Fellows Speak


Roland G. Simbulan
Professor, University of the Philippines

(Lecture delivered on the occasion of the 2nd Engineer Arturo F. Eustaquio Sr.  Lecture Series, Universidad de Zamboanga, Oct. 23, 2007, and before the Faculty of the Western Mindanao State University, Sponsored by the Office of the WMSU President and WMSU Department of Political Science, Oct. 24, 2007, Zamboanga City )

This lecture examines the phenomenon of KAMAG-ANAK, INC., or political dynasties in the country, particularly those in Mindanao. It will address the following key issues and questions:


  • What are political dynasties?
  • How did they emerge?
  • Do political dynasties have any role in our political system and culture?
  • What is the connection between economic power and political power at the national and local level of governance, the umbilical cord that allows political dynasties to thrive?
  • Who are the political dynasties?
  • What are their sources of power?
  • How have they managed to entrench and sustain themselves in power?
  • Who are the political dynasties in Mindanao?
  • Are there any peculiar elements/characteristics in political dynasties in Mindanao?  In the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)?
  • What is the relationship between political dynasties and the current mainstream political parties in the Philippines?
  • What is the impact of political dynastic rule on Philippine national development, on our communities, and nationhood in general?


  • Is scholarship in this area sufficient?
  • What are the existing methodologies used in the current study of political dynasties?
  • What are the existing gaps for future research possibilities?


  • How can we empower our communities to deal with political dynasties?
  • How are empowered communities, POs, NGOs and civil society in general engaging, challenging and neutralizing the monopoly of power of political dynasties in certain parts of the country?




What are political dynasties?

     1. "dynasty > noun (pl. -ies)  a line of hereditary rulers of a country: i.e. Tang dyasty; a succession of people from the same family who play a prominent role in politics, business, etc. "    
- The New Oxford Dictionary of English (2001)

     2. Using the above definition, we have about 250 political dynasties (families) who have dominated Philippine politics at the national and local level and who have monopolized political power as families for the past 30 years and more. This is 0.00001667 % of the country's 15 million families (CenPEG, 2007).

     3. Each of the country's 80 provinces has political dynasties competing with each other for national and local elective positions. Dynasties have also expanded to monopolize many appointive positions.

     4. Politics is a family affair, so that from the national to the local level, we see long family histories of political rule. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and close relative occupy many public offices; during elections we likewise see them all running for public office.

     5. According to a recent study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 2/3 of the members of the 8th to 12th Congress belong to political dynasties. We can just take a look at the Philippine Senate where we have combinations of brothers and sisters, mother and son, father and son out of only 24 members of the upper chamber. This is why if a few families control Congress, they tend to legislate in favor of their own interests to the detriment of the majority of Filipinos. Look what happened to key legislation like  the land reform program which most of our farmers are not happy about, and other critical legislation. And can we expect them to legislate against political dynasties?

    6. This hits both administration and opposition officials who ignore the democratic value of "equal access to opportunities for public service" at the national and local level.

      A good example at the national level is the Macapagal-Arroyo dynasty political dynasty:

     Diosdado Macapagal - Philippine President (1961-65)
Cielo Macapagal -  Salgado - (daughter of Diosdado ) -Pampanga Vice Governor ( 1988-92; 1995-98)
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - (daughter of Diosdado) Philippine President (2001-present)
Mikey Arroyo (son of Gloria) - reelected Rep. 2nd District, Pampanga; former vice governor, Pampanga.
Diosdado "Dato" Arroyo (son of Gloria) - Rep. , 1st District, Camarines Sur;
Ignacio "Iggy" Arroyo (Gloria's brother in law) - reelected Rep. , 5th Dist. Negros Occidental.

     As for the opposition, there are now two Cayetanos in the Senate and another in the House. The Senate seat used to be occupied by the senior "Companero" Cayetetano ; now Alan Peter (who was Congressman 1998-2007) has joined sister Pilar "Pia" Cayetano Sebasian who has been senator since 2004  up to 2010. Alan Peter's wife, Laarni has taken over his House seat, while a brother of Alan, Renren (councilor, 2004-2007) was elected vice mayor of Muntinlupa.       

