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Political Families in the Philippines: Where Are They Now?

March 14, 2012

By Steven Rood

Given that I’ve written that kinship is the idiom of social organization in the Philippines, it’s probably not surprising that when asked for one book to read about the Philippines I often recommend An Anarchy of Families:  State and Society in the Philippines, edited by Alfred W. McCoy. Not only is it a classic from the early 1990s, but you can get the essential point of the book by merely perusing the title.

While using it as a textbook in the class that I’m teaching at SAIS, it occurred to me that updating the situation of the families treated would be a handy way of looking at two decades of Philippine political history. A couple of the stories would obviously be too complex to tell – say the prominent Lopez business family or the multi-pronged Osmena political family from Cebu. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just focus on three examples from the book that illustrate how people often called “warlords” mobilize guns, goons, and gold. In fact, McCoy himself compares Ramon Durano of Danao, Cebu, Ali Dimaporo of Lanao, and Justiniano Montano of Cavite – hypothesizing that warlords need sustainable financial resources for longevity, which the Duranos seem to have done more successfully than the other two families.

Ramon Durano used firm control of his political base in the town of Danao to reach out to other politically powerful people (the Osmenas, President Garcia, and then President Marcos),  as well as his legal and business skills to build an industrial complex in his town.  Perhaps the most famous product to come out of Danao are locally produced guns, paltik, which from time to time have been legalized or made illegal again. The book chapter closes with Don Ramon Durano living out his twilight years with the family still in control of power and wealth. Fast forward to today and we see that the feuding among his descendants that was briefly presaged in the chapter continues apace:  Ramon II and Ramon III (brothers) and Ramon IV, Ramon V, and Ramon VI (first cousins – the Duranos don’t wait for a new generation to move to the next number in the sequence) are all active in politics. A complex family feud is playing out with the most visible aspect being the recall petition filed by Danao City Vice Mayor Ramon III against the mayor, Ramon II (his elder brother). Not caught up in the feud is one of the next generation, Joseph “Ace” Durano, who, after serving as a Congressman, was appointed Secretary of Tourism in 2008 by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He did not run for office in 2010, though he is of course prominently mentioned either to return to Congress or to run for governor of Cebu in the 2013 mid-term elections.

The case of succession in the Dimaporo clan is an interesting one. Another one of my candidates for “the one book to read about the Philippines,” is Abinales and Amorsolo’s State and Society in the Philippines. At one point, the book highlights what I had previously written about generational change from patriarch Ali to his son Abdullah. Despite McCoy’s hypothesis that the lack of accumulated financial resources would hinder continued political power, the late Ali Dimaporo (one of the most feared warlords in Mindanao) was able to designate his favorite son Abdullah as his successor. Abdullah is U.S.-educated and married to a Christian from a rival clan. While Abdullah has retired to the private sector, his wife Imelda and daughter Aliyah are the two Members of Congress from Lanao del Norte, while his son Khalid (also educated in the United States) is now governor. As a young governor, he was a prominent critic of the August 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, becoming one of a number of Muslim-elected officials who objected to concessions to the MILF. Clearly, by avoiding the in-fighting demonstrated by the Duranos, the influence of the Dimaporos continues.

Finally, we have Cavite, where Justianano Montano was active from 1935 to 1972 but failed at dynasty-building. The province had for decades (going back to the Spanish era) a reputation for lawlessness and violence. However, its proximity to Manila meant that shifts in support from the national government can be decisive, so Montano was dislodged when rival Juanito “Johnny” Remulla was favored by Marcos (1979-1986). Remulla, with prototypical Filipino politician agility, was victorious again under Corazon Aquino (1988-1992). But Remulla misjudged the 1992 presidential elections and did not back the eventual winner, Fidel Ramos. Thus, in 1995, President Ramos backed Epimaco Velasco – who won as governor allied with Vice Governor Ramon (“Bong”) Revilla Jr., son of erstwhile Remulla ally Ramon Revilla. Sr. Bong Revilla became governor after Velasco resigned to become Secretary of Interior and Local Government, and then Bong became a senator when his father retired in 2004 (upon reaching term limits). Currently Cavite has Remullas and Revillas (and Malixis) in its complex provincial politics. However, it is the Revillas who have transcended Cavite – while Montano was described as “a champion performer with Cavite as his stage,” the Revillas (father and son) on the national stage are literally performers as they are action stars in the movies. Unhappily, they are also subject to the same forces as were the Duranos, with splits in the family taking a tragic turn when a half-brother of Bong was murdered in November 2011, allegedly at the hands of other half-siblings.

So, what can be learned from these capsule descriptions?  First, though many seem to think the Philippines is run by some list of the top 100 families, it is clear that families come and go. The grandson of the pre-eminent man with “soul stuff,” President Manuel Quezon, Manuel “Manolo” Quezon III is one of the country’s pre-eminent public intellectuals and a member of President Aquino’s communications team, but he wields no political power. Secondly, many families split into contending factions, such as the Osmenas and the Duranos – but careful husbandry such as that practiced by the Lopezes and the Dimaporos can avoid this. The next generation is often more educated and technocratic than the partriarchs, but the idiom of power still revolves around kinship. And finally, political power at the national level is shifting from “building coalitions of lower-level power brokers” to the dominance of celebrity – a fundamental shift that needs separate treatment in a different blog post.

*Editor’s note: this version has been edited slightly from the original.

This is the eighth posting in the series, “A Representative Professor,” a weekly series during a teaching sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions, Good Governance
Related topics: Corruption, Elections


  1. I believe the Dimaporos are representing Lanao del Norte in the House, not Lanao del Sur. Ali was governor of Lanao del Sur, but the family has been based in Lanao del Norte.

  2. @Lloyd G. Van Vactor:

    Thank you for noting this error. I have corrected it in the piece. Alma Freeman, editor, In Asia


  1. Aspiring for National Office in the Philippines: Don't Start Local | In Asia - [...] the reality of decentralized politics in the Philippines, and the fate of political families at the local level, the…

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