MANILA -- A fresh wave of young leaders comes every so often in Philippine politics, much like those that brought down some of the most well-entrenched political clans in Metro Manila in last Monday’s midterm elections.
First-term councilor Vico Sotto toppled the mighty Eusebios for the Pasig mayoralty, while Isko Moreno and Francis Zamora ended the Estrada dynasty in Manila and San Juan City, respectively.
But if history was any lesson, many of these young, idealistic leaders could also fall into the “temptation” of building their own dynasties, essentially becoming the “monster they replaced,” said Ronald Mendoza, dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
Mendoza cited the case of a human rights lawyer named Jejomar Binay, who rose to power in Makati City after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986.
Binay and his family went on to control the Philippines’ wealthiest city for the next 33 years, a rule credited for bureaucratic efficiency but also marred by allegations of corruption.
“There is always that risk,” Mendoza told ABS-CBN News.
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The 76-year-old Binay lost earlier this week in his congressional bid against former Vice Mayor Romulo Peña.
But Binay’s daughter Abby secured a second term as mayor defeating her younger brother Junjun in a highly charged political drama that, in the end, ensured that power still remained within the family.
“I think our people now are beginning to understand, this is a systems-based problem,” Mendoza said.
“You can put another dynasty there and they will essentially become the monster they replaced, particularly if they have dynastic tendencies.”
Such is the concern over Zamora, whose mayoral win in San Juan signaled a tectonic shift in the city’s balance of power.
But while Zamora ended the Estradas’ rule of nearly 50 years, he, too, is the product of San Juan’s other political dynasty.
His father Ronaldo, a former ally of the Estradas, won a third and final term in Congress. The younger Zamora promised not to build his own dynasty.
“I would have liked to see the Zamoras show that they can be a thin dynasty. They didn’t need to run together,” Mendoza siad.
“They can have a better legacy and the younger Zamora can usher in a new type of leadership, one that will be very refreshing for a place like San Juan.”
The 44-year-old Moreno’s win over incumbent Mayor Joseph Estrada in Manila also had its own political nuances.
Moreno provided a fresh alternative to the 82-year-old Estrada, a former actor whose political brand was built on his portrayal of the poor and the downtrodden in the movies.
In contrast, Moreno’s was a real rags-to-riches story. He collected garbage as a boy and for years, made do with “pagpag,” leftover food salvaged from the dump then cooked.
But Moreno is not new to the ways of Manila’s politics, including its complicated bureaucracy and infrastructure of patronage. He served as councilor and vice mayor.
“It is premature to elevate on a pedestal all of these young leaders,” Mendoza said.
“They will face many challenges. They may have been great advocates, but poor managers. They may have had strong narratives but when it comes to rolling up their sleeves and getting things done, they may need help.”
Much of the problem, he said, had to do with voters who, after electing alternative leaders, left them to their “own devices” to fix a corrupted bureaucracy.
“One of our weaknesses as a democracy is we think that after the elections, our responsibility to the democracy is done. In fact, no,” he said.
“If the hunger for alternative leadership is real, let’s not quit after the elections.”
Since expectations are high for new leaders to deliver right away within a 3-year term, they need to be “strategic” and focus on areas such as transparent governance and gathering more support within the bureaucracy, Mendoza said.
“It cannot be that you’re picking a fight all over the place and trying to change things all within the first three years. That will not take place,” he said.
“The bureaucracy will crumble and you will have so many enemies who will be up against you.”
Mendoza said these enemies, still beholden to the dynasties of old, could make life difficult for these young leaders.
Worse, he said they could go the way of Fr. Ed Panlilio, a former Catholic priest who felled the Pinedas of Pampanga to win the province’s governorship in 2007.
With the dynasty’s influence still firmly in place within the bureaucracy, Panlilio enjoyed no real “upwelling of support” and became vulnerable to the Pinedas’ political counter attack, Mendoza said.
Three years later, the former clergyman was removed in a recall petition, the dynasty he briefly ended now firmly back in place.