     Though Luis "Chavit" Singson (Congressman, 1987-92; Ilocos Sur governor 1998-2007) lost in his 2007 bid for a Senate seat, the Singson family dynasty is well entrenched in Ilocos Sur:  Chavit Singson's son, Ronald, is congressman, 1st district; Ilocos Sur; cousin Eric is congressman, 2nd district, Ilocos Sur; brother Jeremias is now vice governor ; niece Eva Marie Singson-Media was reelected mayor of Vigan together with Allen Singson, son of Eric, now mayor of Candon.

     These are just specimens of national and political dynasties in the Philippines.

How did they emerge?

     7. For decades, wealthy and powerful families have dominated politics in the Philippines, concentrating power to the elite families, promoting corruption and abuse of power. 

     8. Political dynasties are observed to have begun in the early 20th century when voting was limited to rich and landed Filipinos who monopolized public office.  In other words, the lopsided structure of opportunities and the social and economic inequalities allow a few --both in the administration and opposition --to monopolize wealth and political power.

9. Today, political dynasties are supposed to be prohibited by the Constitution. Sec. 26 Art. II of the 1987 Constitution states:

                   " The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law."

      10. Though this prohibition does exist, an enabling law is needed. Since 1987, anti-political dynasty bills filed never got to first base. Why? Most lawmakers from the administration and opposition oppose the Constitutional ban on political dynasties because they too, come from political dynasties and clans, which have been long entrenched in power. New political dynasties have also risen to challenge the traditional political clans in their bailiwicks.

Do political dynasties have any role in our political system and culture?

     11. Historical and contemporary empirical data reveals a continuing pattern of leadership recruitment for our elected and appointed national and local leaders from a small upper strata of  our society, mostly from economic and social elites.

     12.. Also, historical and contemporary reality has made political dynasties embedded in our country's political and electoral life, and serves to perpetuate a few elite in political power.

     13.The phenomenon of political dynasties shows the absence of any real competition in politics because of the lopsided economic structure of inequality which allow only a few to monopolize wealth and power.  For precisely, landed wealthy Filipino families have tried to protect their interests by occupying public office.

What is the connection between economic power and political power at the national and local level of governance, the umbilical cord that allows political dynasties to thrive?

    14. The Philippine political system is structured around patronage and what academics call rent-seeking, or the use of privileges from the state to benefit private and family business. These families are able to control and influence the courts, Congress, and Malacanang, and to control the most profitable parts of our economy. When family, not ideology or principle becomes the norm in politics and public service, corruption will flourish. In fact, the existence of political clans and dynasties has encouraged a political system t hat is dominated by patronage, corruption, violence and fraud at the national and local level.

What are their sources of power?

     15. Because of their wealth and control of the economy (local and national), the elite families possess the values necessary for the exercise of influence and which gives them more advantages to acquire political power. These values, in addition to wealth and other resources that they control, are education, prestige, and skill.

     16. When they capture public office, political dynasties, using their authority, enact favorable and protective legislation for their family-owned businesses; corner government loans, franchises and licenses and government contracts; assure low tax assessments, and other privileges.   

How have they managed to entrench and sustain themselves in power?

     17. Dynastic public officials have the following advantages which they further exploit to widen, expand and consolidate their economic and political power:

Who are the political dynasties in Mindanao?

