Written by Jhoanna Ballaran, Jefferson Antiporda Reporters and Mae Favila Special to The Manila Times
Former vice president Teofisto Guingona Jr., the Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption and other personalities asked the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday to order the House of Representatives to pass a measure that will put an end to political dynasties.
In a petition for mandamus, the group headed by Dante Jimenez urged the High Court to use its power and order Congress to create a law against political dynasties, or the succession of government officials coming from the same family, in accordance with Article 2, Section 26 of the Constitution.
“For the past 25 years or a quarter of a century, Congress has wantonly neglected to pass this law,” the petitioners’ lead counsel Leonard de Vera said. The other petitioners include Eduardo Bringas, Vicente Velasquez and retired general Raymundo Jarque.
In their 26-page petition for mandamus, the group said that political dynasties should be prohibited because they are “inimical to the guarantee given to the citizens of the right to equal access to opportunities for public service.”
“We have waited too long. We can wait no longer,” they added. “We ask the Supreme Court to exercise its power granted to it by the Constitution to compel Congress to do its duty to pass a law prohibiting and defining political dynasty. Not by waiting for an indeterminate period of time, but in the immediate present with dispatch and deliberate speed.”
According to Jimenez, 10 out of the 27 candidates running for senator in 2013 belong to powerful political clans. Among them are Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino 4th and Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, first cousin and aunt, respectively, of President Benigno Aquino 3rd; Ma. Lourdes Nancy Binay, daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay; Rep. Juan Castañer “Jack” Ponce Enrile, son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile; Mayor Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, half-brother of Senate Pro Tempore Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada; Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, brother of Sen. Pia Cayetano; Cynthia Villar, wife of Sen. Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr.; Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, son of Sen. Edgardo Angara; Rep. Ma. Milagros “Mitos” Magsaysay, daughter-in-law of Vicente Magsaysay, and Ramon Magsaysay Jr., son of the late president Ramon Magsaysay.
“This is a challenge to the Supreme Court [justices] to widen their views. Don’t let them be controlled by the few politicians, by the ones who appointed them,” Jimenez said.
The petitioners, at least 115 lawmakers or 68 percent of the members of the 15th Congress have relatives who have been elected in the previous elections.
“We hope the SC can help us in explaining well what political dynasties are because we’ve been taken for granted by Congress many times already,” Jimenez told reporters.
A writ of mandamus is an order to compel a lower court or a government office to perform its duties correctly. In this case, if the petition will be granted by the tribunal, Congress will be obliged to create a law against the age-old problem of political dynasties.
Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd said that any move to outlaw political dynasties should start with the House of Representatives.
Osmeña said that such a bill would face stiff opposition at the lower chamber because many of its members come from political families.
The senator added that in the past, members of the House would “kill” an anti-dynasty measure immediately after it is filed.
“I wanted it to prosper when I first became a senator but the House said don’t bother to send us a bill like that,” Osmeña said.
He said that an anti-dynasty bill should prohibit relatives of an incumbent local official up to the fourth civil degree from seeking a local position in the same province and district.
But Osmeña made it clear that if a relative of a governor wants to run for governor or any local position in a different province, that will not be considered as establishing a political dynasty.
“So let’s say if I’m a governor of Cebu and my brother wants to run as governor of Davao how can that be called a dynasty? But if I’m the president and my cousin wants to run as senator that is dynasty,” he said.
Meanwhile, Representatives Edgardo Angara, Teddy Casiño and Mayor Joseph Victor Ejercito said that scions of political clans should not seek public office if they do not have the credentials for the job.
“I intended to run for a legislative position because I’m a lawyer by profession. I thought that was a good preparation. I hope I don’t sound boastful, but I think I could stand on my own record,” Angara said in a television interview.
Angara finished Economics at the London School of Economics, took up law at the University of the Philippines before finishing Master of Laws in Harvard.
“I am not saying that we are the only ones that can lead our country. There are almost a hundred million Filipinos. Many are smart, many are educated, many know the problems on the ground. That’s the job of political parties, to groom the best and the brightest,” he added.
Casiño agreed that scions of political families should earn their stripes before eyeing public office.
“You should build your track record, start from the bottom. In the case of many of our political families, they start from the top because their family member is already there. No need to go through the barangay level,” Casiño said.
Ejercito claimed that he worked his way up.
“I will not make a run for the Senate if only my name was my asset. I think as a three-term mayor, I was able to uplift the lives of our constituents because we have the lowest poverty incidence per the NSCB [National Statistics Coordination Board],” Ejercito said.