An epidemic of clans
Ronald Holmes pointed out in a paper that the 2016 presidential elections had the highest electoral turnout since 1986. He also said polling data revealed only 10 percent of Filipinos favored a political party, while membership in civil society organizations and other associations such as unions had declined in the 30 years since 1986. Holmes defined that election as true to type: “personality-oriented, media driven and political clan dominated.”
As the President, or his people, or both, seem compelled to put forward the idea that his presidency should be followed by that of his daughter, let’s take a brief look at the role clans will play in 2022.
Entrenched as they seem, the clans are facing environmental challenges. In the 2013 midterms, a high official familiar with the campaign told me that political families across the board had faced their toughest fight since 1987. They mostly won, the official said, but the electorate made them sweat. I suspect this explains the migration of political families to newer, electorally-safer outlets for their ambitions: the party list. Julio Teehankee, in a paper analyzing the 2019 midterms, said 71 percent of the outgoing members of the House of Representatives in that year belonged to dynasties; but up to 83 percent of party list slots, or 61 seats, could be occupied by 49 dynastic candidates.
There is a phenomenon in biology where overpopulation then leads to a collapse. Ronald Mendoza was reported to have told the Senate in 2018 that “the number of political clans per position” had increased between 2007 and 2016. For members of the House, it rose from 75 percent to 78 percent; for governors, from 70 percent to 81 percent; and among mayors, from 58 percent to 70 percent. At first blush, this academic finding goes against the observation of the practical politician I mentioned above. But further discussions with other politicians made me suspect that the politician’s observations could easily be squared away with Mendoza’s research.
A congressman once recounted to me the difficulties he and his fellow politicians encountered in 2013 and 2016. The first problem was that there were much fewer people interested in running for office. Where once each party, whether national or local, had several competitors for each candidacy, now they had difficulty scraping up even one aspirant per slot. Someone else suggested that politics as a path to fame (and fortune) was increasingly unattractive — think of it as not just a risk to reputation but to life and limb — as the economy had expanded and with it, opportunities for self-advancement.
Another politician told me that the demographics of the electorate were changing. As old residents moved away in significant numbers, new ones replacing them lacked any real bonds forged over time with the political families putting themselves forward for election. This is part of a general trend of the waning of old ties based on church, club, or school, and changing behavior as fewer people were finding it fun to go to a plaza to gawk at candidates. This transformed voters into a highly mercenary electorate demanding not just to be paid for its votes but to be paid highly.
Data support the view that political families, given escalating campaign costs, decided to divide positions between formerly competing groups so they could run fewer, but safer, races. In 2010, 14 House candidates ran unopposed; in 2013, the number who ran unopposed was 25. As for gubernatorial candidates, three ran unopposed in 2010; in 2013, the number increased to 12. For vice-gubernatorial races the numbers were three in 2010 and 13 in 2013; while mayoralty candidates numbered 123 in 2010, but increased to 202 in 2013. For the 2019 midterms, Mendoza identified 548 unopposed candidates: at least 36 for the House, eight for gubernatorial races, 14 for vice-gubernatorial slots, 211 for mayoralties, and 263 for vice mayoralties.
Mendoza in 2018 said dividing the spoils like this happens more often during midterms because most everyone is already affiliated with the sitting administration; this is less the case during presidential election years as people are forming new coalitions. The clincher here, for our purposes, is that clans increasingly hard-pressed to maintain themselves in power, have little to offer presidential candidates because they lack real “command votes,” even in places they’re running unopposed.