     Samples of past and present well-entrenched political dynasties in various parts of Mindanao are the following (by province):

Lanao del Sur - Alonto, Lucman, Adiong, Dimaporo, Macarambon, Dimakuta
Lanao del Norte - Badelles, Lluch, Cabili
Sultan Kudarat - Mangudadato
Cagayan de Oro City - Emano
General Santos City - Antonino
Zamboanga City - Lobregat, Lorenzo
Zamboanga del Norte - Adaza, Ubay, Carloto, Jalosjos
Zamboanga del Sur - Sagun-Lim, Enerio,  Amatong, Cerilles
Tawi-Tawi - Jaafar
Camiguin - Romualdo
Misamis Occidental - Chiongbian, Ramiro
Misamis Oriental - Pelaez, Baculio
Saranggani - Chiongbian, Amatong
Sulu -  Amilbangsa, Rasul, Abubakar, Ututalum, Tulawie
Surigao Norte - Navarro, Barbers, Ecleo
Surigao Sur - Falcon,  Pimentel-Serra , Ty
Agusan del Sur - Paredes, Amante, Plaza
Bukidnon - Fortich, Zubiri, Acosta
Compostela Valley - Caballero
Cotabato - Pendatun, Mastura, Datumanong , Matalam, Mangilen, Sinsuat
Davao City - Garcia, Lopez, Duterte
Davao del Norte - Del Rosario/Garcia, Sarmiento
Davao del Sur - Bautista, Cagas
Davao Oriental - Almario/Zosa, Palma Gil

     The Caraga Region composed of the two Agusan provinces and Butuan City is said to be the "center" or "capital" of political dynasties in the Philippines – they practically compete only among themselves for all congressional and local positions for the past 50 years or more. Studies made by academics and journalists, for instance, identify no less than 10 members of the Plaza political clan holding and monopolizing political power from congressional seats, governorship, down to mayors, councilors and barangay chairs held by wife, sons, daughters, nephews, in-laws, etc.

Are there any peculiar elements/characteristics in political dynasties in Mindanao? In the ARMM?

     18. Many of the Mindanao dynasties are from the landed families, some were cronies from way back during the Marcos regime up to the present. In the ARMM, many are from the prominent landed datu class, are warlords and have private armies or the backing of an armed group that help them maintain influence.

What is the relationship between political dynasties and the current mainstream political parties in the Philippines?

      19. Political parties are in fact convenient but temporary alliances of political dynasties or political clans. The basis of their alliances are not because of principles or party platforms, but may be based on marriage, business connections, or political accommodation, etc.  

What is the impact of political dynastic rule on Philippine national development, on our communities, and nationhood in general?

     20. Political dynasties distort governance, and make a sham of democratic governance.  Through political dynasties, public office becomes an exclusive family franchise, a provider of more benefits to family interests.



Is scholarship in this area sufficient?

     21. More studies on the oligarchic power structure of the Philippines are needed to examine its strengths and vulnerabilities at the macro and micro-level. This is necessary to identify the openings where civil society can further widen and expand its participation. Foreign scholars have been conducting critical studies of the local power structures since the 60s such as studies by Lande and Kerkvliet. More Filipino scholars should initiate their own studies in this fertile field.

What are the existing methodologies employed in the current study of political dynasties?

     22. Except for the references highly recommended here, many local studies are actually hagiographies, or commissioned family biographies of oligarchic families or individual political leaders. Of course, commissioned or paid hagiographies would treat their subjects like saints with sanitized accounts which are often kind and generous.  Of course, hagiographies have the advantage of access, access to family material of political dynasties which are given with their cooperation. Unauthorized family studies or biographies may take longer to conduct, but they can maintain the distance and objectivity required of credible, academic research.

What are the existing gaps for future research possibilities?                                           

      23.There is a need to examine the impact and possible weakening of the economic, political and even feudal stranglehold  and influence of political dynasties in their respective areas in the light of the following:

     24. More studies are needed to study empirically the political disease called cronyism, and to show how fundamentally, politics and business fortunes are so much intertwined. Business empires or big business in general needs to be critically reexamined to see how big business is really done, i.e. how business elites or family interests wheel and deal in the political system. This goes against the grain of competition and fair trade and violates the very principles even of a neoliberal economic system.



How can we empower our communities to deal with political dynasties?

