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[SPECIAL REPORT] Mindanao 2022 to 2025:  fat and obese dynasties rule (3)

Last of three parts 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /13 July) –  At the inauguration of the Siargao Island Sports and Tourism Complex in Dapa, Surigao del Norte on November 6, 2021, then President Rodrigo Duterte paused after reading the name of the third official with the same surname. “Puro Matugas na man ni tanan” (These are all Matugas), he said, while acknowledging Governor Francisco “Lalo” Matugas; his wife Sol, who previously served as governor and representative, and their son, Francisco Jose, the incumbent representative of the 1stdistrict.

But Duterte said he meant no offense because “pareho-pareho man ta” (we are the same). He said the proposed laws banning political dynasties will never be passed by a Congress dominated by dynasties, that political dynasties have become the “political practice” and are here to stay. 

“Unless you change the whole picture, unless you change the Constitution, unless you change the culture, puwede pa siguro. Pero og ani lang gihapon (But if we remain like this), we will have dynasties,” said Duterte, whose own political dynasty has ruled Davao City for 11 of 12 terms since 1988 or a total of 34 years by June 30, 2025.

Duterte-Duterte-Duterte. Vehicle parked in Tagum City during the UniTeam rally of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte for President and Vice President on May 5, 2022. The Duterte siblings were then running for Davao City’s 1st congressional district (Paolo), Davao City mayor (Sebastian) and Vice President (Sara). MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Rodrigo was elected the country’s 16th President and the first Mindanawon to lead the nation in 2016 and stepped down on June 30, 2022, the first day of his daughter Sara as Vice President and Education Secretary, his youngest Sebastian as Davao City mayor, his eldest son Paolo as reelected representative of the first district. Paolo’s wife, January, is barangay chair of Catalunan Grande, a post Paolo previously held. 

Matugas Sr. lost to Robert Lyndon Barbers, who had previously served as two-term Governor of Surigao del Norte while brother Robert Ace was reelected to what is now his sixth term as representative of the second district. But the Matugas dynasty has not been not been completely toppled. Matugas’ son, Francisco Jose, was reelected and so was his sister Elizabeth as mayor of Dapa town. Francisco’s wife, Sol, Governor from 2010 to 2019 is now mayor of the world-famous surfing town, General Luna on Siargao Island. 

Francico’s brother Ernesto and his son Ernesto Jr.  lost their bid for vice mayor and mayor of Surigao City. 

Mangudadatu vs Mangudadatu in 2 provinces 

In Maguindanao, Governor Bai Mariam Sangki Mangudadatu won a second term against Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, former governor and representative of the second district and cousin of her husband, Suharto, who was governor of neighboring Sultan Kudarat. Bai Mariam’s son, Datu Pax Ali, defeated Toto Mangudadatu’s wife Sharifa and is now Governor of Sultan Kudarat, the post held by the Mangudadatu father, son and grandson since 1998 – or 27 years by 2025. 

Gov. Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu and Datu Pax Ali Mangudadatu. Photos courtesy of Gov. Bai Mariam’s Facebook page and PIA-Sultan Kudarat

RA 11550 actually divided Maguindanao into Maguindanao del Norte and Maguindanao del Sur last year, its plebiscite supposedly on September 17, days before the start of the filing of the certificates of candidacy, to allow for their first set of officials to be elected in the May 2022 elections. But the plebiscite, along with four others, was reset to 2022, within four months after the May elections. 

Proponents of the division – then Maguindanao Representatives Esmael Mangudadatu and Datu Roonie Sinsuat —  said Maguindanao, despite its rich natural resources, is still one of the poorest provinces in the country “due to the inequitable influx of projects and programs.” 

The undivided Maguindanao has a population of 1.34 million as of May 2020 census, spread across 7,547.2 square kilometers. It has a voting population of 818,790 as of December 2021, is the vote-richest among the five provinces in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and is the sixth vote-richest among Mindanao’s 27 provinces. Its poverty incidence as of first semester of 2021 is 37.1% according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. 

Dividing the province, the authors said, will benefit residents as delivery of basic services will be more “more efficient” and they can expect a “more accessible, accountable, and responsive local government unit.”

Maguindanao del Sur’s capital is Buluan, the hometown of Rep. Mangudadatu and Maguindanao del Norte’s capital is Datu Odin Sinsuat, hometown of Rep. Sinsuat. 

Under the rule of the late governor, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., new towns in Maguindanao were created for his children, and a new province was created for – the Shariff Kabungsuan province – by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao whose regional governor then was his son Datu Zaldy. The creation of the province was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. 

“Command votes”

Before 1986, there were only a few provinces that had “command votes” in Mindanao, many of them in what is now the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. The increase in number of political dynasties – from the provincial to city or municipal, congressional and even barangay level — across Mindanao, however, has changed that landscape.  

The increase can be attributed to several factors. The creation of additional provinces, cities and districts is just one. The Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) is another and local government units (LGUs) will have higher IRA with the implementation of the Mandanas ruling which gives LGUs a just share on all national taxes collected, not only from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, effective 2022.

