Monday, August 09, 2010

The 15th Philippine Congress: Clans keep tight grip on power

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
July 29, 2010 at 9:12 am

MOSTLY the same old names but new faces, first-timers and benchwarmers, veterans and returnees. This is the composition of both the Senate and the House of Representatives of the 15th Congress.

Of the 12 senators elected to a six-year term last May 10, only two are first-time senators (Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Teofisto Guingona III) while seven will serve their second term, and three others are returnees, or had previously served in the Senate.

But even the neophyte senators, who are namesakes of their fathers, are not exactly novatos in politics. Marcos had served as congressman and governor of his home province of Ilocos Norte. Guingona had finished his three-term limit in the House. Both their parents had served as senators. Marcos’s father, the late strongman Ferdinand, ruled as president for 20 years, including 14 under martial law.

Guingona’s father, Teofisto Jr., was handpicked to serve as vice president to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from 2001 to 2004.

Re-elected to a second six-year term were Senators Pia Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Franklin Drilon, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Ejercito, Manuel “Lito” Lapid and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. Then, too, there are the Senate returnees - Sergio Osmena III, Ralph Recto and Vicente “Tito” Sotto.

Three of the re-elected senators (Defensor-Santiago, Drilon, and Enrile) are, in fact, returnees twice over. Enrile was at the Senate in 1987 to 1992 and in 1995 to 2001. He took a break to serve as congressman representing Cagayan province, and then returned to the Senate in 2004.

In the House of Representatives, there are 95 first-time district congressmen, including former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who took the district represented in the previous Congress by her elder son, Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, and former Senator Rodolfo Biazon, who ran and won in the district that his son, Rozzano Rufino, had represented in the last nine years.

The elder Biazon had reached his two-term limit at the Senate while the younger Biazon ran for the Senate to take his father’s place but lost.


Celebrities from politics and entertainment litter the list of the House members. Apart from former President Arroyo and former Senator Biazon, the flamboyant former First Lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos and Georgina Perez-de Venecia, wife of five-time Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. are also representatives of Leyte and Pangasinan, respectively.

Not to be left out, boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, congressman of the lone district of Sarangani province, lifted from Frost in a privilege speech on the second session day to spell out his plans in the next three years.

Beauty and star-appeal have been added, too, courtesy of Lucy Torres-Gomez (Leyte) and Jesusa Victoria H. Bautista a.k.a. Lani Mercado-Revilla (Cavite).

Except for Romualdez-Marcos, this is the first time for De Venecia, Pacquiao, Torres-Gomez and Mercado-Revilla to sit in Congress. De Venecia and Mercado-Revilla, however, had always been immersed in politics and public service, if unofficially, through their respective spouses, Speaker De Venecia and Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.

Ahead of the opening of Congress last Monday, Pacquiao, Torres-Gomez and Mercado-Revilla had enrolled in short programs for new legislators conducted by the Development Academy of the Philippines and the University of the Philippine National College of Public Administration and Governance.

Clans still rule

The cast of characters has changed somehow for the party-list groups. Of the 35 party-list representatives who had taken their oath as of July 27, only one of the 16 first-termers had served before in Congress. In addition, 13 party-list representatives are on their second term, and six, on their third and last term.

Politics remains a family affair in many congressional districts where the political clans have held steadfastly on to their seats.

There are 18 House returnees, or members who had previously served in the same districts they now represent. They are retaking their posts from a spouse, son, daughter, or another close relative who had precisely warmed the seat for a term or two to keep political rivals out of their turf.

In lieu of at least 41 representatives who had either reached their three-term limit or ran for another elective position, close relatives had come in as substitute players. That reads as either spouse, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, or in-law.

At least 33 other members of the 14th Congress had been replaced by their spouse, son or daughter, brother or sister, in-law, or political protégé and surrogate. A few others had run for another position and fielded a relative to take over their congressional seats. An example is Exequiel Javier who had reached his three-term limit as congressman of Antique, and is now governor of the province. His son, Paulo Everardo Javier, took over his House seat.

