Why fighting dynasties and populism takes more than the election

May. 05, 2022

DAVAO CITY, Philippines  – The May 9 elections feature two ruling families uniting to vie for the two highest positions in the nation – the Marcoses and the Dutertes.

Their families are also vying for positions in Ilocos Norte and in Davao City.

Despite issues raised against them – the disinformation strategy linked to former Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr, and the no-show of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte on media forums – they remain on top of surveys.

In the latest Pulse Asia Survey covering 2,400 persons, Marcos Jr. sustained his lead over other presidentiables with 56%, a wide lead over Vice President Leni Robredo at 23%. Marcos Jr led in classes ABC and E.

Duterte also commands a 55% rating over rival vice presidential bets.


Supporters of other candidates doubt the methodology of the surveys, but sociologist and Professor Sarah Raymundo from the University of the Philippines said the popularity of the Dutertes and Marcoses resonate with the people because of how the elites use the ideology of populism.

She said the elites have the ability with resources to harness media to exploit the popular clamor of the people and turn it into votes.

“People like Duterte, or politicians like Marcos capture the popular aspirations of the people and are able to mouth these desires,” she said.

She narrated how President Rodrigo Duterte during his run for the presidency in 2016 was able to capture the experience of a worker riding an MRT going to work and experiencing traffic and hassle, and his speech was applauded by ending with his signature cursing.

Raymundo said this is a strategy of political dynasties of using peoples’ sentiments and needs such as jobs, housing, a better life to project them as solutions.

“Millions of Filipinos want a better job, decent housing which is far different from what they experienced now. The people who fill in the gap is politicians who promise people a better life or provide immediate relief like giving goods and money,” she added.

She likened the strategy to the way how popular culture is repackaged and given back to the people by media conglomerates in the form of teleseryes and  reality shows, where people aspire for better solutions amidst their experience of longtime poverty and joblessness especially during the pandemic.

This trend according to her reflects the political vacuum; wherein a gap between the now and what should be exists.

Duterte was able to channel the frustrations of the people on the presidency of the late Benigno Aquino III that propped him as anti-elite and a voice of the people.

Duterte promised to end labor contractualization along with ending the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country in three to six months.

Both promises have not been fulfilled, as Duterte vetoed the Security of Tenure Bill in 2019 that bans contractual work agreements.

The president also admitted in a recent speech that he was wrong to promise to solve the illegal drugs problem in six months, saying it was “hubris” to win votes during campaign time.

Fighting the Duterte dynasty

Duterte’s popularity has translated into his three children winning the local seats.

Sara Duterte entered local politics by winning the vice mayoral seat in 2007 and became mayor in 2010.  She stepped back from politics in 2013 but won the next two terms of the Davao City mayoralty.

Paolo ‘Polong’ Duterte also ran in 2007 as barangay chair of Catalunan Grande.  He was elected vice mayor in 2013 and 2016, but resigned in 2017 following controversies over smuggling and a riff with his daughter.  He ran for first district congressman and won in 2019 and is seeking reelection.

The youngest Duterte, Sebastian ‘ Baste’, entered politics by winning the vice mayoral position in 2019 like his sister.  Now he is running for mayor at age 34.

The Dutertes have long dominated local politics with no challengers, but  this election finds them facing alternative candidates.

Challenging Paolo Duterte is Victoria ‘Mags’ Maglana, a long-time development worker.

Former third district Congressman Ruy Elias Lopez came back from retirement to challenge Baste for the mayoral position.

With the campaign line of “Kita na pud,lahi na pud”(It is our turn,Let’s have a different one”),  Maglana has identified the problem of the city’s first district that includes flooding, housing deficiency and employment as pressing issues that needs attention of a Congressional Representative.

Having worked as consultant in several government agencies, international organizations and non-government organizations, gave her the expertise in areas of governance, peace, gender and sustainable development.

“It is important that they know their leaders and we’re banking on that and we’re hoping that, come May, that despite the very real machinery of the Dutertes and the reality of resources that they have and that other candidates don’t. I believe that people can make their choices,” she said.

Lopez has the same perspective with Maglana on stopping the Duterte family in consolidating their power for they no longer dominate local politics and has extended to the national level.

Lopez, son of the late former Davao City Mayor Elias Lopez who helped start Rodrigo Duterte’s political career in 1987, opposed the decision of fielding her daughter Sara for Vice Mayor way back in 2007.

For him, with the father-daughter tandem in the City government would mean no check and balance to avoid corruption in the government.

As a three-time Congressman, Lopez claimed to have addressed the need for electricity in the barangays of Toril, Marilog and 81 barangays in the third district for water.

 Voters in Davao remain doubtful if the alternatives could win.

“Duterte is a household name. It has been in Davao for the longest period of time,” Samantha,29, a vendor, said when asked about the new candidates braving the fight against the Dutertes.

However, Joanne,43, is still undecided on who to choose in the local positions saying that having alternative candidates is good for they might have new programs and projects for the people.

 The roots of dynasties

Beating the Dutertes can never be easy says Raymundo. as political dynasties have rooted themselves in Philippine society since American colonialism in the 1900s and that newbies and opposition candidates have a hard time winning with the money and resources these families have.

She calls the political dynasties as the “modern principalia”  similar to the principalia during the Spanish colonial period chosen from among the ruling and the educated upper class to lead the towns of the colony which led to establishing and perpetuating an oligarchic system for more than three hundred years.

“We have not really made a break with colonialism. The presence of political dynasties is a continuation of that feature of colonialism. Hindi lang basta lumitaw( They did not automatically appear) but they have a concrete history traced through colonialism,” she added.

Raymundo cited the book of Prof. Dante Simbulan, The Modern Prinicipalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy which is about the Philippine ruling elite—who they are and how they evolved in history.

In a 2019 report by Rappler, the official election results revealed that there at least 163 political families whose members have won in different government positions which include Congress representatives and governors.

They have mapped out and identified that 88 are in Luzon, 29 in the Visayas,44 in Mindanao and two families in separate island groups: the Suansings in Luzon(Nueva Ecija) and Mindanao(Sultan Kudarat),and the Arroyos  in Luzon(Pampanga) and the Visayas(Negros Occidental).

“Political dynasty is a major structuring principle of government wherein the mode of recruitment is done by a tiny minority of elite families. They are very much in evidence and scattered all over the archipelago; they are the ruling elites in every province lording over not only the political life but also the economic and social life of common people,” she said.

There have been reports that the Dutertes have hidden wealth, an issue the president denies.

READ:  https://old.pcij.org/stories/duterte-sara-paolo-mark-big-spikesin-net-worth-while-in-public-office/

Raymundo acknowledge the clamor to eliminate dynasties with the opposition and various groups calling for vigilance to fight electoral fraud because of the methods of manipulation that the oligarchy or the modern principalia resort to.

She cited widespread bribery, vote buying by the elite using taxpayers money and buying of public relation agents as forms generalized in the method of guns, goons and gold.

“There can never be true democracy where government is ruled by the oligarchy composed of wealthy people with the sovereign will of the people exercised during the elections as their source of power,” she added.

Raymundo stressed that whatever the results of this elections, the challenge for alternative and opposition candidates is to connect to the people on the ground especially the disenfranchised.

“A feature in Philippine Society that is quite problematic that when there is a political vacuum, those who are able to fill in the gaps are the populists, the reactionaries and those who actually won, accumulate wealth through government position instead of progressive institutions, not even the Church and organizations. So the vacuum is being hijacked by the elite,” she added.(davaotoday.com)





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