Conflicting Philippine Identities and the Fight Against Corruption

In his book, From Third to First World, Lee Kuan Yew remarked that the Philippines has two societies, and that the “elite mestizos had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons.” While this analogy may be extreme, there’s hardly any denying that reforms and economic progress have done little to alleviate the socio-economic disparities entrenched in Philippine society. Even today, Philippine identity looks vastly different for the rich than it does for the poor—in terms of heritage, cultural attitudes, daily experiences, and values. In short, the class divisions that Singapore’s great leader alluded to still exist today, and contribute to a sense of alienation among the two so-called “societies” within Philippine culture.

How does this division play out when it comes to governance, and, for our purposes, anticorruption efforts? Alienation on both sides of the economic divide, and the inability of Filipinos of different classes to relate to one another, have had deleterious effects on progress in this field, and it is important that Philippine policymakers take into account the limits imposed by socioeconomic disparities when considering possible strategies to tackle corruption.

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The Philippines Must Break the Power of Political Dynasties

Democratic systems are no strangers to political dynasties. In the United States, some well-known families have been in politics for generations—the Kennedys held an impressive 64-year streak in Congress until 2011 (and staged a comeback only two years later), and earlier this month George P. Bush won the race for Texas Land Commissioner, carrying on the political legacy of his father Jeb Bush, his uncle George W. Bush, and his grandfather George H.W. Bush. Although the idea of political royalty inheriting power seems to cut against equal opportunity, members of such families have been revered throughout history. But political dynasties present a much greater threat to democracy when they control a majority of power in the country. In the Philippines, one study estimated that political dynasties comprised up to 70% of the last Philippine Congress (compared to 6% of the last U.S. Congress). During the last election, one notorious political clan had 80 members running for office. Indeed, Philippine political clans have evolved into the most efficient (and at times, deadly) means of monopolizing power. Various members of the same family often cycle through the same congressional, gubernatorial, and mayoral seats in their home province, and it’s not unusual to see an electoral race pitting two members of the same family against each other. In many ways, the dynastic culture of politics has removed meaningful choice from the voters, and exacerbated the pervasiveness of corruption in government.

A possible solution is before the Philippine Congress right now—the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill. This bill would prohibit any spouse or first-degree relation (including parents, siblings, and children) of an incumbent elected official from seeking elected office. Although individuals may run once their relative’s term is up, they may not immediately succeed that relative in the same elected office. (The bill would have a enormous effect on the upcoming 2016 elections—Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has already announced his candidacy, and whose daughter’s term in the Senate runs until 2019, would be precluded from running for President.) At first blush, the bill may seem antidemocratic, as it (temporarily) suspends the rights of many individuals to seek elected office. Still, in the Philippines, where the concentration of political power has bred such a strong culture of corruption, certain rights may need to be sacrificed. It is a drastic problem in need of a drastic solution.

There are several reasons why Congress should pass this bill and limit the influence of political families: Continue reading