LGUs currently get their IRA from 40% of national internal revenue taxes collected by the BIR. The Mandanas ruling, which fully transfers or devolves the delivery of basic services to LGUs, is projected to increase the IRA by 27.61%.

The three-year term limits, as the voting trend in Mindanao has shown from 1987, gave birth to more dynasties from what would start out as one winner serving as mayor or governor or representative but at the end of three terms or nine years — would grow into a thin dynasty as the incumbent fields his wife or her husband or their son or daughter to be either the placeholder for that particular position for a term. Sometimes, a couple or father and son or mother and daughter would alternate in a post for nine years each, or simultaneously serve in the executive and legislative and after the end of three terms, swap posts. 

In a number of instances, the children or brothers or sisters who would be qualified to run for a particular post by the next election would start appearing in public functions more frequently. 

In well-entrenched dynasties, family members run for various posts in the same election – provincial, congressional district, city or municipal – even in party-list groups as in the case of the Bautistas of Davao Occidental and Tans of Sulu. 

From thin to fat to obese to morbidly obese 

Across Mindanao’s 422 municipalities, dynasties have proliferated, too. In Surigao del Norte’s 20 towns, seven towns are led by a mayor and vice mayor from the same family: the Esmas of Alegria, Cebedos of Bacuag, Bonites of Gigaquit, Mondanos of Mainit, Pinats of San Francisco, Dolars of Santa Monica and Diazes of Taganaan. Another Esma is number 1 councilor in Alegria. In San Francisco, the number 1 councilor is a relative of the vice mayor. In Del Carmen town, the mayor is a Coro and the number 1 councilor is a Coro. 

Michael Henry Yusingco, a Senior Research Fellow of the Ateneo Policy Center has noted that the “over-dominance of political dynasties has undermined the electoral process by making genuine political competition virtually impossible. Equity of the incumbent, name recall, and patronage politics all make the hold of dynastic politicians on power almost unbreakable.”

Yusingco warned that the “unabated expansion” of political dynasties augurs the decay of democracy in the Philippines “because their domination of the electoral cycle stifles the general public’s access to opportunities for public service. Citizens who do not have political pedigrees are severely disadvantaged when competing in electoral contests.”

The expansion of political dynasties, he said, “simply cannot be left unchecked” because “if they become morbidly obese, this could be fatal to democracy in the Philippines.”

Checks and balances; exploring other, better futures 

For then President Duterte,  dynasties  are likely to stay and “are not bad,” adding they become a problem when the family controlling an area monopolizes businesses, kills their rivals and in some cases, engages in the illegal drugs trade.

Duterte claimed it was the people’s clamor for his family to run for public office to continue his programs.

“People’s clamor” pushed Sara to the mayoralty in 2010, Duterte claimed. But Ruy Elias Lopez, who ran for city mayor in 2022, recalled that in 2007, when he was about to end his three terms as third district representative, Duterte said he was fielding Sara for vice mayor to prepare her for the mayoralty in 2010. By 2010, Duterte would have completed six terms or 19 years. He would run again for mayor and won again in 2013, his last. He ran for President in 2016. 

Former 3rd district Representative Ruy Lopez talks about the importance of checks and balances in governance and the absence of this in political dynasties. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Lopez said he tried to dissuade Duterte from fielding Sara.  “Sabi ko, masama yan” (I told him that’s bad), citing the need for checks and balances in government. He said he ran for mayor to give Davao City a choice. Not challenging the Dutertes, he said, is “not good for democracy.” 

At the end of his talk during his campaign sorties, Lopez would quiz his listeners. On the issue of checks and balances, he would ask: if you are the mayor and your child is the vice mayor, if you engage in corruption, would your child investigate you? If your child engages in corruption, would you investigate your child? 

The crowd’s reply: “No.”

Maria Victoria Maglana, a most sought after facilitator and consultant on governance, peace and development was the lone woman among three candidates who challenged the reelection bid of Paolo Duterte in the first congressional district. 

Mags Maglana during one of her house-to-house, person-to-person campaign sorties in Davao City. MindaNews photo by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

She challenged residents to “explore other and better futures,” with a “shared vision and a commitment to make way for what is possible, rather than just stick with what we have gotten used to.” The eldest Duterte son won.

Lopez ran for mayor against Sara Duterte, initially, until Sara opted to run for vice president and her brother Sebastian, then vice mayor, substituted for Sara for the mayoralty. The youngest Duterte son won. 

Negotiated posts, Ampatuan Massacre 

Another factor that contributes to the proliferation of dynasties in Mindanao is this trend of negotiated posts: candidates or even the entire slates running unopposed.

Ampatuan Sr. started this trend in Maguindanao back in the 2007 elections or 15 years ago, and is now being followed elsewhere: negotiate with your potential rival so you will not be opposed in the next election.

The entire provincial slate in 2007 ran unopposed. The entire slate in 20 of 22 municipalities also ran unopposed. This was a guarantee, according to Ampatuan, for “peaceful” elections in a province known for bloody polls. 

