Philippines’s political fiefdoms dig in

May. 21, 2007

A look at the election outcome in some of the political turfs would show whether the geopolitical balance of power has changed without necessarily shaking the infrastructures of political dynasties in those areas.

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)

Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
May 21, 2007

One of the biggest gainers in the May 14 mid-term elections is the Macapagal-Arroyo political clan, now headed by incumbent President Gloria M. Arroyo. With two sons of Mrs. Arroyo winning House seats Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo (1st District, Camarines Sur) and reelectionist Rep. Mikey Arroyo (2nd District, Pampanga) and reelectionist Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, a brother-in-law, regaining his seat (5th District, Negros Occidental), the Macapagal-Arroyo clan expands the political dynasty began by patriarch Diosdado Macapagal who was elected to Congress in 1949. Diosdado eventually became the country’s fifth President in 1961. Ignacio Arroyo is reportedly being groomed to succeed House Speaker Jose de Venecia who has also clinched his reelection bid (4th District, Pangasinan).

The clan of Macapagal-Arroyo has been in power for 58 years, broken only by the Marcos dictatorship. Even if the clan has spun out its political presence in Camarines Sur and Negros, it has a lot of damage control coming up what with the province of Pampanga – considered Mrs. Arroyo’s bailiwick and father Diosdado’s birthplace – going to a new governor, Fr. Ed Panlilio. “Among Ed” Panlilio, the first Catholic priest elected in government, won by a small margin over Lilia Pineda and incumbent Gov. Mark Lapid, both Arroyo allies. Pineda is married to Rodolfo “Bong” Pineda, alleged to be a top jueteng (illegal numbers game) lord.

Votes in nearly 50 of the country’s 80 provincial posts have been counted along with those cast in many House district races. Many of the winners, including mayoralty candidates, have been proclaimed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Partial results of the elections show reigning political dynasties still well-entrenched, a few of them trounced but only to be replaced by new political clans while others have kept their fiefdoms with even more elective posts taken.

Except for new political figures such as Fr. Panlilio and Grace Padaca, who has regained her governorship of Isabela but whose proclamation has been stalled, the fraud-ridden mid-term elections saw no qualitative change in the structure of political dynasties that have dominated Philippine politics for over a century. In fact fraud and violence, in many cases, according to poll watch groups, backed by military and police forces, proved to be decisive in enabling political clans including many administration candidates to dig in.

Who’s in, who’s out

A look at the election outcome in some of the political turfs would show whether the geopolitical balance of power has changed even without necessarily shaking the infrastructures of political dynasties in those areas:

Tarlac: Victor Yap, who also belongs to a political clan, beats former Rep. Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Jr., brother of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino. Not to worry, Cojuangco, Jr.’s setback will not affect the political hold of the Aquino-Cojuangco dynasty, with Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III expected to win in the Senate. Moreover, Jeci Lapus, is elected congressman (3rd District, Tarlac). He is a cousin of the late Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr., and brother of former representative and now Education Secretary Jesli Lapus. Monica Louise Teodoro, wife of Gilberto Teodoro, Jr., also wins a seat (1st District, Tarlac). Teodoro, Jr., is a nephew of former Marcos crony Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr., said to be the country’s top political kingpin. “Danding” Cojuangco’s son, Marcos Jr., is reelected congressman (4th District, Pangasinan).

Ilocos Sur: Despite doubts Ilocos political lord and outgoing Gov. Luis “Chavit” Singson will make it in the Senate under the Team Unity (TU) ticket, son Ronald is elected representative (2nd District, Ilocos Norte), brother Jeremias is elected vice governor, and cousin Eric retains his House post (2nd District, same province). A sister, “Honey Girl” Singson-de Leon, sits in the Arroyo government as chair of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO). Another Singson, Allen, wins as mayor of Candon City. The Singsons trace their ancestral roots to Joaquin Ayco, a 17th century merchant from China. Their forefathers have ruled the capital city, Vigan, as far back as the 1800s.

