Skidmore College

Political clans and family ties erode the institutional system in The Philippines by Woeser Dolma @ Skidmore College

Colonialism created the Philippines political system embedded on socio-economic elites whom profited from political positions. Historically, the Philippines political elites became corrupt because they had position of power over the rest of the population. Additionally, the political elites began to collect their ‘debts’ in terms of personal favors such as giving family members bureaucratic positions. Furthermore, colonialism created a sense of othering for the Filipino population that spewed the ties within groups in the population. Asis also elaborates that the Philippines are a family oriented culture and familial ties are the essence of their culture. This distinct familial tie for the Philippines is the creation of democratic erosion within their institutional system.

Colonialism spurred the rise of the corrupt governmental system within the Philippines because these groups wanted to ensure their position within the government. The socio-elites whom gained political power continued to stay in power within the institution and created political dynasties within the system. Political dynasties started democratic erosion in the Philippines because it created a tradition that allowed corrupt political elites to maintain power within the institutional systems purely due to their familial relationships. A majority of the political dynastic power was constrained within the Congress. Conde stated that in 2007 the Filipino congress held 160 members out of 265 who were elected solely due to their political clans. This also highlights the favors the newly elected official has to the group that elected him or her in office. Thus, creating an endless cycle of corruption starting within the Congress and flowing within the other institutional systems of the Philippines.

The political dynasty also creates democratic erosion within the institutional systems like the judicial branch to turn a blind eye to corruption. Havel stated, “The hidden political manipulation of the courts and of public prosecutors, the limitations placed on lawyers’ ability to defend their clients, the closed nature, de facto, of trials…” Havel elaborates on the corrupt judicial system that the public believes is protecting their rights, but in reality the judicial system is protecting and representing the ideas of the nobles. For example, in the Philippines elected Gloria Arroyo as Vice President for the 13th President, Joseph Estrada who was a very corrupt President. However, Gloria Arroyo was still elected as the 14th President regardless of working alongside a corrupt President, but since Arroyo’s father was the 9th president of the Philippines she was deemed qualified to become the next President. Regardless of the corruption allegations on both the 13th and 14th Presidents, the judicial system took several years to compile a case against Arroyo and Estrada. This is due to the “elected officials” within the judicial and the Congress that were selected in favor of their political party and their alliance to the President. Thus, corruption within the political system is difficult to end as a result of the corruption within the judicial system itself.

President Arroyo created corruption and democratic erosion within the Philippines. President Arroyo was allegedly believed to have won her presidency through election fraud. The election fraud created distrust from the public against the government, and created further democratic erosion. The public believed their vote did not matter and regardless of whom they voted for the administration will chose political officials whom they believe will best advance their political agenda. However, throughout her 9 years of presidency, Arroyo faced corruption scandals regarding her election to Presidency, but she was not accused of election fraud from the judicial system until the end of her Presidency. This is a result of the cheating, intimidation, and bribery within her administration. Additionally, those who opposed her were silenced through extrajudicial killings. Compared to the other Presidents, Arroyo had the most number of extrajudicial killings totaling 264 reported cases. This reflects the inability of the public and political officials speaking against President Arroyo due to her immoral history and the loyal support from Congress and the judicial system.

The judicial system fails to maintain democracy within the institutional systems as a result of the corrupt political elites maintaining highest-ranked positions. President Arroyo only faced allegations from the judicial system when President Aquino officially became President. This was due to the new administration elected into office and those who previously supported Arroyo wanted to stand on good terms with the new President. Despite, that a formal case was being built against Arroyo, she went back as an official within the Congress after her corrupt allegations. This highlights the corrupt nature of the political institutional system where families ties and previous political experience trump the basic democracy of the political system. The checks and balance system and the judicial system fail to quickly respond to corrupt allegations because those within these institutional systems are also political elites whom came to power through their familial ties. Thus, the quintessential cause of democratic erosion is the political dynasties within the Philippines. It creates a corrupt cycle and fails to upkeep democracy for the people.



    May 12, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    I am a Filipino and I should say that yes, political clans have been existing in the country for many years now. In the province where I live alone, you will hear the same political clan who strategically spread themselves into three nearby towns. Nevertheless, I personally liked how you linked Filipino culture into this political system, specifically the returning of personal favors and the family orientedness of the Filipinos. To add on that, Filipinos are also known for respecting extended families. And within this context, it seems that today, it doesn’t matter anymore if you are related by blood for political clans to exist. The president Duterte himself had kept on appointing government leaders whom according to him, had helped him during the electoral campaigning. Names such as Assec. Mocha Uson of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, was appointed by President Duterte saying it was his “utang na loob” (literally translated as debt of gratitude) to Uson and “it is time to believe her.” Has Filipinos’ familial ties went too long? Or are we just too kind? The corrupt cycle you have mentioned in your article does not speak only anymore of result of familial ties, but of a different level of Filipino culture that can definitely worsen democratic erosion. Uson has been called for senate hearings, being questioned on the spreading of fake news.

  2. Jerry Buenavista

    May 24, 2018 at 10:12 pm

    I agree with your argument that political clans and family ties erode the institutional system in the Philippines. Philippine history is a distorted one for we were colonized by the Spaniards, Americans and Japanese. Their culture was deeply rooted with ours and it has entrenched even in our political culture. I would like to emphasize three important points.


    Philippine politics can be described as clientelistic. Scott (1972) defines patron-client relationship as a special case of dyadic ties involving a largely instrumental friendship in which an individual of higher socio-economic status (patron) use his own influence and resources to provide protection or benefits for a person of lower status (client) who reciprocates by offering general support and assistance including personal services to the patrons.

    This is very evident in the bureaucracy and during elections that politicians seek political support to their constituents in exchange of giving favors. Quid pro quo is the game.

    Personalistic Politics

    You are right as what Asis have elaborated that we Filipinos are known for our close family ties; a value which we are proud of but may have negative effect like personalism. Another distinguishing feature of Philippine politics is personalistic politics wherein we elect our leaders not based on their platforms in the government but the individual itself. Popularity, charisma, and economic leverage are some of the important factors that one may get elected in office.

    Our constitution has no clear-cut definition of what political dynasty is, it needs to be legislated but obviously it will not prosper due to the myriad of lawmakers belonging to entrenched political clans.

    Weak Political Parties

    In the country there is no observance of party discipline; turncoatism is prevalent. We have different political parties representing the same interests. In the article of Hutchcroft and Rocamora (2003) entitled “Strong Demands, Weak Institutions,” they outlined how the Philippines acquired democratic deficit.

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