They might claim to have won the votes but in truth, a good number of the members of Congress belong to political clans that have kept politics and business in their city, town, district, province, or region under tight grip for decades.

Winners, losers

To be sure, a reversal of fortunes, and thus a few changes, had unfolded in the House, albeit in musical chairs fashion. Hitherto in the political minority, the Liberal Party of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has forged a multi-party coalition and turned majority.

Former President Arroyo has slid down to join her two sons in the House, and together they would play their new role as opposition lawmakers. She now sits as representative of the Pampanga district that her elder son Juan Miguel had occupied for two terms; he now sits as first-term nominee of party-list Ang Galing Pinoy.

Younger son, Diosdado Ignacio, is a second-term solon from Camarines Sur, representing a new congressional district that Congress has had to create to accommodate Arroyo’s budget secretary, Rolando Andaya Jr. whose district Diosdado Ignacio had represented earlier.

Andaya had served for three terms in the first district of Camarines Sur, the same seat that his father and namesake, Rolando Sr., had occupied for three terms from 1987 to 1998.

Apart from Andaya, at least six other former “stars” of the old regime are now simply House members. They are former agriculture secretary Arthur Yap, who ran unopposed as congressman of the third district of Bohol; former presidential spokesman Anthony Golez, representing the lone district of Bacolod City; former presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol, who reclaimed the second district of Leyte from his wife; former TESDA chief Augusto Syjuco, who replaced his wife to represent the second district of Iloilo; former housing executive Romero Federico Quimbo, Marikina City’s second district; and former agriculture undersecretary Jesus Emmanuel M. Paras, Bukidnon’s first district.

Whether or not they will take on the role of opposition or fiscalizer might also depend in large measure on how far they will go to defend the Arroyo administration from sundry allegations of irregularities and midnight deals.

In truth, while some Arroyo government officials won, a few other big names lost big in the May 10 elections. Among them were former Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who lost to Tomas Apacible in the first congressional district of Batangas; former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, who was defeated in the mayoralty race in Iloilo City. Gonzalez’s son and namesake, Raul Jr., also lost in his re-election bid as congressman of Iloilo City.

Jailed, died

The quaint casting of characters in the House continues to evolve and amaze still. Even before it could convene last Monday, one member had been arrested and jailed, while another had succumbed to an illness.

Before he could assume his second term as congressman of Ilocos Sur’s first district, Rep. Ronald V. Singson found himself behind bars in Hong Kong for possession of 26.1 grams of cocaine and two tablets of valium when he arrived at the airport on July 11.

An article on Singson’s website described the 41-year-old lawmaker as “a fair-haired boy” of his controversial father, Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson and as “a young man who has the distinction of having a father whose daring exploits including that of being the central figure behind the unseating of a President may find no parallel in the future.”

Meanwhile, third-term Cagayan Rep. Florencio L. Vargas, 78, died of leukemia on July 22. He was governor of the province from 1998 to 2001.

Year after year, the House of Representatives has been expanding its membership. From less than 200 legislative districts 10 years ago, the House now has 228 districts, including nine created by the 14th Congress, and a growing roster of party-list representatives.

Thanks to the previous Congress, Cavite politicians now have more positions to fill. From three legislative districts, the province now has seven. The provinces of Agusan del Sur and Camarines Sur have one more each, while Iligan City, Lapu-Lapu City and Navotas now have their own legislative districts.

Parking place

The House has also become a convenient “parking” place for senators, governors, and mayors who have reached their term limits set under the 1987 Constitution. Others are bench-warmers for a parent, brother or sister, son or daughter, in-law, or political patron or protégé. In some instances, two members of a family or leaders of two controlling families in a locality have simply switched positions to make sure their rivals won’t have a chance to get into power.

At least nine of the incumbent congressmen were provincial governors in the previous term.

They are: Angelica Amante-Matba of Agusan del Norte, Ma. Valentina Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Rogelio Espina of Biliran, Joselito Mendoza of Bulacan, Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar, Raul Daza of Northern Samar, Milagrosa Tan of Western Samar, Aurora Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur and Loreto Ocampos of Misamis Occidental.

