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ith midterm elections just days away, it bears repeating that from our perspective, Philippine elected officials leave so much to be desired. And one reason why we seem to have such a dearth of top-rate individuals is because political dynasties are pervasive throughout the archipelago.
Political dynasties from a Philippine context are in some ways akin to the fiefdoms that existed in Europe during the middle ages. Like the peasants of a fief, today’s Filipino residents of a particular province, municipality or barangay remain fiercely loyal to their leader, electing and re-electing him and members of his family into political office. In a shameless disregard for the spirit of the 1987 Constitution regarding term limits, mayors and governors have their wives or children run in their stead after they have maxed-out their three-term limit—keeping the post ‘in the family.’ They sit out a term while the wife, son, or daughter serves as interim mayor or governor so they can again run for another three consecutive terms. This practice is so pervasive and widespread that it makes a mockery of the country’s Constitution and further entrenches and perpetuates political dynasties throughout the archipelago.
Look at the Philippines today and you see the results of what happens to a country run by ‘second-stringers.’ The solutions they propose are mediocre; results they attain are mediocre; and even the people themselves end up with lowered expectations of what their elected officials can do for them.
Here is a crystal clear example of how all this plays out in real life. Our current president, Benigno Aquino III was elected into office in 2010. He won not because of what he did in Congress or the Senate. He in fact, led quite an undistinguished career all his life. Then his mother passed away August 2009 and that catapulted him to frontrunner status for the 2010 presidential elections. Make no mistake, President Aquino is a good man and may even become a great president. But the fact remains that he is untested, wet behind-the-ears, a greenhorn. All that is acceptable if you’re only dealing with other Filipino politicians, since they are all of similar caliber. The problem arises when you have to deal with leaders from other countries like say China. Unlike the Philippines, in China (and most other well-run countries) aspiring leaders have to fight their way to the top. Only those who have the drive, the ambition, the talent, and stamina ever make it to the very top. It takes years to build a track-record of solid achievements, while fending off equally strong and ambitious opponents who have their eye on the same goal. By the time one becomes a country’s head, that person is a battle-hardened gladiator who has vanquished every other aspirant for the post.
Case in point: The standoff in Panatag or Scarborough Shoal that occurred in mid-2012. Panatag shoal is a triangular-shaped reef formation with an area of roughly 120 square kilometers, just 124 nautical miles from the province of Zambales. The ships in the area at the beginning of the standoff were the BRP Gregorio del Pilar the county’s biggest and newest naval vessel and eight Chinese fishing boats. Two Chinese Marine Surveillance ships were later sent by China to block the del Pilar from getting at and arresting the Chinese fishermen who were illegally poaching in the shoal. President Aquino in a misguided show or chivalry ordered the larger and more powerful del Pilar out of the area and replaced it with two smaller, less threatening Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries ships to face down the Chinese intruders. Then on June 16 Aquino ordered the remaining ships out as well because an incoming typhoon locally code-named “Butchoy” was forecasted to hit the area. the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) supposedly received assurances from minor Chinese officials that they were prepared to leave as well. But while our ships scampered off to safety from the typhoon, the Chinese vessels rode out the storm remaining in Panatag Shoal. It is evident that under direct instructions from its inexperienced president, the Philippines gave up its upper hand, first by disengaging its newest and most powerful frigate from the standoff, and then shortly thereafter by ordering the remaining Philippine ships to high-tail it out of the area using the looming typhoon as its excuse for leaving.
The Chinese never left Panatag Shoal. In fact Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying has told Philippine Foreign Affairs officials that they have no plans of ever leaving. The area is now swarming with Chinese vessels. They have it cordoned off to prevent Filipinos from entering a shoal that lies well within Philippine territorial waters per the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)—a convention that both countries are signatories to. In the stare-down our novice president quickly blinked.
If the Philippines eventually loses Panatag Shoal, studies indicate that it could also say goodbye to 38% of its territorial waters in the increasingly strategic West Philippine Sea. It would also lose all mineral rights to the seabed surrounding the shoal. Even more disturbing is the fact that China would in effect become the country’s next door neighbor. Chinese naval vessels would be anchored less than 350 kilometers from Manila, the seat of power. The country would be at the mercy of the Chinese Navy which could pounce on the capital at a moment’s notice—a truly dire scenario for the Philippines.
The point we are making is this: If the Philippines had a seasoned president with years of experience under his belt, who like other world leaders had battled and triumphed over adversity many times before becoming president, he most certainly would never allowed himself to be bamboozled the way our current president was. When you’re a seasoned leader, not only do you surround yourself with top-caliber advisers, you’re not likely to be as naïve or as trusting as a neophyte would be.Bad decisions like the one described above happen all the time all over the Philippines because those in positions of power were elected not because of their knowledge, experience or expertise; they were elected simply because they belonged to a powerful family. These dynastic families know they can easily get their kin voted into office regardless of whether they are qualified or not for the job. In this year’s senatorial election alone you have an Aquino, an Enrile, a Binay, a Poe, an Ejercito, to name just a few, who are likely to get elected to the Senate just because they have the right last name. And their victory will likely push the country even further behind the rest of Southeast Asia. Think about it. Those of us who know better must to put an end to political dynasties before it is too late. Published 5/12/2013