Sunday, April 29, 2012

Iloilo Politics as “Game of Thrones”


With the 2013 mid-term elections just around the corner, the political cauldron of Iloilo is starting to boil up. Recently, various political permutations have been “floated” to gauge the reaction of the voting public. As we all know, political “scenario-making” is a favorite past-time in Iloilo, and Ilonggos are quite good in analyzing the various political combinations this coming elections. 

The present political situation really reminds me of a book I am currently reading entitled “A Dance with Dragons” by George R.R. Martin. “A Dance with Dragons” is the fifth installment of the “Game of Thrones” saga (which has now been adapted into a TV series by HBO). The plot revolves around the struggle for supremacy among the “Seven Kingdoms of Westeros” comprised by the Houses Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Targaryen, Tully, Tyrell and Arryn. The various court intrigues, political (re)alignments, gory warfare and the sudden plot twists make the “Games of Thrones” a very entertaining read, and in fact various critics have described its author George R.R. Martin as the new “American J.R.R. Tolkien.” People who loved Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” will definitely like “Game of Thrones.” But unlike “Lord of the Rings,” the plot of the “Game of Thrones” is not one-dimensional and its characters all have flaws. In a word, Game of Thrones is a novel without heroes which makes it all the more interesting. 

Anyway, Ilonggos will certainly find many parallelisms in the book with the current politics in Iloilo and the Philippines in general. Ned Stark was idealistic but na├»ve, and his unconditional loyalty to his friend the king ultimately led to his demise early on in the novel. His eldest son and heir, Robb Stark, was also a good and noble man but he was likewise slain, betrayed by people around him whom he thought were his friends. Uncannily, this is also the fate that typically awaits idealistic, reformist politicians in this country. 

Many Ilonggos will likewise find the House Lannister quite familiar. The Lannisters derive their power from gold which they use to buy loyalty and bribe men to commit treachery. The Lannisters are rich because their kingdom Casterly Rock contains abundant deposits of gold and this has made them the “family to beat” in Westeros. Some will empathize with the “underdog” House Targaryen. The Targaryens were the traditional rulers of the Iron Throne of Westeros until a rebellion ousted them from power. Now, its last surviving scion Princess Daenerys Targaryen is living in exile in the East. The leader of the rebellion, Robert of House Baratheon, became king until he was assassinated by his wife, the beautiful but vicious Queen Cersei of House Lannister. Queen Cersei tried to install her teenaged son Joffrey, a product of an incestuous relationship with her twin brother, Sir Jaime Lannister of the Kings Guard but the brothers of the late King Robert Baratheon rose up in arms. Thus, Westeros is once again riven by civil war. Meanwhile, in the East, the exiled Princess Daenerys Targaryen is assembling a massive invasion army to take back her birthright, assisted by an improbable menagerie of dragons, warrior-eunuchs, tribal horse-riders, exotic savages and fallen knights.  

As in the Game of Thrones, Iloilo is currently carved up between a few “noble” families into their respective political bailiwicks. The methods by which these families gain/maintain political power are varied – most use gold (like the Lannisters) to buy fealty while some project themselves as noble and idealistic leaders (like the Starks) to attract followers. There are also those who, like the exiled Targaryens, are willing to coalesce with erstwhile enemies and outlandish characters just to win back their lost thrones. And there are the “lesser houses,” political families who do not possess the gold of the Lannisters or lack the charisma of the Starks (like the Tyrells, Arryns and Tullys in the novel) and who thus can only reach the top by means of coalition, treachery and intrigue. And below these “lesser houses” are the petty lords (i.e. mayors, councilors, etc.) and vassals (i.e. barangay officials, wards leaders, etc.) who act as the frontliners or the ground troops of the liege lords during the election campaign period.
Because of this “dynastic streak” in our local politics, individuals with no political pedigree and little money normally have no chance of winning against the more “established” families. Worse, ordinary individuals who dare challenge the hegemony of these political dynasties are often depicted in the media either as “buffoons” or “loonies” and thus not to be taken seriously. Often, Ilonggos sympathize with well-qualified but “financially-challenged” candidates but do not vote for them on the (flawed) logic that “their votes will only be wasted” on such a “hopeless” candidate. 

This present political system has resulted to making Iloilo politics an uncanny mirror-image of the “Game of Thrones.” As in the fantasy novel, elections have been reduced to being a clash between and among a few political elites. And we ordinary mortals are mere passive spectators to this “Game of Thrones” of native titans. As a result, elective offices are seen as a birthright and passed on as a sort of “inheritance” from father to son, mother to daughter, among the well-born. The only difference is that in the “Game of Thrones,” kingdoms were passed on by hereditary right while in our system elective positions are won through what the famed philosopher Noam Chomsky termed as “manufactured consent.”

The truly sad thing is, most people do not find anything wrong anymore with this current state of affairs. No one no longer raises the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong in a system wherein only a few families monopolize the reins of power. Far from it, many accept it and even embrace it. In fact, during election time, we choose and actively take sides in the quest of the Lannisters, the Starks, the Targaryens and the Tyrells of Iloilo politics to gain political supremacy. 

In economic terms we somehow understand that monopoly is bad – i.e. when telecommunications was still a PLDT monopoly it took us years to get a landline – but we somehow could not see how political dynasties can be just as equally bad for our country. The current system of political dynastyism is essentially bad because it limits our choices to a narrow set of persons and really does not allow the best and most-qualified persons to occupy positions of power in government. A government ran by “less-than-able” individuals naturally results to bad governance and mismanagement which in turn results to underdevelopment. A politician who seeks to perpetuate his family in power will inevitably choose loyalty over competence, engage in patronage politics, steal public money to use in future elections and put familial interests first before the public good.