What you leave behind

Philippine politics has become a family affair for many, but reelectionists should reconsider taking part in elections and making room for better public servants.

When we see the larger-than-life billboards being put up and hear the blaring jingles paraded across towns, we know that campaign season is upon us. We know the names and the faces, not only because we’ve seen and heard them countless times, but also because they’re the same ones again and again.

The displays of fanfare and booming rhetoric instantly bring me back to how I’d spend my childhood summers. Every three years, my vacations were spent traveling six hours away from my home to join my father on the campaign trail. For as young as I could remember, my civic duties began with just smiling and waving. Most of the memories I kept from inaugural events and large parties were those of me wearing itchy long gowns and looking glum at formal dinners—obviously because I had stayed up past my bedtime.

People say the world of politics is a playground, and my four-year-old self would not have agreed more. I grew up seeing only a fraction of what politics was really like, having many older people towering over me as I weaved through crowds. I can’t count how many hands I had shaken or recall the lines I was instructed to say over and over in broken Bisaya. Nevertheless, I ended up loving those summers spent listening to campaigns in far-flung barrios. And as I grew older, people began to ask me if I had plans of running, too.

By the age of six, I was already invited to take on the responsibility of being a public servant. Frankly, it scared me. Even then, I wasn’t keen on political dynasties, even if this wasn’t uncommon in small towns. If I ran, I was going to be a third-generation official in that city, following my father and grandfather. In other places though, those roots go all the way back to generations older than the cities and towns themselves. My father often reminded me that “politics isn’t our family legacy—it’s public service,” whenever I asked if I really had to follow in his footsteps.

When my father lost his spot in the local elections six years ago, I finally knew what he meant by that. While some Philippine officials have shamelessly held on to their positions over years, he knew when he had to step down. If it was that easy to let go of power, why are our current leaders afraid of giving way?

We often forget that holding positions in government is neither a birthright nor a family legacy. As the tarpaulins and streamers continue to amass in the coming months, I challenge you to count just how many of these candidates share the same last name, how many candidates are gunning for their nth reelection. In smaller local government units where one or two political clans dominate, this becomes even more disturbing. We see wife-and-husband or parent-and-child tandems on tarpaulins and no one bats an eye. And an incredibly dishonorable mention goes to officials who have continued to stay in power by hopping from one position to another, being stalwarts in failed government projects made even before my generation was born.

Many contenders have tried to topple these figures and failed. Although there are exceptions where next-generation public servants are even more well-educated and effective leaders than their predecessors, not all political dynasties have capable heirs. The harsh reality is that the Filipino voting preference still leans toward those who are more popular and more familiar; thus, the same types of leaders are elected and the cycle continues. These localities basically doom themselves by leaving no room for newer, possibly better leaders to make their impact on the community.

Despite the 1987 Philippine Constitution prohibiting political dynasties, a discarded attempt at the Anti-Political Dynasty Bill could have been the only attempt to bring this to fruition. Additionally, no penalties or laws against reelection have been modified. Local officials have been able to bypass the two-term limit by running for a different position every other election season. These instances of holding on to power might just be what holds the country back as well.

The truth still remains that our leaders should make decisions that benefit the many and not only a few. They must see to it that the bills and amendments they author maximize resources and opportunities. All those involved, from every voter to every candidate, should understand that growth as a nation doesn’t depend on the same leaders or partylists, but on the same goals. We shouldn’t be afraid to challenge and demand from those who wish to remain in office to do better. On their end, they must embody principled work that promotes selflessness and not selfishness.

With the 2022 National Elections months away, there’s no denying the presence of these returning candidates and political dynasties. Now, more than ever, voters should be most cautious of the people that they put in these positions. When it comes to the future of the country and the communities they serve, well-intentioned public servants must put the good of the people first, even if that means making room for change and stepping down.

Ana Mapa

By Ana Mapa

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