challenges new non-
dynastic candidates in elections (363). The non-dynastic candidates are placed in a position
where they are disadvantaged - since the dynastic politicians enjoy the advantages of
incumbency (364). While it is possible for new non-dynastic candidates to win elections, they
also increase the likelihood of making a new political dynasty through the use of (a) bench
warming, (b) alternating offices, and (c) expanding control across political offices (Querubin
2011 quoted in Tusalem and Pe-Aguirre 2013).
Political dynasties are not exclusive to the Philippines. According to Mendoza et al.
(2012, p. 132), political dynasties are also present in the United States, Argentina, Japan,
Mexico. While these countries have political dynasties in their government, Mendoza et al.,
suggests that the Philippines has the highest percentage in terms of dynastic politicians.

Widespread Cheating in Elections


In the 1992 Elections, candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago was cheated in the elections
by candidate Fidel Ramos. According to the Senate of the Philippines (n.d.), Santiago lost in the
counting of the elections. This was due to the alleged vote buying by Ramos. Another instance of
election cheating was during the 2004 elections (Muego 2005). Candidate Gloria Macapagal-
Arroyo ran for the second term in office given that the first was a result of her appointment to
presidency due to the overthrow of President Estrada. Arroyo was involved in the Hello Graci
Scandal where she was alleged to have asked Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano about the votes
and to alter it to make her win the elections.

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Analysis
The Philippines is a democratic country yet with a lot of flaws. Democracy is, according
to theory, a system that is run by the people. People have inputs into what they want in the
government and is debated upon by other people in order to form a majority. The Philippines is a
de jure democracy in where there are people who are elected into office and form a particular
house or chamber (Legislative Branch); at the same time there is also the whole nation who votes
for the president and vice president (Executive Branch). The rules of the constitution are
followed and the procedures are executed. Even though this may be true, the de facto is different.
The majority of control is concentrated upon the elite class as represented by the political
dynasties. Worse, these political dynasties use illegal means to get into power - corruption and
cheating.
The presence of political dynasties make less room for the people to have a say on the
policies and projects of the government. If elections elect the same people (or family) into the
government, the same plans or projects will be implemented. The possibility of not being able to
hear what the needs of the people is high. According to a study by Tusalem and Pe-Aguirre
(2013), provinces with political dynasties actually are not keen on delivering public goods
based on electoral promises and engaging in good governance so long as their political machines
can use coercion and threats to deliver votes (380). At the same time, political clans are less
likely to have better governance (378) and this is shown in lack of infrastructure development,
the prevention and prevalence of crime, and full employment (377). In other words, the
political dynasties actually do not deliver the needs of the people. The officials in power do not
actually represent the needs of the people.
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If they do not represent the needs of the people, they why are they still in position? A
very crucial question to answer. In answering this question, I propose two possible answers, but
there could be more. The first is that some sort of electoral fraud takes place - whether directly or
indirectly. Another possible answer is by the use of electoral promises and near-end-of-term
projects in order to entice people to vote for them. These two methods are very much seen in
Philippine politics.
Going back to the structure of the government, one very important feature of the
Philippine government is having three branches where check and balances are in place. The
prominence of political dynasties make these check and balances weak, giving way for less
accountability. It is possible that a senator and congressman (in legislature) have a relative or
close friend in the executive department. The presence of strong political dynasties enable
cronyism and nepotism. Cronyism and nepotism further degrades the hope of a democracy for
effective participation and voting equality.
Lack of effective participation, voting equality and enlightened understanding are three
main issues in the Philippine democratic system. People are not able to vote for a more
competent and willing candidate since the political dynasty candidate have more resources to
make a stronger campaign. The incumbent politician also sets forth a preferred candidate that
the people trust and therefore creates more polarity in elections. In terms of the determination
of politicians through the process of voting, the significant cases of electoral fraud make the
votes of the people useless, allowing candidates to declare themselves as legitimate officials in
the official results. Finally, since the people who are elected are mostly from the political
dynasties, they do not present the actual views of what the people want and need. This causes
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other officials to not have enlightened understanding - something needed when determining
national policy and laws.
Even though I talk greatly about officials who are lawmakers (legislative), the executive
department is also affected by this phenomena. The president, possibly also a member of a
political dynasty, sometimes prefer something else rather than the needs of the people. The
people from the legislative branch could also influence the president into something they think
about strongly. This causes a big polarity in what the people actually want from the government
and what the government delivers to them.

Conclusion
In conclusion, to the extent that the Philippines has a democratic institution in place,
especially since it is written in the constitution, then it can be considered a democracy. But to the
extent of practice, the government is actually run more by political dynasties and people have
little, or no opportunities for democracy. A democracy, according to Dahl, allow people for
effective participation, equality in voting, enlightened understanding, control of agenda and
inclusion of adults. After studying the situation of the Philippines through a quick review of
literature from people who also wrote about political dynasties in the Philippines, the analysis
concludes that first people are not fully informed about the other candidates in the elections
given the prominence and vast resources of political dynasties, making people participate less,
second the presence of electoral fraud or cheating undermines the peoples vote - not having a
leader they actually voted for and finally since some people who get to see a certain issue to be
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better is not elected or consulted, a lack of enlightenment of understanding the problem is seen.
These all happen all over again like a vicious cycle.

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Bibliography

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revolution.htm (accessed March 26, 2014).
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Empirical Analysis of Political Dynasties in the 15th Philippine Congress." Philippine
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Muego, Benjamin N. "THE PHILIPPINES IN 2004: A Gathering Storm." Southeast Asian
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