All in the Family

By Lynda Jumilla, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 11 2013 07:02 PM | Updated as of Feb 12 2013 08:41 PM

First of two parts

MANILA - They have yet to be elected as senators, but many candidates in Halalan 2013’s senatorial race are no strangers to the Senate or its members. Political connections bring them together, but family ties also bind.

More than in any other elections, the 2013 senatorial race features candidates who are related to senators, other top officials in government, even to each other.

With nearly half of 33 candidates falling under this category, comes the question: Is the Senate the new domain of the country’s political families?

Examples:   

  • Parents and their offspring, like Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and UNA candidate Jack Enrile; Senator Edgardo Angara and Team PNoy’s Sonny Angara; Bangon Pilipinas candidate Eddie Villanueva and TESDA director-general Joel Villanueva; Vice President Jejomar Binay and UNA’s Nancy Binay.
  • Siblings, like Senator Pia Cayetano and re-electionist and Team PNoy bet Alan Cayetano; Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada and UNA candidate JV Ejercito; independent candidate Ricardo Penson and PCSO chairperson Margie Penson Juico.
  • Spouses, like Senator Manny Villar and Team PNoy bet Cynthia Villar.
  • Aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, cousins either by blood or by marriage, like Team PNoy bet Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and UNA bet Mitos Magsaysay; UNA bet Richard Gordon and Ang Kapatiran’s JC delos Reyes; Team PNoy’s Jamby Madrigal and UNA’s Migz Zubiri; and UNA’s Tingting Cojuangco and Team PNoy’s Bam Aquino who are both related to President Aquino.

Article 2 Section 26 of the Constitution says: The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.

President Aquino III shares the stage with the Liberal Party (LP) candidates during an event in Cavite. Photo by Jay Morales, Malacañang Photo

Along with ensuring equal access to public service, the Constitution’s framers acted to prohibit political dynasties but created a major loophole when it asked for a law to define it - a law that has never gone past first base in Congress where political families hold sway.

Ejercito, who wants to move over to the Senate after one term as San Juan representative, defends his family’s “political dynasty,” which began with the political career of his father former President Joseph Estrada.

“Yung political dynasty, sa tatlo ko yan sinasagot. Yung unang-unang K ay kinagisnan. Hindi naman natin masisisi kung ang mga miyembro ng pamilya ay susunod sa yapak ng magulang kaya nga we have a family of doctors, family of lawyers kahit sa media, sa artista, kumbaga yun ang kinagisnan. Pangalawa, yung kakayanan,” said Ejercito who, like his father and brother, was a long-time mayor of San Juan as well.

“I would say ang biggest accomplishment ko dito ay yung maiangat ang antas ng buhay ng aming kababayan more than beautiful projects. Yung huling K naman ay kapalaran. Hayaan na natin sa taumbayan, sila naman ang maghuhusga kung sino ang gusto nilang piliin upang maglingkod sa kanila,” he said.

If Ejercito wins, he and brother Jinggoy they will serve together in the Senate for 3 years. The same with Enrile Senior and Junior.

But families serving together is nothing new in the Senate, as in the case of siblings Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano, both incumbent senators.

Aside from overlapping Senate terms, the Senate could see more of positions passed on from one family member to another. As in the case of Cynthia Villar who hopes to make sure there’s another Villar in the Senate, after her husband Manny’s term ends in June.

But Cynthia argues this is not the same as handing over or passing on a position such as in a monarchy.

“Siguro sasabihin mo yon kung wala ka naman experience, wala kang capability to do it basta lang ipinamana sa iyo dahil asawa ka. In fact, nung beginning di ba mababa ako kasi they do not know me. They do not know that I'm the wife of Manny Villar. I'm just one Villar. and the more they know me, the more they like me,” she said.

“They have to look at me and see what I’ve done,” added Villar, who was also Las Piñas representative for 9 years and head of the Villar Foundation which focuses on livelihood programs.

Another example of one family member hoping to succeed a “graduating” senator: Sonny Angara, whose father Senator Edgardo Angara is on his last term.

Senatorial aspirants from the opposition party, UNA, file their certificates of candidacy. Photo: ABS-CBNnews.com

Yet another facet in the political dynasty controversy: candidates riding on the popularity of their family name. This is the criticism leveled at the Bam Aquino, the President’s cousin and the nephew of democracy icons Ninoy and Cory Aquino.

Bam’s political ads and speeches are peppered with references to these three big personalities. He looks like a younger version of Ninoy, the uncle he never met.

“Alam mo, idolo ko siya eh. And kahit never ko siyang nakilala, never talaga kami nagharap na may malay na ako, yung pagkamatay niya, talagang napakalaking epekto nun sa akin. I read all of his books. I watched all of his videos, lahat talaga nang pwede kong malaman tungkol sa kaniya, kung bakit siya naging matapang, kung bakit nung panahon na pwede naman siya makalaya, pinili pa rin niyang makulong. Hindi naman siguro masama yon na ang isang mabuting tao ma-imbibe mo o magaya mo.,” said Bam who, at 35, barely made it to the age requirement and is the youngest candidate.

But Bam said the similarity in appearance, including the black-rimmed eyeglasses and hairstyle and polo shirts, is not contrived. “In terms of how I look, eto na talaga yun eh.”

With family ties dominating the race for the Senate, political dynasty has become a major issue in the senatorial elections.

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Part 2: Davids versus Goliaths in the senatorial race, with “political dynasty” as the weapon