Family Dynasties Rule Philippine Elections

In the Philippines, politics is often a family affair. This year is no exception, with candidates from the country's two most famous families running for office. There are a lot of familiar names running this time around.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

National elections will be held in the Philippines tomorrow. Some 17,000 seats are at stake. One of the candidates is Manny Pacquiao, the most popular man in the Philippines. He also happens to be one of the best boxers in the world.

Politics in the Philippines is a family affair. And as NPR's Michael Sullivan reports, there are a lot of familiar names running this time around.

Representative FERDINAND MARCOS, JR. (Senatorial Candidate, Nacionlista Party): Hi, Im Ferdinand Marcos. Im a congressman, 2nd District of Ilocos Norte. I am running with the Nacionlista Party for senator.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. doesnt run from his family name - he celebrates it. It's helped get him elected several times, first as governor, then as congressman, from his family's traditional power base, Ilocos Norte. Now, he's hoping the family name will help in his bid to win at the national level, 24 years after his father - the dictator Marcos - was forced from power and into exile.

Rep. MARCOS: In the intervening years, his detractors who were then given an opportunity to run the government, have not fulfilled the promises that they made. And so it's very easy for Filipinos to now make a comparison as to who did a better job. And thankfully, the comparison is very much in the favor of my father.

SULLIVAN: It's a comparison Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., or Bong-Bong as he's known, says should now help all the Marcoses running for office, and there's a lot of them. Bong-Bong, his sister Aimee who's running for government of Ilocos Norte, and his mother Imelda - yes, that Imelda, she of the fabulous 3,000-pair shoe collection, who's running for Congress again.

How to explain this Marcos madness? Easy, says political scientist Benito Lim of the Ateneo de Manila.

Professor BENITO LIM (Political Science, Ateneo de Manila University): We laugh at them. We tell each other jokes about them. And after laughing at them, we are ready to accept them once more and vote for them again.

SULLIVAN: And it's not just the Marcoses, Lim says. The U.S. has its share of political dynasties. But the Philippines, he says, has elevated the practice to an art form.

Prof. LIM: If you go to our Congress, you will find out that about 78 percent of all the members have parents who were congressmen, who were governors, senators. If not parents, uncles, cousins, mistresses, wives. It's normal in the Philippines.

(Soundbite of conversations)

SULLIVAN: And thats why this man is likely to be the next president. Benigno Aquino III, here speaking to reporters on the campaign trail. His legislative record is modest at best, and his campaign speeches are less than electrifying. But he possesses an impeccable political pedigree.

Senator BENIGNO AQUINO III (Presidential Candidate, Liberal Party): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: It's a pedigree he shamelessly exploits in campaign videos like this one, where he speaks of divine providence and the bonds of destiny, invoking the memory of both his martyred father, opposition leader Nino Aquino -murdered by the Marcos-era military, and his even more famous mother, Corazon Aquino, the symbol of the People Power Revolution that toppled Marcos.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SULLIVAN: And thats why Noynoy Aquino is the only choice for voters like 61-year-old Flora Benzona(ph), waiting for a glimpse of Noynoy at a campaign rally in Mindanao.

Ms. FLORA BENZONA: I believe in him because he was brought up in a very good family.

SULLIVAN: But you believe in his ability or you believe in his lineage?

Ms. BENZONA: I believe in his lineage and his ability, too.

SULLIVAN: In that order?

Ms. BENZONA: In that order.

SULLIVAN: And thats the problem, says political scientist Carlita Carlos of the University of the Philippines. Even the Marcos children, she says, have a better track record than Noynoy.

Professor CARLITA CARLOS (Political Science, University of the Philippines): Bong-Bong was governor and he had done so much for Ilocos. Aimee Marcos, when she was congresswoman, she also did so much. Noynoy hasnt done anything for the past nine years, and thats what people have to factor into their decision making on May 10th.

SULLIVAN: And while few analysts doubt Noynoy's sincerity, many wonder whether he'll be undone by those who control the real power in the country: A small number of wealthy families used to getting things their way. Noynoy Aquino comes from such a family, one thats resisted land reform at one of the biggest sugar plantations in the country, which the family owns.

Noynoy's mother, Corazon Aquino, promised but failed to address the issue. Her son promises to do better, even if it means going against his extended family's interest. If he succeeds, it'll go a long way toward convincing skeptics he's more than just a name.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News.

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