WORM’S EYEVIEW: Our fascination with titles and dynasties

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 21 May) – I guess it’s human to be fascinated by titles—especially “royal” titles like “datu,” “sultan,” or other honorific including the academic variety like “Doctor,” “Attorney,” or “Engineer.”

Titles bespeak pedigree, nobility, or royalty: a fascination fairly well-established in our society. Where there’s a dearth of titled or pedigreed people, we resort to make-believe.

We crown a make-believe princess or queen during fiestas. We hold festivals where a “Mr This or Mrs That” is chosen or elected—who then ascend a royal “throne” and reign for a day or week or longer.

“Royal” pageants are regular features in our communities—in neighborhoods, schools, districts, municipalities, provinces, in churches too.

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Even politics is not spared such royal make-believe. Elections in many places assume the character of beauty pageants, or royal battles, their winners behaving thereafter like a reigning queen or king.

And it often happens that the make-believe takes on an earnestness that makes politicos act out the fantasy and forget why they’re in office, which is to serve the community and enhance quality of life.

In their eagerness to act out their royal pretensions, they forget what they’re in office for, their obligations as public servants. Believing they’ve acquired a certain nobility by winning public acclaim during the election, they actually think they’ve entered the ranks of royalty.

And where a royal family reigns, can a royal dynasty be far behind? From such fantasy arises ambition to extend the rule of family or clan indefinitely. Thus starts the phenomenon of dynasty-building.

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The obsession to have family or clan reign for generations, backed by the individual and collective resources of its members, has resulted in crowding our political system with dynasties that have turned the business of governance into a family enterprise.

Employing patronage, the dynasties fan the community’s fascination for “royalty”. And, sadly, everyone plays along, keeping alive the pretense and the regal affectations of pretentious dynasties.

And so doing, the people themselves denigrate citizen sovereignty, and democracy itself. It is they who keep such dynasties in power, kowtowing to their whims and caprices, indulging their misplaced self-importance, tolerating their presumptuous attitudes.

It is very bad. It is not good to let public servants indulge in royal pretensions or fantasies. It feeds their vanity and heightens their propensity for abuse. It deepens their sense of entitlement. It drives them to corruption.

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Deferential behavior towards pretentious trapos is bad. It encourages them to assume royal airs, and to expect royal treatment. Before long, instead of act like the public servants that they are, they start believing they’re a special breed, are above the law, and can do no wrong.

That’s how we give them wrong ideas about their importance and their indispensability to our community and society. Supporting them and their dynasty oversteps the line beyond what’s proper, legal, or even immoral.

Political fantasy must never trump reality. Public servants must never get away with strutting around flaunting their power and privilege, making naïve people believe themselves to be their “subjects.” Public servants must never mistake themselves as parent-figures either: a patriarch or matriarch presiding over the family (community)—as in Ama or Ina ng Bayan. It is improper; but no one bothers to rectify the attitude or behavior.

No one challenges the impropriety, or even to admonish against unseemly behavior; so they figure it’s all right with everyone. So they just carry on and treat everyone like junior wards or dependents, forgetting that they are the public servants.

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Dynastic politics is not new, of course; political dynasties have come and gone. But in more advanced societies, democracy and equality of opportunity are serious business; there is a limit to political monopoly or control over a community.

It is time we moderate the overweening greed for power and the shamelessness in political families. It is time we foster what is proper, desirable, or acceptable in decent society.

No more should we allow a political dynasty to exploit the weaknesses of our community and society. There must be propriety, decency, conscience, compunction, and social responsibility in politics.

[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. Author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected] ]