HAVE POLITICAL dynasties impeded inclusive growth and sustainable development in our country? Evidence points to a direct association between the presence of political dynasties, on the one hand, and higher levels of poverty and deprivation in the Philippine context, on the other. The implication is that either poverty paves the way for political dynasties, or political dynasties fail to reduce, if not actually worsen, poverty.
Whichever way the causality runs, the observed correlation between the two provokes serious doubts about the compatibility between dynasties and development. This is especially so in a country where (1) political dynasties are particularly more prevalent, (2) economic development has historically been stunted at both national and local levels, in an otherwise economically dynamic region of the world, (3) poverty has been so prevalent and persistent, much more so than in comparable neighbors, and (4) inequality has been stark and has shown little improvement, and even worsened, over past decades.
In his last State of the Nation Address, President Aquino opened the way for renewed public discussion on this issue that the Philippine Constitution, in Article II Section 26, expressly admonishes against: The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties (underscoring supplied) as may be defined by law. The Constitution further mandates Congress to give highest priority to the enactment of measures that reduce political inequalities and diffuse political power for the common good, among other things (Article XIII, Section 1). The framers of the Charter must have expected that the new Congress, elected after the 1986 Edsa uprising, would promptly enact the requisite enabling law while a revolutionary mood still prevailed. Otherwise, they would have realized that such law was unlikely to be passed by a legislature where membership in political dynasties is in fact prominent, even dominant.
Are political dynasties more prevalent and prominent in the Philippines? Studies indicate so. The Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Center tracked 6 percent of legislators in the United States to belong to dynasties; the rates are 10 percent in Argentina, 22 percent in Ireland, 33 percent in Japan, 40 percent in Mexico, and 70 percent in the Philippines-yet another instance, sadly, of the Philippines excelling in the wrong things.
Over time, the United States saw a decline in the proportion of dynastic legislators. A 2009 study found that 11 percent of US legislators between 1789 and 1858 were dynastic, but the proportion went down to only 7 percent after 1966 and, more recently, to 6 percent. The reverse happened in the Philippines in the past three decades. In the Eighth Congress (1987-1992), 62 percent of our legislators had relatives in elective positions. This rose to 66 percent by the 12th Congress (1998-2001), netting out party-list representatives that were introduced in the 11th Congress. The same proportion went up to 75 percent in the 14th Congress, half-jokingly described at the time as a Montessori Congress for the unusually large number of legislators who were offspring of their predecessors. Interestingly, one in every four sectoral representatives (14 of the 56 incumbent) is also dynastic, undermining the professed objective of party-list representation, which is to broaden representation in Congress and make it more inclusive.
That the Philippine record in poverty reduction and human development lags behind in the region is well known. Asia has generally been more successful than the rest of the world in translating economic growth into reduced poverty. The Asian Development Bank found that developing countries worldwide saw poverty decline by an average of 1.5 percent for every 1-percent growth in gross domestic product in the past years. Within Asia, the corresponding average poverty reduction was actually faster, at 2.0 percent. Strangely, the Philippines has a perverse experience, especially in the past decade: Poverty incidence actually went up, even in years when the economy’s growth speeded up. As such, we will not achieve key poverty reduction targets under the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were set for this year.
Do political dynasties have something to do with all this? Arsenio Balisacan and Nobohiko Fuwa, in a 2003 study, explored the linkage between dynastic concentration and the standard of living in Philippine provinces between 1988 and 1997. They found dynastic concentration to have a significantly negative effect on the upliftment of local living standards, noting that lack of real political competition had led to flawed policies.
A 2004 study by University of the Philippines economists on provincial MDG performance found that highly dynastic provinces lagged in MDG targets relative to others. The authors saw dynastic politics to have damaged the quality and provision of public services, and the proper functioning of local markets. An AIM study on the 15th Congress found that dynastic jurisdictions are associated with lower standards of living, lower human development, and higher levels of deprivation.
Democracy, international research upholds, helps improve the prospects for inclusive economic growth by fostering better education and provision of other public services, broadening access to opportunities, and creating disincentives for corruption. Factors that weaken democracies and restrict political participation can thus be expected to impede broad-based economic development. Dynastic Philippines could well be Exhibit Number One.