Nueva Ecija: Rep. Aurelio Umali wins as governor at the expense of a member of the Joson clan, Vice Gov. Mariano Cristino Joson. Another Joson, Tomas III, also loses his bid for governor of the province. But it’s not all lost to the Joson dynasty that has lorded over Nueva Ecija for 47 years: Eduardo Nonato Joson (Tomas III’s brother) is elected to the House (1st District, Nueva Ecija) while Eduardo Basilio Manuel is reelected mayor of Quezon town.

Bicol Region. There are both upsets and setbacks among political clans in this region. Clobbered are the Espinosas of Masbate with Rep. Emilio Espinosa, House deputy speaker for Luzon, beaten by Dr. Elisa Olga Kho, wife of outgoing Gov. Antonio Kho. Maloli Espinosa-Manalastas, eldest daughter of slain Rep. Moises Espinosa, loses to the new governor’s husband, in the congressional race (2nd District, Masbate).The Espinosas were in power since the 1930s with family patriarch, Emilio Espinosa, Sr., elected to the 10th Philippine legislature. The Khos are also a long-time political clan. Rep. Luis Villafuerte is reportedly headed for a landslide (2nd District, Camarines Sur); Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella and Rep. Felix Alferol, Jr. (3rd District and 4th District, Camarines Sur) also regain their seats. Villafuerte, a former Marcos crony, is at odds with his son, Luis Raymundo, Jr., who has won as governor. Meanwhile, Jesse Robredo is reelected mayor of Naga City against Jojo Villafuerte. The Fuentebellas and Robredos are now political rivals, despite their being relatives with a common Chinese ancestry dating back to the 19th century. The Fuentebella patriarch, Jose, won as assemblyman in 1909.

La Union: La Union in northern Philippines has been the fiefdom of the Ortegas since 1934 when Francisco Ortega first won as congressman. Son Rep. Manuel Ortega wins as governor while Pablo Ortega, brother of Francisco Ortega, Jr., is elected mayor of San Fernando, the capital city. Fifteen members of the Ortega clan ran for various elective positions and party-list (Abono) in La Union, Baguio City and Manila in the May 14 elections.

Cebu: Gwendolyn Garcia, who belongs to the pro-Arroyo Garcia clan, is reelected governor. Gwendolyn’s father, Pablo Garcia, served as governor (1995-2004) and is running for Congress (2nd District) in the May 14 elections while brother Pablo John is vying for a House seat (3rd District). Political rivals in Cebu are the extended clan of the Osmeas, Del Mars and Dela Ramas; the Cuencos; and Gullases. All of them have also fielded several candidates in the mid-term polls.

Others from political families who have won or been reelected are: Rodolfo Plaza and Democrito Plaza, won as congressman and mayor of Butuan City, respectively, Agusan del Sur; Jose Ma. Zubiri, Jr., Jose Ma. Zubiri III, and Ignacio Zubiri, governor, congressman (3rd District) and Malaybalay City vice mayor, respectively, Bukidnon; Ramon Durano III and Ramon Durano, Jr., mayor and vice mayor of Danao City, Cebu; Rogelio Espina, governor of Biliran; Julio Ledesma IV, congressman (3rd District, Negros Occidental); Raul Gonzales, Jr., congressman (Iloilo); Carmencita Reyes, congressman (Marinduque); and Vilma Santos, governor of Batangas, and wife of reelectionist Sen. Ralph Recto, a member of the Rectos whose political life dates back to Claro M. Recto (assemblyman, 1918).

Philippine politics has long been dominated by political dynasties numbering about 250 or 0.00001667 percent of the country’s 15 million families – with each of the country’s 80 provinces kept under the thumbs of at least one dynasty. In turn, these political dynasties run a patronage system of local political families and networks of supporters bound together by interlocking political and commercial interests. (CENPEG)

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