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An Anarchy of Families:

State and Family in the

The Philippine political arena is dominated with political families. According to Alfred
McCoy, it is because of two reasons: (1) the unending rent-seeking activities, and (2) the
diminishing control of the government over the provinces. These two factors cause the
perpetuation of these elite families because of the benefits which come with them. Consequently
and inevitably, these political actors, with the vulnerability of the political system, direct the
supposed resources of the country to their private interests which weakens the country. Thus, the
cycle does not cease: more alluring benefits; more dynasties enter; more resources are corrupted;
the more the country disintegrates politically and economically; and so on.
First, rent-seeking activities prevail in the Philippines. As it was defined to be the
restriction of entry into the market, it contradicts the Philippine political and economic culture,
i.e. freedom of entry. However, rents continue to persist. This is because, as Manuel Montes said,
“the economic structure of the country…stimulates, encourages, and provides the greatest
rewards to ‘rent-seeking’ activities’.” The opposite of this, which is the profit-seeking activities,
do not promise protection and maintenance. On the other hand, rent-seeking activities will be
consistent as long as patrons exist, i.e. the family.
The Filipino families, as Jean Grossholtz describe it to be the “strongest unit of society…
demanding the deepest loyalties,” become the most influential and most enduring component in
the economic and historical aspect of the country. The family receives a certain degree of
superiority which gives them privileges like respect, trust, and loyalty, because of the country’s
culture and the aid of the law.
This is proven by, firstly, the fact that the family is the first and most effective source of
political socialization. Being the individuals’ first place to garner ideologies and cultural norms,
families become the most important social institution with the most crucial responsibility in the
society. Secondly, in the country, the family holds a rather high position which entitled it with
respect from officials. The Constitution itself has grounded this in Article 2, Section 12: “The
State recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic
autonomous social institution.”
These have increased the function of the social institution. Hence, there was an increase
in confidence in the family and the kinship networks that comes with it. Together with their
culture, specifically the ideology of solidarity, kinship ties become the most practical and
organized means. And since politics and economy carry considerable rewards and powers,
families has ventured into it. The extension of the family, specifically the compadrazgo, has then
become a means of creating connections or of establishing patron-client relationships. As result,
its extending networks were used to perpetuate one’s business or power interests. As McCoy
said, “Filipinos seem to prefer relatives as partners and shareholders.” As an example used by
Michael Cullinane, Ramon Durano, a member of a political family dominating the Danao City
said, “Politics is not something you can entrust to non-relatives.”
In historic events, this has already begun even before the colonizers came. Familism has
already manifested with the tribal leaders or datus who follows the blood bond. There functions
also increased due to the introduction of local autonomy by the Americans. Together with this,
they have introduced the concept of the political elites who also have landed wealth. In effect,
these elites were given control over their provinces. As this remains to be practiced, the same
results are observed, i.e. the local elites having dictates over the countryside.
The Lopez family was used as an example. The primary patron of the family was said to
be the presidents. McCoy said that the family business ascended because of the rents they have
acquired through their close relationships with, for example, Former President Fidel Ramos. As
it was said, they were “skilled in securing the presidential patronage so central to the success of
family-based enterprise in the Philippines.”
Second, the control of the national government fails to encompass the localities. Because
of this, local powers, which may be in contrast with the national, dominate and impose faulty
policies. The lack of national intervention results to the tolerance of these acts. Thus, as this
situation continues, local powers tend to act on continuing their influence in the present free
political arena, resulting to the creation of political dynasties.
Since these powerful families have garnered enough influence, successive national
leaders use them for their benefits, i.e. votes. They then enter a patron-client relationship where
national powers provide favorable conditions in exchange of the support of the local elites. They
have regulated the market in such a way that these elites would attain protection from
competition and assurance of investments. This has decentralized the autonomy to the local elites
and has further sustained them in position. Because of this, leaders could no longer take back the
control of countryside since they would end up competing with their clients. As a result, the
power and influence of these families are more anchored.
A great example used by G. Bentley was the Dimaporo family. He was in collision with
the Former President Ferdinand Marcos. As Ali Dimaporo had good relations with Muslims and
Christians, he had many supporters. Consequently, Marcos gained them as well. As Dimaporo
was in power, Marcos’ loyalists were continuous. At the same time, as Marcos was in reign,
Dimaporo acquired privileges like political machines.
To further protect and secure their tenure, the resources elites have garnered are used to
acquire private armies. Violence was used to ground their position as power was thought to
determine who and what kind of person will enter the political arena. Through this, not only do
the elite have resources, they also have the power to manipulate and control the law. As
Cullinane discussed, political families are accused of using the three G’s to win elections: gold
for the money used for vote buying; and guns and goons for the threat or force taking place.
Because of these, the political and economic arenas are reserved only to a few elite
families. Unless their generation halts, an entry to the monopolized arena would be near
impossible. The political and economic spheres continue to be permeable only to these corrupt
political families.
Both factors, in effect, prolong the duration of families to exploit and abuse the weak
Philippine state. Unless, reforms are enacted, the negative consequences will not cease.
However, fortunately, the definition of the family as the most effective and enduring social
institution still remains. The solution to the rent-seeking activities and the lack of control in
localities all relies on what this institution choose to socialize, i.e. the achievement of common
good, and not of their personal interests.