The Will of the Sovereign
and political dynasties:
Balancing the interests
In our democracy, the sovereign decide and define what a political dynasty is.
Much has been said about the constitutional provision that seeks to prohibit political dynasties, “as may be defined by law.”
It is found in the Section 26, Article II, the declaration of principles.
“The state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
While the sovereign has adopted the principle to prohibit political dynasties. It is the same sovereign who have decided, and will continue to decide what should be, and should not be deemed political dynasties.
The constitutional principle which seeks to prohibit political dynasties is not the only interest that must be protected. While constitution adopts a policy that would prohibit political dynasties in order to guarantee equal opportunities for public service, there are paramount interests that must never curtailed in pursuit of these interests.
The other compelling interest: Republicanism and democracy
There is a paramount principle that Filipinos have adopted in the 1987 constitution. This is our adoption of the principle of republicanism. Section 1, Article II of the constitution, the same article where the prohibition against political dynasties, provides:
"The Philippines is a republican a democratic state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them."
The Philippines as a republican state, is anchored on the principle that supreme power rests in the body of the people. Republicanism more simply means a state that establishes a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
The constitution likewise characterizes our country not only as a republican state, but also a democratic state.
Many believe there is not much difference. If there is, the difference lies in emphasis. This was what the 1986 constitutional commission highlighted during its deliberations on this important principle. In inserting the word “democratic” apart from the word “republican”, commissioner Nollledo came up with a description of the insertion as a “pardonable redundancy”
But Commissioner Adolf Azcuna (now justice of the Supreme Court) hit the nail on the head by stressing that the word “democratic” is significant because it emphasizes that our country is one that is participatory in nature. We do not only elect representatives upon whom sovereign power is delegated. The people themselves reserve their right to directly participate in the affairs of state and governance such as voting in elections, plebiscite, initiative, referendum, setting up people organizations. All these have been enshrined in our constitution. The word “democratic” in our constitution is to institutionalize and to capture the spirit of “people power.”
Elections and Direct Democratic participation
Chief Justice Renato Puno said in his dissent in Arturo M Tolentino versus Comelec (January 21, 2004):
“An outstanding feature of the 1987 Constitution is the expansion of the democratic space giving the people greater power to exercise their sovereignty.
“Thus, under the 1987 Constitution, the people can directly exercise their sovereign authority through the following modes, namely: (1) elections; (2) plebiscite; (3) initiative; (4) recall; and (5) referendum. Through elections, the people choose the representatives to whom they will entrust the exercise of powers of government.
“The electoral process is one of the linchpins of a democratic and republican framework because it is through the act of voting that government by consent is secured. Through the ballot, people express their will on the defining issues of the day and they are able to choose their leaders in accordance with the fundamental principle of representative democracy that the people should elect whom they please to govern them.
“Voting has an important instrumental value in preserving the viability of constitutional democracy. It has traditionally been taken as a prime indicator of democratic participation.
“The existence of the right of suffrage is a threshold for the preservation and enjoyment of all other rights that it ought to be considered as one of the most sacred parts of the constitution.
In Geronimo v. Ramos, et al., we held that the right is among the most important and sacred of the freedoms inherent in a democratic society and one which must be most vigilantly guarded if a people desires to maintain through self-government for themselves and their posterity a genuinely functioning democracy in which the individual may, in accordance with law, have a voice in the form of his government and in the choice of the people who will run that government for him
Our republican state is representative in nature. The people elect their representatives in government who exercise delegated power.
We may define a republic to be a government which derives all its power directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior.
That is why the power to make laws, or to legislate, originally is a power vested in the people themselves. Yet under our constitution these powers are delegated and granted to representatives in the House and in the Senate.
Senators, congressmen, therefore as lawmakers, exercise derivative legislative powers. As representatives of the sovereign---the Filipino people---they cannot legislate against what the sovereign themselves have adopted as a policy.
Political dynasties: A policy in the constitution
When the Filipino people ratified the constitution in 1987, they adopted a principle to prohibit political dynasties.
But at the same time, the Filipino people themselves, in the exercise of their sovereign capacities, and as part of the democratic scheme, through the exercise of their right of suffrage, have decided what should be, and what should not be a political dynasty.
No agent, or delegate, should have the unwarranted arrogance to pronounce a dynasty when the sovereign has declared otherwise. To borrow a basic principal in law, the spring cannot rise above its source. If it does, it is the height of misplaced arrogance, the arrogance of claiming that he or she has better judgment than the rest of the Filipino people.
Filipinos' definition: political dynasty
Let us now re-visit how the Filipino people have defined what should be or should not be a political dynasty, through their exercise of the right of suffrage, which is a component of direct participatory democracy, a principle adopted in Section 1 Article II of the Constitution.
As far as the senate is concerned, the sovereign Filipino people have elected the following, aware of, and in the midst of the principle seeking to prohibit political dynasties:
A. Mother and son, as both incumbents: Senator Loi Estrada and Jinggoy Estrada
B. Father-in-law and son-in-law as incumbents: Senators Ramon Revilla and Sonny Jaworski
C. First cousins as incumbents: Senators John Osmena and Sergio Osmena
D. Father and son, successively: Senator Ramon Revilla and Bong Revilla
E. Father and daughter successively: Senator Renato Cayetano and Pia Cayetano
Amidst, or inspite of the principle seeking to prohibit political dynasties, the Filipino people, the ultimate repository of sovereign power in a republican and democratic state, , have decided on who or what should not be deemed a political dynasty.
We are talking only of the Senate. There is a need to further look into how the sovereign have decided on what should not be a political dynasties in other elective public offices like the House of Representatives and local elective positions.
