The Duterte Family’s Plan for the Next Election Highlights the Problem of Political Dynasties in the Philippines
Rodrigo Duterte, the outgoing Philippine president, filed Monday his final candidacy for a seat in the Senate for elections set for May 20,22. This was just days after Sara Duterte Carpio had submitted her bid to become vice-president.
The move is seen as an effort by the Dutertes to enhance their prominence in a country notorious for its dynastic politics—as well as an attempt by the the 76-year-old leader to evade accountability for his war on drugs. Duterte has been the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court after a brutal crackdown that left over 20,000 people dead.
While Philippine presidents are legally immune while they serve, the Constitution prohibits them from being in office for more than six years. While immunity won’t continue in the senate, securing a seat in the upper chamber would still afford Duterte important protections: privilege from arrest for certain crimes while congress is in session, and formidable political clout.
“Maybe he still wants to be in the mix—to be a Senate President, to still be a player,” says Richard Heydarian, associate professor of politics at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
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True, Duterte may have to surrender his dream of a dynastic successor—at least for now. His daughter, Duterte-Carpio, has been edged out of the top spot in pre-election polling by the son (and namesake) of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who is now the top choice to become the Philippines’ next leader.
Duterte Carpio, however, will not be competing against Marcos Jr. but instead, Duterte Carpio will stand alongside Marcos Jr. for vice-president, strengthening the positions both families have in this country of 110 millions.
The Dutertes “have now settled for silver,” Heydarian tells TIME. “It seems contesting the gold would be a lose-lose for both sides, because that would have split the vote of the pro-administration side between the Marcoses and the Dutertes.”
However, for Philippine voters, there is the ongoing problem of dynastic political. Duterte Carpio may also be elected vice president. If this happens, it will protect her father’s interests from potential legal action. However, that would mean an extended wait for all those who want swift justice to the abuses committed during his bloody rule.
The Philippines has dynastic politics
The global political landscape is full of dynasties. These include the Shinawatras in Thailand to the Bushes & Kennedys in the U.S. and Nehru – Gandhis from India. But what makes the Philippines unique, according to the dean of the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG), Ronald Mendoza, is the sheer extent to which such families run the country—even though the constitution specifically requires the state to “prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
“I don’t think it’s matched anywhere else in the world,” he tells TIME. As if to prove the point, Duterte’s two sons are eyeing congressional and mayoral seats in the upcoming elections.
Research by ASOG showed that 80% of the governors, 67% of congressmen, and 53% of mayors who won office in the 2019 Philippine elections belonged to “fat dynasties”—the name given to families holding multiple elective posts.
Many businesses are also concentrated in the hands of relatives or cronies of political families, adds Mendoza, who observes “blatant” increases in wealth among politicians while in office. “The overlap between politics and economics is not a very healthy one, because it’s the same overlap that will actually snuff out competition,” he says.
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According to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalists, 2019’s report found that wealth levels rose after Duterte became public officials. Although the Duterte family has denied any wrongdoing and claimed that the money had come from private companies, they did not deny it. But whatever the truth, it seems clear that rule by political families has been generally associated with negative outcomes—whether in the Philippines or elsewhere.
In the midst of great diversity, dynasties thrive Regions in the poorest part of PhilippinesThere are many areas where it is easier for politicians to use patronage. Families gain easy access to the government’s coffers once they are elected. That’s why the fight for regional power can be stiff, and in areas with two or more competing clans, it can even become bloody: the warring of two political families in the southern province of Maguindanao caused the deaths of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in 2009.
Bills have been proposed to impose term limits on government officials who are related to each other, but these have languished when tabled before congressmen—many of whom belong to political dynasties themselves.
On the national stage, The Duterte family
Duterte-Carpio was vice mayor to her father in 2007, during one of his terms as the mayor of the southern Philippine city of Davao, and she is the city’s mayor today. Her vice-presidency bid will allow her to try and make the same jump into national politics as her father in 2015.
The Dutertes could emerge next as a national dynasty. If she succeeds and her brothers also follow this path,
The other Duterte children certainly don’t seem short of ambition. Paolo Duterte has faced accusations from political opponents of links to drug smuggling and organized crime—allegations that he was eventually cleared of—but he has managed to acquire congressional experience and for a time was deputy speaker of the house for political affairs. Sebastian Duterte was the youngest sibling and was elected vice mayor for Davao City.
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Critics argue that family politics, and the machinations of the leading dynasties, are ultimately a distraction from the real issues facing the Philippines—from pandemic recovery and graft to lagging infrastructure and poverty—preventing the emergence of the kind of leadership required to take the country forward.
Says Mendoza: “What we get is the Telenovela that captures our imaginations and distracts us from the deeper questions that we must ask them to answer in order to be better judges of who would be the best leader for us in May 2022.”