Seven members of the previous House of Representatives are now provincial governors. They are: Abraham Mitra of Palawan, Exequiel Javier of Antique, Alfonso Umali Jr. of Oriental Mindoro, Edgar Chatto of Bohol, Paul Daza of Northern Samar, Carmencita Reyes of Marinduque, and Herminia Ramiro of Misamis Occidental.

There are at least six incumbent congressmen who were city or municipal mayors in their previous term. They are: Tobias Tiangco of Navotas, Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City, Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of Quezon City, Joseph Victor Ejercito of San Juan, Sigfrido Tinga of Taguig City and Tomas Osmena of Cebu City.

At least two former congressmen are now mayors: Ma. Laarni Cayetano of Taguig and Del de Guzman of Marikina City. Cayetano defeated former congressman and Supreme Court Associate Justice Dante Tinga, father of Sigfrido Tinga who ruled Taguig City as mayor for three terms before becoming a congressman.

While there is one former senator in the House, the Senate has two former congressmen in its roster: Teofisto Guingona III and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Their colleagues: Rodolfo Plaza of Agusan del Sur, Rozzano Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa, Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon, Risa Hontiveros of party-list Akbayan and Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza of Bayan Muna party-list lost in their bid to the Senate.

Also, there are two retired police generals in the House: Romeo M. Acop of Antipolo City’s second district, and Leopoldo N. Bataoil of Pangasinan’s second district. Acop used to be with PNP’s Criminal Investigation Service while Bataoil headed the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO).

All in the family

Seven senators have immediate family members in the House: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile is the father of Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr.; Sen Edgardo Angara is the father of Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara; Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. is the father of Las Pinas City Rep. Mark A. Villar; Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri and Bukidnon Rep. Jose Zubiri III are brothers; Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is a son of Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda R. Marcos; Sen. Jinggoy Estrada is a half-brother of San Juan City Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito; and, Sen. Ramon Revilla and Cavite Rep. Lani Mercado are a couple.

These do not count yet cousins, in-laws, and other relatives in Congress.

There are also siblings and mother-son tandems in the same legislative body. At the Senate, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano are siblings, while former President Arroyo is with her two sons at the House: Camarines Sur Rep. Dato Arroyo and Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo of party-list Ang Galing Pinoy.

Lanao del Norte’s two districts are now represented by the mother-daughter tandem of Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo and Fatima Aliah Q. Dimaporo. Two of Cebu’s six districts have the father and son tandem of Pablo P. Garcia and Pablo John F. Garcia.

In Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga Sibugay, three relatives of convicted child rapist and former congressman Romeo Jalosjos are occupying House seats: nephew Frederick Seth Pal Jalosjos and brother Cesar Jalosjos in the first and third districts of Zamboanga del Norte, respectively, and son Romeo Jalosjos Jr. in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Malabon City Rep. Josephine Veronique Lacson-Noel is the wife of An Waray party-list Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel while Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is an elder brother of Abante Mindanao party-list Rep. Maximo B. Rodriguez Jr.

President Benigno Aquino III has at least three relatives in the present Congress: Carmen Cojuangco of Pangasinan (wife of second cousin Marcos Cojuangco); Enrique M. Cojuangco of Tarlac (brother of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco who is an estranged first cousin of the President’s late mother); and Tarlac third district’s Jeci Aquino Lapus, a second-degree uncle.

At least three congressmen have immediate family members in the Aquino Cabinet: Batanes Rep. Henedina R. Abad is the wife of Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad; Quezon Rep. Irvin Alcala is a son of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala; and Pasig City Rep. Roman Romulo is a son of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo.

The secretaries of budget and agriculture had served as congressmen while Romulo was at the Senate from 1987 to 1998. Then President Arroyo tapped him as finance secretary in January 2001, then as executive secretary in May 2001 until he was moved in 2004 to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

—The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), July 2010