Thus, for those well-meaning intellects who intend to file bills giving flesh to the constitutional provision seeking to prohibit political dynasties, they must be guided fully and at all times on the parameters that have been laid down by the sovereign, through their exercise of direct participatory democracy.
No individual mortal must define, for his or her own preference or convenience, what a political dynasty is. He is merely particle of the democratic space who must respect the voice of the sovereign. No one can go against the will and mandate of the sovereign.
Everyone must all work hand in hand to create a law prohibiting political dynasties, based on the policies laid down by the people themselves in the past elections.
In the case of Koko Pimentel, his participation in the Senatorial race does not contravene the constitutional principle against political dynasty.
The sovereign people have already decided that for a parent and child to be both incumbents in the Senate, does not constitute a political dynasty. Experience tells it. History validates it.
When the people elected Senator Loi Estrada and Jinggoy Estrada, it was the people themselves who declared this is allowed, and this does not constitute a political dynasty.
There is no substantial difference between the Loi-Jinggoy experience and the Nene-Koko experiment. To say that there is, will create an invalid classification, which violates of the equal protection clause.
No one should say it is immoral. The sovereign Filipino people don’t consider it immoral.
They declared it when they exercised their power of direct participatory democracy---in the elections--- in pursuit of Section 1, Article II of the constitution which states that “the Philippines is republican and democratic state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.
“A little more faith [in the people]”
Commissioner Christian Monsod, also former Comelec Commissioner put it correctly during the deliberations of the constitutional commission:
“Mr. Presiding Officer, as we said before, the assumption here seems to be that we are underestimating our people in their right to choose; we are trying to put a prescreening mechanism so that public office is not after all accessible to all because we are going to prohibit or exclude certain people from running for public office. And my point is, we should have a little more faith. Now that we have a new COMELEC, the process will be cleaned up, but we should give our people full choice. Let them run and let the people decide. That is the essence of suffrage.”
“...I do no think we should curtail the right of the people to a free choice on who their political leader should be.”
Adding disqualification is unconstitutional, illegal
Commissioner Monsod, who vigorously fought against this provision on political dynasties, and battled hard to delete it, further argued that to prevent people from running will add to the list of disqualifications which would be contrary to the constitution:
“We have in this constitution qualifications of those who seek elective office. We are adding in this section (meaning political dynasty section) a disqualification to those who may aspire after public office, in effect amending various provisions of the constitution which enumerate the qualifications and disqualifications of the law.”
Do we have the right to curtail?
The late Senator Blas Ople, also commissioner of the constitutional commission, said:
“What I feel is an inner demand for logic and rationality so that this provision can be actually attached to some principles of equity without doing violence to the freedom of choice of the voters because they are entitled to as broad a freedom of choice as the environment can provide and if they want somebody to run for office even if he closely related to someone in office, do we have the right to curtail the freedom of the voters?”
Commissioner Abubakar made his view more pointed:
“This Constitutional Commission, composed of intelligent people, people who believe in the dictum that the voice of the people is the voice of God, is very religious. How can we, on the assumption that we are only appointed, or even if we were elected, suppress the voice of the people if they want an elected representative to continue with one, two, three terms? So be it. We are not here to suppress that voice. We are here to give reality and to give substance to what the people want; not to suppress their desire to elect their own representatives for the terms they wanted them to have. So I would presume that this Commission will be able to come up with a constitution that the people can embrace, approve and conceive as a document that looks after their interest, first and foremost. We should not contradict this voice. If a dynasty or a family is wanted by the people to represent them for two terms and another would succeed, who are we to question their choice or their voice? We are here on a constitutional mandate, and let not our power be abused at the expense of the right of the people for I believe in the dictum that the ultimate power lies in the people and the voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Nolledo: limited anti-political dynasty
Commissioner Nolledo, self-proclaimed author of the provision seeking to prohibit political dynasties in the constitution, categorcially stated: “I am limiting it only to a situation where the rule against further re-election might be circumvented. That is my suggestions to Congress although the Congress can also widen the meaning of political dynasty.”
It is instructive therefore to heed the call of the revered constitutionalist Senator Arturo Tolentino who wrote in the explanatory note of his bill enacting a law prohibiting political dynasty (S.B. 1919 October 1994). It is a reflection of the intent of the framers of the constitution that pushed for the provision against political dynasty. Tolentino explained:
“Since the idea of excluding political dynasties may be contrary to the democratic principle that the people should be free to select their officials, it should be limited and sparingly applied. Ultimately, the people themselves may break up the dynasties.”
Tolentino went on the correct track to begin this prohibition against presidential relatives. He is all too familiar with this scenario, having had political attachments to the former dictator, and once having been a vice-presidential candidate (vice Imelda?). Tolentino further said:
“A good beginning for the prohibition of political dynasty is in the area of presidential relatives. Unquestionably, the President is the most powerful official of the land and can use vast powers to help in the election of a relative. This, after all, is the basic reason for prohibiting political dynasties.”
Other Senate Bills
There are at least two other Senator bills that have been reflective and responsive of the intention of the framers of the constitution. That is to prohibit the political dynasties among the local elective positions.
We refer to the bills of Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Alfredo Lim. Both bills focus on suppressing the perpetual fiefdoms of mini executive officers in the local governments. This was the thrust of the author of the provision against political dynasty, commissioner Nolledo.
The people, the sovereign, decide on what constitutes a political dynasty. Lawmakers, as agents of the sovereign, must enact a law prohibiting political dynasties that is in consistent with, and within the parameters that have been laid down by the sovereign in their exercise of direct democracy..
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