All in the family: Ampatuans, Garcias, other reigning lords

Jun. 05, 2007

Political dynasties are a product of a society riven by income inequalities and lack of opportunities for social and economic uplift of the majority of the people.

(Last of two parts)

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG

MANILA — Widely believed to have ensured Gloria M. Arroyo’s victory in the 2004 rigged elections is Datu Andal Ampatuan, who is now said to be at the center of alleged cheating in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The Ampatuan dynasty based in Maguindanao province is Arroyo’s present conduit in helping ensure her influence over the whole of Mindanao, which hosts many of the country’s grizzled but otherwise powerful political clans. Datu Andal used to be a member of the House until he became governor of Maguindanao in 2004, a post which he expects to retain this year.

A son who is in his 30s, Zaldy Ampatuan, was backed by Arroyo as governor of ARMM in the 2005 elections which was boycotted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other candidates for governor. Still unsolved by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are allegations that Zaldy won the election due to multiple voters’ registrations and other acts of cheating.

Majority of the candidates for mayor in the province’s 22 municipalities are Datu Andal’s children, cousins and brothers-in-law who ran unopposed. Andal reportedly promised his mayors P1 million each in return for a 12-0 win for TU in Maguindanao. All of ARMM’s provincial governors bow to the power of the Ampatuans. Andal’s uncle and former Cabinet secretary, Simeon A. Datumanong, has been reelected to Congress (2nd district, Maguindanao) while a brother, Zamzamin, is the Cabinet secretary general of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPCC) who also used to head the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA).

Said to be another Dimaporos in the making, the Ampatuans, who are known to support the presence of U.S. forces, are virtually in charge of the Army’s 16th ID and have greatly weakened the operations of the MILF in the province.

Garcia family

For delivering Arroyo’s 1 million votes in Cebu in 2004, the Garcias were able to have one of their members, Winston, picked as president of the GSIS, where he later faced graft charges. The patriarch of the Garcias, Gov. Pablo Garcia, Sr. is back in Congress while son Pablo John Garcia has also won a seat (3rd district, same province). Daughter Gwendolyn Garcia was reelected governor. Pablo, Sr. had two terms in the House and three terms as governor.

Two-term senator (1987-1998, 2001-2007) and presidential wannabe Edgardo Angara has regained his Senate seat while sister, Bellaflor Angara-Castillo (congresswoman, 1995-2004, Aurora governor 2004-2007), was reelected governor, and son Juan Edgardo (congressman 2004-2007) also regained his House seat (lone district, Aurora). The Angaras have been in politics since 1934 when Jose Angara, uncle of Edgardo, became congressman in 1934.

Meanwhile, the Villars, considered to be the wealthiest in both houses of Congress, regained their seats, with Manuel Villar (congressman, 1992-2001, senator, 2001-2001-2007) in the Senate, and wife Cynthia, in the lower chamber (long district, Las Pias City). Manuel’s brother-in-law, Vergel Aguilar, will be back as mayor of Las Pias. The Villars, who are with the Nacionalista Party, ran under GO.

Francis Escudero (congressman, 1998-2007) has been elected No. 2 in the Senate race while father, Salvador Escudero III (agriculture secretary under Marcos, congressman, 1987-1998) is going back to the House (1st district, Sorsogon).

There are now two Cayetanos in the Senate and another in the House. Alan Peter (congressman, 1998-2007) will join sister Pilar “Pia” Cayetano-Sebastian (senator, 2004-2010) in the Senate. Alan’s wife, Laarni, will take his seat in the House. A brother, Renren (councilor, 2004-2007), was elected vice mayor of Muntinlupa.

Local bailiwicks

Compared to the national elections, the perpetuation of the elitist rule of political families is more reassuring in the latter’s local bailiwicks. Luis “Chavit” Singson (congressman, 1987-1992; governor, 1998-2007) and Prospero Pichay (congressman, 1998-2007) may have lost their bids for the Senate but they have their dynasties largely unscathed in Ilocos Sur and Surigao del Sur, respectively.

There are still Singsons in the House and local government: son Ronald (congressman, 1st district, Ilocos Sur); cousin Eric (congressman, 2nd district, Ilocos Sur); brother Jeremias is the new vice governor; niece Eva Marie Singson-Media was reelected mayor of Vigan together with Allen Singson, son of Eric, mayor of Candon. Germelina Singson Goulart, a sister of Chavit, did not make it as mayor of Caoayan. The Singsons’ political kingdom in the province dates back to the 1800s.

In Surigao del Sur, Pichay’s seat in the House (1st district) will now be occupied by brother Philip.

Following are some of the families and clans who remain formidable in their own enclaves, some of them in power since the early 1900s with others still on the rise: Villafuertes, Fuentebellas, Binays (Makati), Ortegas, Marcoses, Amantes, Plazas, Jalosjos, Gatchalians, Zubiris, Chiongbians, Semas, Romualdos, Cagas, Antoninos, Lorenzo-Lobregats, Hofers, Defensors, Lagmans, Dimaporos, Piols, Sinsuats, Ecleos, Maraons, Lacsons, Fuas, and Mangudadatus.

There were some setbacks in the recent elections. In the rustic island of Masbate, the Espinosas, who have ruled the fourth-class province since the 1930s, were clobbered by the Khos in both the House and governorship. The Dys, who have lorded Isabela for nearly four decades, may have lost the governorship twice in a row to a non-traditional figure, Grace Padaca, but they still have Caesar Dy as mayor of Cauayan and Faustino Dy III as congressman (2nd district).


The Espinas have been the power to beat in Biliran, a small fishing island province (population: 140,274) in Eastern Visayas, since Gerardo Espina, now 72, was elected congressman in 1995. However, son Gerardo (mayor, 1998-2004, congressman, 2004-2007) lost to a young lawyer, Glenn A. Chong, a scion of a Chinese-Filipino family that owns a construction firm and the biggest supermarket in the province. But another son, Rodolfo, has been elected governor while a sister, Roselyn Espina-Paras, was voted councilor of Naval, the capital.

The Philippines’ political dynasties have ruled the government in both national and local levels for generations, with members claiming right of succession to government positions, whether elective or appointive. There are also a number of emerging political families who gained political limelight after the Marcos dictatorship. The past few years has also seen the emergence of new types of political families who trace their ascendancy to some elective positions to the rise of charismatic or Born-Again Christian movements as well as to fortunes earned while serving in the military and police institutions.

Oligarchic politics or politics of dynasties is born out of the country’s semi-feudal and neo-colonial society which limits the accumulation and concentration of wealth to the elite. Political dynasties are therefore a product of a society riven by income inequalities and lack of opportunities for social and economic uplift of the majority of the people. These unequal structures provide power and money politics for the elite to take control of the state machineries which, in turn, they use to perpetuate their reign and shield their monopoly of wealth from threats and challenges posed by the lower classes who are struggling for social and economic transformation.

A look at the economic profile of the political dynasties reveals that while the material base of their power since the 1900s has remained basically the same they now also possess a diversity of interests. Thus aside from huge agricultural lands, commercial crop plantations, logging and mining concessions, and fishing their possessions now include: shipping and other transportation, construction, supermarkets, real estate and construction, beach resorts, publishing, manufacturing, and energy. Don’t be surprised if some of them are also engaged in narco politics, jueteng and other illegal sources of wealth.

The dominance of the political clans most especially dynasties is also backed by the military and police, and, in the case of many warlords among them, private armies that also act as government’s paramilitary units. Many of them also operate fraud machineries that also tap some officials of the Commission on Elections and other agencies to ensure their victory during elections.

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