MANILA, Philippines - Senators deliberating on a bill seeking to ban members of the same family from being in public office together want a strict and precise definition of political dynasties.
Senate Bill 2649 of the Anti-Political Dynasty Act by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago defines a dynasty as a situation when an incumbent official's spouse or his or her second-degree relatives hold or seek office together, or when a spouse or relative succeeds him or her. According to the bill, dynasties also happen when spouses or relatives run for or hold public office together even if they are not related to an incumbent official.
The definition, however, is limited to the local level. What about in the national sphere?
"The bill does not cover national positions. Pag-aaralan natin nang mabuti ito," Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the Senate electoral reforms committee, said after a public hearing on the measure on Tuesday.
Pimentel said he supports the measure, which seeks to provide teeth to the constitutional provision - Article 2, Section 26 - prohibiting political dynasties.
For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, the definition should cover national positions.
"Basta elective office, dapat national at local. Puwedeng ma-concentrate ang power sa isang probinsya kung merong national official na nasa elective position," he told reporters. "Mahalay ding tingnan na mag-aama, magkakapatid, mag-asawa ay nandiyan sa iisang plenaryo."
Lacson disclosed that his son is running for governor in Cavite in 2013, when he ends his term as senator. He said that if his son decides to run again in 2016, he would retire from politics.
At the hearing, cause-oriented groups had differing opinions on the measure.
Atty. Louie Guia of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections stressed the need to end the Philippines' clannish and feudal politics.
"More often than not, the purpose of that is to maintain the family's hold not only on political power but also the economic resources of the province. These are very real situations that need to be addressed by an anti-dynasty law," he said.
However, Eric Alvia of the National Movement for Free Elections believes political dynasties are not necessarily bad.
He said voters should be given the choice to elect members of the same family or not.
"I think putting restrictions on families because they are related might also be detrimental," Alvia explained. "What if that person is really competent? You're already excluding that individual from public office."
But Guia pointed out that the issue is not about a candidate's competence or ability to deliver services.
"Anybody who has control over the resources can deliver services. It's about the concentration of political power to a few families," he said.
Pimentel said he will schedule up to two more committee hearings on the bill. Although he does not think it will be passed before the 2013 elections, he said he wants to fine-tune the bill for re-filing in succeeding Congresses.