Philippine politics, in general, is heavily dependent on kinship and other personal relationships. To win an election, especially at the local level, one must be able to assemble a network or coalition of families.
For instance, to win an election at the provincial level, the important families in each town must be drawn into a network of support. Nationally, this means winning to your side the most prominent elite clans from each region united temporarily to come together.
The power of one family is not necessarily correlated with wealth because the number of followers matters the most. In the case of the middle class and the poor, however, are sought mainly for the votes that they can deliver. Rarely these groups are rarely into politics.
It is also common that the same two families vie for control of provinces and towns. The reason for social and political bipolarity is not known – so far. It has been noted, however, that this political bipolarity nourishes feuds between rival clans from generation after generation.
Vote buying is not enough. Coercion is an alternative. Because the population of the Philippines has grown geometrically during the last century, there is not enough land to acquire. As a result, the relationship between tenant and landlord have become more businesslike, less personal, and a lot less land-related thus the ruling families have to rely on force to protect their interests.
We are seeing this at play in local politics where patronage, coupled with threat and intimidation, is the way to keep the network of families in check.
Political families continue to rule the local political landscape. There’s nothing new except for new faces but still employing the same old style based on patronage and exploiting the traditional concept of utang na loob.
It is no more a wonder when you hear people, especially the older ones and less literate, say that a particular name will win because “nangaraan na sila sa pulitika.” For most, good governance is not an issue because what matters to them is they can run for help to a particular family over the newer ones. Patronage at work? Yes.
Issues like corruption and bad governance are almost alien for most. For most people, they remain within the orbit of the same old political family because they are used to being pampered, and paupered, too with little help during time of emergency.
It is no more a wonder, too when one family walks like kings and princesses over their subjects and treat the public coffer like their own private vault of treasure. They smirk of the call for accountability because these leaders think the people owe them all the support they need. That’s why all the government programs and services are almost whimsical and dependent upon the caprices of one family whose almost every member are employed, ghost employee or not.
The coming 2019 mid-term elections would be, at its best, a replay of the same old story taken from the oligarch story book. There will be, of course, new names.
In general, however, will be a picture of old families retaining their hold on to power with the new faces of the younger member of their clan.
When will we ever learn?
Antonio M. Manaytay