Estrada son files anti-pol dynasty bill

MANILA, Philippines – Proponents of the anti-political dynasty bill found an unlikely ally in the Senate: one of the sons of former President now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

Sen JV Ejercito filed an anti-political dynasty bill on November 13, a week before the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms approved a version of the bill, the farthest the measure has gone in nearly two decades. Advocates of political reform hailed the House approval as a historic move coming on the heels of the Supreme Court decision striking down lawmakers’ pork barrel.

In filing Senate bill no. 1906, Ejercito reversed a position he made during the campaign. Back then, he defended dynasties and said, “Let the people decide.”

Besides former President Joseph Estrada, Ejercito has other relatives in government: his mother San Juan Mayor Guia Gomez, half brother Senator Jinggoy Estrada, first cousin Laguna Governor ER Ejercito (who has been subsequently disqualified by the poll body for overspending during the campaign, but has appealed the decision), first cousin Quezon Board Member Gary Estrada (half brother of Governor Ejercito), and niece San Juan Councilor Janella Ejercito Estrada (Jinggoy's daughter).

Ejercito though took a strong position against political dynasties in the explanatory note of his bill.

“[Political dynasties] secure and consolidate their economic interest by perpetuating their families or clans in public office – indeed, making a dynasty out of public service. This situation is characteristic of the patronage system of politics that hinders the development of the country,” he said.

“It is necessary that the political arena be leveled by opening public office to persons who are equally qualified to aspire on even terms with those from politically dominant families,” Senator Ejercito added.

Asked why he filed the bill despite coming from a political family, Ejercito told Rappler, "Our population is about 100 million strong. And I believe that there are a lot who are qualified to run for positions, just do not have the opportunity. Power, both economic and political, should not be held by just a few. We need to give chance to others who are equally capable but do not have the opportunity."

Yet the senator’s bill had a less strict definition of political dynasties compared to the House version. 

Ejercito’s bill only covers the following:

Ejercito’s bill is applicable to the next elections and to subsequent polls. Incumbent officials with political dynasty relationships with one another in the same city or province will be allowed to run in subsequent polls until they reach their term limit.

In contrast, the House of Representatives version prohibits relatives up to the second degree of consanguinity to hold or run for both national and local office in “successive, simultaneous, or overlapping terms.”

The 1987 Constitution prohibits political dynasties, but the provision was never implemented due to the lack of an enabling law. In the 2013 polls, many political dynasties won in both the national and local levels.

In his bill, Ejercito cited a report by the United Nations Development Programme showing that 72 out of 77 provinces or 94% have political families. (There were 80 provinces as of the elections.) The study also found that there at least two political clans in most provinces.

Dynasty-filled Senate

Besides Ejercito, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago also refiled a version of the bill. The bills have yet to hurdle the committee level in the Senate.

The House panel’s passage of the bill sparked questions on whether or not the measure will also move forward in the Senate. Out of 24 senators, 18 are related to current or former government officials. There are also sitting senators related to each other. Aside from the Estrada sons, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano and Sen Pia Cayetano are siblings.

Senate President Franklin Drilon told reporters on Thursday, November 21, that he has yet to “test the waters” on where his colleagues stand on the issue.

Wala akong kamag-anak kaya ngayon pa lang, boboto na ako. Ni kapitan de barangay, wala akong kamag-anak,” Drilon said. (I have no relative in government, so as early as now, I will vote for that. Even a barangay captain, I have no relative.)

Senator Nancy Binay, the daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, is against any political dynasty bill. Other Binays in government are Makati Rep Abigail Binay and Makati Mayor Junjun Binay.

In a text message, Binay said the bill “may limit what the Constitution says about who could run for public office.”

“It may also go contrary to the principle of vox populi, vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God). Public service should not be delimiting lalo na kung qualified ang isang kandidato. Mas dapat bantayan 'yung appointing members of one family in key and high positions in government,” Binay said

(Public service should not be delimiting especially for qualified candidates. People should be more vigilant against appointing members of one family in key and high positions in government.)

As for Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, he said he doubts if the House discussed the bill “well enough.”

“Very controversial. We must study it very well,” Sotto said.

Senators’ conflict of interest

Some senators’ position though depends on the definition of political dynasty. This was also an issue that came up in the discussions of the bill in the 15th Congress.

Senate electoral reforms and people’s participation committee chairman Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who became senator after the term of his father and namesake, has said that the definition should be more precise and not be limited to local races. Santiago’s bill is only applicable to the local level.

Senator Bam Aquino told Rappler that he supports the bill, but wants to see what definition the Senate will adopt. Aquino is the cousin of President Benigno Aquino III.

“Yes definitely as well as other colleagues of mine here. Many of us said we will support it depending on the definition so that is what we really need to study. I haven’t seen the version of Congress,” he said.  

Senator Sonny Angara, son of former Sen Edgardo Angara, told Rappler he supports a version of the bill limiting relatives within the second degree of consanguinity from successively occupying the same position. He said this will limit husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, grandfathers and grandchildren from succeeding each other.

“A good anti-dynasty bill has to balance the constitutional imperatives of opening up access to public office and that of not unduly limiting the electorate's freedom to choose,” Angara said.

Senator Francis Escudero, son of the late Sorsogon Rep Salvador Escudero III, said he will vote for any version of the bill but will not participate in the deliberations.

“Ayoko kasing masabi na kasama at bahagi ako ng paghubog ng batas eh baka may conflict of interest ako pero boboto ako pabor doon sa dulo kung anumang bersyon,” Escudero said.

(I don’t want people to say that I am part of crafting the bill when I have conflict of interest but I will vote in favor of the final version, whatever it is.)  

“Dahil mamaya baka kulangin pa ang Senado ng boto para maaprubahan iyan kung lahat ng may conflict of interest ay mag-i-inhibit,” Escudero quipped.   

(I am voting for the bill because maybe there will not be enough votes to approve it if everyone with conflict of interest will inhibit.) – Rappler.com