In 2009, Ampatuan’s son and namesake Andal Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay town, was supposed to file his candidacy for Governor of Maguindanao and like his father, wanted to run unopposed. But Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, a former ally of the Ampatuans, was bent on running for Governor and could not be convinced to drop his bid. 

Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn, led a convoy to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Elections office in the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak, the turf of the Ampatuans. The convoy never reached Shariff Aguak. They were stopped at a checkpoint by armed men led by Ampatuan Jr. and herded to Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town where they were gunned down, a number of them buried in mass graves in what is now referred to as the Ampatuan Massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media. 

Bodies exhumed from the mass graves at the massacre site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao in this photo taken on 25 November 2009. MindaNews photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

Twelve and a half years after the massacre and 29 months after the court found the Ampatuan brothers guilty beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced them to imprisonment of up to 40 years, the Ampatuans are still in power. 

Of the 39 candidates surnamed Ampatuan, 29 won in the May 9 polls: six town mayors — in Datu Hofer Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Mamasapano, Rajah Buayan, Shariff Aguak and Shariff Saydona Mustapha or what is collectively referred to by them as “Ampatuan Empire,” five vice mayors and 18 councilors. 

Except for Rajah Buayan, the five elected vice mayors are running mates of the “Ampatuan Empire” mayors who ran under the Nacionalista Party. The Rajah Buayan mayor ran under the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. 

Across Mindanao in the May 2022 polls, candidates for governor in four provinces (Agusan del Sur’s Santiago Cane, Davao Occidental’s Franklin Bautista, Davao Oriental’s Corazon Malanyaon and Sulu’s Abdusakur Tan), mayor in two cities (Kirk Asis of Bayugan and Judy Amante of Cabadbaran)  and representatives in six legislative districts (Agusan del Sur’s Alfelito Bascug and Adolph Edward Plaza, Sulu’s Samier Tan and Munir Arbison Jr.; Davao Occident’s Claude Bautista and Davao Oriental’s Nelson Dayanghirang) won even before election day. They ran unopposed. 

In Sulu, candidates for governor, vice governor and the two congressional districts ran unopposed. Candidates for mayor in 12 of 19 towns also ran unopposed. Eleven of these 12 mayoralty bets had vice mayors also running unopposed.

In Tawi-Tawi, two towns had mayors and vice mayors who ran unopposed while one town had an unopposed mayoralty candidate.  

Agusan del Sur was among the first to follow the Ampatuan formula of unopposed candidates: the entire provincial slate ran unopposed in 2016 and in 2022. 

Ending dynasties

In a pre-election forum at the Ateneo de Manila University, Dr. Julio Teehankee, Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the Dela Salle University, narrated that in his study of political dynasties in Congress, “there is a greater opportunity that you will be succeeded by your relative because you are the one who preserves your power… This is the result of the incumbency advantage, once you’ve stayed long enough in a particular position you get to have the benefit of the resources available to an incumbent,” he said. 

But Teehankee stressed that by the law of nature, “there will always be a rise and fall” of dynasties. A dynasty can be toppled by another dynasty; a dynasty can be toppled by a non-dynasty like Kaka Bag-ao of Dinagat who won the gubernatorial post in 2019 but lost in the 2022 polls. 

A dynasty can also be defeated, he said, through inter-familial competition, such as the Binays in Makati or Jinggoy Estrada and JV Ejercito who both lost in the 2019 polls but won in 2022. 

Teehankee said the country will never see the end of the problem of dynasties “unless we address the systemic and structural roots.” 

He said he hopes the anti-dynasty provision in the 1987 Constitution will be legislated by Congress even as he asks: “How do you expect a house full of political clans and dynasties to pass an anti-dynasty law? It’s just like asking Dracula to guard the blood bank.” 

Pan-Mindanao political movement vs political dynasties

For Antonio La Viña of Cagayan de Oro, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government and Law professor in universities in Manila and Mindanao, banning political dynasties is “no longer achievablegiven the composition of Congress.”

“There is no other alternative for the country and in Mindanao but for grassroots political movements and political parties to rise up to the occasion and provide alternatives to the political families. We need to go back to the basics of sectoral and community political organizing that will be based on principles and issues,” he told MindaNews. 

La Vina noted that the current economic crisis “that is expected to worsen in the months to come will provide opportunities for that kind of organizing to happen. For Mindanao, that organizing must be regional and even island wide. There is no chance you can win against local dynasties if the fight remains local. Thus a priority would be a pan-Mindanao political movement against political dynasties,” he said.

Part of what must be done, he added, is to “imagine and design alternative political structures that would lead us out of the current situation.”

He cited as example the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao where, because of the parliamentary system agreed upon in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement whose enabling law is the Organic Law for the BARMM, “there could be interesting results in their first elections” in May 2025. 

“If the political elite, led by Marcos family, tried charter change, there might be an opportunity to propose alternatives to just extension of terms,” he added. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

READ PARTS 1 and 2

SPECIAL REPORT: Mindanao 2022 to 2025: Fat and obese dynasties rule (1)


SPECIAL REPORT: Mindanao 2022 to 2025: Fat and obese dynasties rule (2)

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