    25. Political dynasties are the No. 1 obstacles to the development of genuine political parties in the Philippines which are based on principles and consistent party platforms.  The role of real political parties is to promote clear social visions and programs and to represent especially the needs and aspirations of the larger sectors of Philippine society, not just a few elite families.  The current elite parties of families are money machines, political vehicles and feudal formations controlled by patriarchs that dispense patronage, privilege and protection for the oligarchy.

How are empowered communities, POs, NGOs and civil society in general engaging, challenging and neutralizing the monopoly of power of political dynasties in certain parts of the country?

     26. But the dominance of political dynasties and political clans is being challenged.  Electoral political parties which are elite organized, financed and led are being challenged by effective mass-oriented people's organizations, a vigilant and questioning independent mass media, and alternative programs of governance are being advocated.  The party list system, which has seen the emergence of issue-based grassroots parties representing farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, women and urban poor, still needs to be improved to allow larger representation from the largest sectors of Philippine society.   

     27. Recent good examples of challenges to political dynasties are Grace Padaca who defeated twice the family dynasty of the Dy family in Isabela for the position of governor. Also, Fr. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga who defeated machineries and money politics of two of the most powerful allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who comes from n Pampanga: Lilia Pineda (former Lubao Mayor and wife of Bong Pineda, who is said to be the jueteng king of the country) and Mark Lapid, movie star and son of movie action king Senator Lito Lapid.  Grace Padaca, a radio announcer who became an alternative candidate by people's organizations, civic organizations and NGOs in the province, trounced the Dy dynasty for the position of governor. The Dy dynasty's patriarch is former Isabela governor Faustino Dy Sr. whose  five sons used to monopolize all provincial positions: Benjamin (Governor), Faustino Jr.(Congressman, Governor) but was defeated recently by Grace Padaca; Cesar (Cauayan Mayor ), Napoleon (Alicia Mayor) and Faustino III, now the Rep. of the 3rd District of Isabela.

     28. Other challenges are coming from media celebrities (like Noli de Castro and Loren Legarda), especially at the national level. However, media exposure is making political contests more expensive, because more money is needed by political clans to gain public office thru media exposure. Then, more temptation there is to recover these costs and expenses through corruption. But politics cannot be a family business forever.

     29. Real political parties with defined programs, vision, and ideologies representing the larger sectors of Philippine society should challenge and replace political clans and dynasties. With better economic opportunities in our socio-economic structure, we can develop a truly democratic electoral and party system.

     30. Genuine agrarian reform will also have to be implemented since the big plantations land holdings owned by a few families form the base of social and economic inequalities where political dynasties are well-entrenched. For land in the hands of a few while the tillers are landless has always been the root of discontent and rebellion by the repressed and ill-treated peasants. Whether the social transformation will be gradual and  peaceful depends on those in power who have to accept the democratization of both political and economic power, for grassroots pressure --organized and spontaneous -- will be there. Social movements of the marginalized will usher in an era of sweeping social change.

      31. Ultimately, in a country rife with inequality, the hope in our political system and country lies in education, national consciousness, civic values, transparency in governance and social awareness and organization at the grassroots. There is hope.



Center for People Empowerment and Governance. http://cenpeg.org. Website of the Center for People's Empowerment and Governance (CENPEG).

Coronel, S.; Chua, Y.; Rimban, L.; Cruz, B.. The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-born Dominate Congress. Quezon City: PCIJ, 2004.

Gutierrez, Eric.  The Ties that Bind: A Guide to Family, Business and Other Interests in the Ninth House of Representatives. Pasig: PCIJ, 1994. 

Gutierrez, Eric.; Torrente, L.; Narca, N.. All in the Family: A Study of Elites and Power Relations in the Philippines. QC: Institute for Popular Democracy, 1992.

Mc Coy, Alfred. (ed.) An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines. QC: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994. 

Olivares, Roger. www.endpoliticaldynasty.com. Website of the End Political Dynasty Movement. 

Simbulan, Dante. The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy. QC: UP Press, 2005


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