Reporting Political Dynasties

Written on April 26, 2013 – 1:48 pm | by mediaandelections |

OF THE political dynasties in the country, the Ampatuan clan is  among the most controversial because of its alleged involvement in the Ampatuan Massacre of  November 23, 2009 in which 58 people including 32 journalists were killed.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism conducted a forum, “Maguindanao: The Politics of Dynasties”, last April 11 which looked at the various political clans operating in Maguindanao. PCIJ presented  a three-part investigative report  to its audience of  guests from different media organizations and groups concerned about elections and governance in Mindanao, especially in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

“We chose Maguindanao because it has the most political dynasties” Malou Mangahas, executive director of PCIJ, said.

Among the forum speakers were Mussolini Lidasan, executive director, Al Qalam Institute-Ateneo de Davao; Bobby Tagontong, Maguindanao coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (CCARE);  Laisa Alamia, head, Commission on Human Rights-ARMM; and Dr. Ronald Mendoza, Executive Director, Asian Institute of Management (AIM) Policy Center.  They discussed the historical background of government in Maguindanao, the state of the current government, the power of political clans, warlordism, the Ampatuans, and other issues and problems.

PCIJ also launched a video documentary on  Maguindanao politics entitled “Angkan, Inc. (Clans, Inc.),”  by PCIJ’s multimedia director, Ed Lingao. Its main goal was to identify the best techniques (data-gathering, documentation, data-base building, and investigative reporting, etc.) in uncovering the causes and enabling factors of political violence at the local level.

“Angkan, Inc.” focused on Maguindanao because of it has so many political clans but so little development. Almost everybody in Maguindanao’s Shariff Aguak and Datu Unsay towns is a voter, according to research. Out of the 34,376 residents in Shariff Aguak, there were 33,684 voters in 2010 (or a staggering 97.9 percent of the residents). In Datu Unsay, the total number of voters last 2010 was 13, 584 voters although the residents were only 12, 490. Maguindanao is also the poorest province in the country.

According to  Commission on Elections (COMELEC) data, the Ampatuans are the number one political clan in Maguindanao. They have 80 candidates running for different positions in the 2013 elections, of which number some have been implicated in the Maguindanao massacre.  They are followed by the political clans Midtimbangs,  of whom 26 are running for office; the  Sangkis, 25; the Sinsuats, 22; and the Mangudadatus, 18.

Johairah Ampatuan, the wife of the prime suspect in the Maguindanao massacre and former governor, Zaldy Ampatuan, is running for a second term as mayor of Shariff Aguak, the capital of Maguindanao.  Her daughter Johaila is running for  vice mayor. Murphy Ampatuan, the cousin of Andal Ampatuan, clan patriarch and Zaldy’s father, is the opponent of Johaila for vice mayor of the town.

The documentary, “Angkan, Inc.” recalls that 16 Ampatuans won in the 2010 elections;  the Midtimbangs, seven, while the Mangudadatus had five winners.

PCIJ classifies the  Ampatuans, Midtimbangs, and Mangudadatus as “fat dynasties” because  their members  are in both elective and non-elective positions in the government. The Ampatuans are the fattest dynasty in Maguindanao.

In  “Angkan Inc.”, Mendoza asked two questions for  viewers to answer: “Sa isang fat dynasty, nasa tao pa ba ang karapatang mamili ng mga mamumuno?  Kung magkakamag-anak ang nakaupo sa iisang lugar, may pag-asa pa bang mapigilan ang pang-aabuso sa pondo ng bayan? (In a fat dynasty, do the people have the right to choose their leaders? If relatives are governing the place, is there a chance to stop  corruption in that place?) 

Political dynasties are not limited to Maguindanao.  In other areas, provinces, and even in the National Capital Region, political dynasties exist. Some 70 percent of the Philippine Congress is dynastic, according to PCIJ research.  Fifty percent of congressmen belong to a political clan.

Thin and Fat Dynasties

PCIJ classifies the political dynasties in the country into two types, the thin and the fat.

In a thin dynasty, for example, an incumbent mayor is on his last term and one of his relatives is  running for his post.  In this type of dynasty, only one government position is being manipulated by the members of the political clan.

On the other hand, in a fat dynasty  the members of the political clan are in power and/or are running for different government positions at the same time. 

“The more fat dynasties you  have, the more poverty there’s likely to be” Mendoza said.

APC believes the presence of fat dynasties is among the reasons behind the poverty in Maguindanao because the money of the province only circulates among the members of the clan.

Based on the Good Governance Index (GGI) conducted in 2005 and 2008, Maguindanao was  the poorest among the 79 provinces in the country.  One out of two Maguindanawons were considered poor. The same poverty index found that nationally, only one out of four Filipinos was poor.

Each Maguindanawon only earned about P23, 700 a year or less than P1, 975 per month.  Based on the report posted last year at the news website Bulatlat.com, the poverty threshold or the minimum amount required to meet a family’s basic food and non-food needs of the Filipinos in 2011 is P46 per day or 1,380 per month.  Maguindanawons are within the threshold but most of them are still considered poor. According to Mahar Mangahas of the polling organization Social Weather Stations, the median household threshold in Mindanao is P6,00 per month.

The people of Maguindano also have the shortest life expectancy compared to the people of other Philippine  provinces. Angkan Inc. said most  Maguindanawons can only live up to 58.5 years,  compared to the 76.4 years life expectancy of those who live in La Union.

Reporting political dynasties

Media play a very vital role during election periods.  Through media, voters have the opportunity to look at the lives of the candidates.  Whatever the media report can affect the decision of the voters.

The  media during elections cover  campaign rallies,  controversies, platforms, anomalies, and other political issues. But Mangahas said the media still need to focus on political dynasties as a major factor in the outcome of Philippine elections.

Reports on political clans should of course be  fair and balanced. But they should also be in- depth, based on research and analytical.  Media should consider the credibility of the candidates whether they belong to a political clan or not. Newbies in politics should also be covered so the voters will know them much better.

“The press should also scrutinize the new candidates—to find out  if they have more potential to be better leaders than the incumbents,” Malou Mangahas told PJR Reports.

This does not mean that the coverage by media  of elections should focus only on, and stop with dynasties. The election itself and the next chapter of politics and administration should be the main story.

“Hindi lang dapat dynasties ang kino-cover.  It’s really elections and holding public officials to account for  the promises they make.  ‘Yong governance nila, kung ayos o hindi.  Sa amin, ang tingin namin,  an election is just a high point (Not only dynasties should be covered. It’s really election and holding public officials to account for promises they made.  Did the government officials perform well? In our opinion, an election is just a high point in the democratic process,)” she said.

Media are not perfect. Every newspaper, television and radio company has its own shortcomings in covering election-related stories like political clans.  But what’s most important is for them to know their mistakes, and to provide  better reports on elections because whatever they publish or air can affect the vote of everyone, said Mangahas.—By Reina Beatriz Peralta and Jennifer Hermosilla

CMFR Monitor of the News Media Coverage of 2013 Elections

Given the special nature of the 2013 campaign and elections, the media’s role as credible and critical sources of information and analysis during the election season bears watching. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is monitoring the news media coverage of the 2013 campaign and elections in the context of both the special circumstances in which they were taking place, and the opportunity for improved and meaningful reporting and analysis the exercise offered to the Philippine media. 

CMFR has been monitoring media coverage of Philippine elections since 1992, and in every instance has made recommendations towards the improvement of media coverage. These efforts have not been unrewarded. Changes in media coverage incorporating some of the recommendations of the CMFR monitor in 2004 were evident, for example, in the media coverage of the 2007 elections.


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