Jun 292014


Professor Roland G. Simbulan University of the Philippines, & Vice Chair, Board of Trustees
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg)

(Lecture before the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao, Conference on Political Dynasties and Political Violence, Davao City, March,


It has been six years since I was invited by the faculty of the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU) in 2007 to deliver a lecture on “Political Dynasties in Mindanao”. In the paper that I presented, which was posted in the internet, I examined the phenomenon of Kamag-anak Inc. or the prevalence of political dynasties in our country, particularly those in Mindanao. My input today, hopefully will update and even complement that discussion, and conversation.

It is my honor to be invited to your Advocacy Training Seminar on Modern Warlordism, Militarism, and Impunity here in Davao City, organized by the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM). I hope that my inputs to this seminar will contribute in some way to helping “to capacitate your legal and political skills and knowledge with the objective to empower your communities and strengthening grassroots people’s organizations against modern warlordism and impunity.”

In recent years, we have seen the intensification of political violence in the Philippines. Human rights violations have also become as common as the impunity that exists where the power of central authority to exercise justice seems to have been eroded. We see around us these private armies, and the political violence utilized by political elites to protect their economic and political power. They use this violence to defend their extraction of natural resources for their businesses. Commonly, prevalent resources in the provinces are extracted by the elites from forests, coast areas and mines. Political violence is the weapon of the elites to establish their political and economic base, while waging attacks on non-elites from the sectors of farmers, workers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples who are becoming conscious and organizing for their rights which are being trampled and abused by the oligarchy.

Warlords and their armed groups in the form of private armies contribute significantly to political violence and human rights violations in the Philippines. This paper will attempt to explain how and why.


Let us first begin with defining warlordism. According to Wikipedia, a warlord is a person with power who has both military and civil control over a subnational area due to armed groups loyal to the warlord and not to a central authority. Basically, they have the so-called private armies to oppress their adversaries. Kimberly Marten defines warlords as “individuals who control small territories within weak states, using a combination of force and patronage.” Kruezer defines them as “oligarchs who do not only capture state power but also command significant private firepower underwriting its personal rule by state terror”. (Kruezer, P., 2009). With these definitions, within their locality, the warlords are sort of “sui generis” where instead of the rule of law, they are the rulers and the law. They have a virtual total control over a locality, minimal institutional constraints and their power maintainance is through a combination of coercion and patronage. The use of the term warlordism has its beginnings during the chaos at the end of the Qing Dynasty in China, when independent rulers emerged in several parts of China who had their own armies challenging the central authority.

Warlordism is a product of political dynasties in the Philippines: in order for these political clans and dynasties to maintain their power, they use all means especially the use of political violence by creating and using their private armies. In other words, act of politicians using political violence or the use of paramilitary forces to gain control over territory or region is warlordism.

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.

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 the most profitable parts of our economy. When family, not ideology or principle, becomes the norm in politics and public service, corruption will naturally flourish. In fact, the existence of political clans and dynasties has encouraged a political system that is dominated by patronage, corruption, violence and fraud at the national and local level. Thus, 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.

According to our study at CenPeg last year 2012, there are 178 dominant political dynasties in the Philippines, wherein 94% of our provinces have political dynasties (73 out of a total of 80 provinces), which averages 2.31 political dynasties per province.


Warlordism has long been perpetuating in Philippine society. We can trace their emergence from the local elites who were given not only civil power but also military power to control over a particular region so they can maintain their political and economic interests.

The first generation of warlords in the Philippines are said to have emerged just after the Second World War. The United States of America, heavily concerned in creating its own pro-U.S. guerilla movements in our country ( as a counterfoil to the PKP-led Hukbalahap or Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon), was willing to pay anyone ready to set up a force against the Japanese occupation. A few of these warlord clans were the Sinsuats and Matalams of Cotabato, the Duranos of Danao, and the Dimaporos of Lanao. Having proven themselves to be loyal, they were exempted from the firearms confiscation program during the American recolonization after World War II, and with that, the reign of warlordism began.

American scholar J. Sidel (1989) in his study of warlord politics observes:

“The basis of warlord politics was the institution of personal armies at the disposal of individual military commanders. The principal warlords were sovereign over their organizations and in their domains, and there were no formal or legal authorities that could regulate or control their actions.”

According to Alfred Mc Coy in his book Anarchy of Families, the emergence of provincial family elites can be traced to the American imperial era. The Americans built the electoral process from the municipality upward, and the provincial elites entrenched themselves in both local and national and local positions. During the years after our formal independence in 1946, presidents won their office with the help of these provincial elites and oligarchs. In return, these presidents created dealings that benefit the interests of the provincial elites. Rent-seeking politics and patronage politics became the rule. Predatory rent-seeking activities by politicians drained the resources of the government, thus making the state apparatus to implement the rule of law weak, while the political elites strengthened and sustained their power. The erosion of central authority produced provincial politicians known as warlords.

The existing system tolerates, or worse accommodates, the existence of abusive warlords and their private armies. Warlords cannot exist without the tolerance and support given to them to operate like feudal lords who have even equipped themselves with the latest weaponry. The government has tolerated the proliferation of the provincial political elites who are warlords because they benefit from them.
A. The Counter-Insurgency Role of Warlords and Paramilitarism

Warlords, especially if they are seated in the government, serve a key role in counter-insurgency campaigns. Since they have private armies which are even armed and trained by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), it would be so easy for them to terminate anyone or any group which dares cross them or their allies in the national government. They instill fear, and help to silence people’s organizations, as well as armed insurgencies. They have been used against both the New People’s Army and the MoroIslamic Liberation Front. Previously they were actively used against Nur Misuari’s Moro National Liberation Front. These private armies have often been legitimized as CAFGUs (Civilian
Auxiliary Geographical Units), Civilian Armed Auxiliaries (CAAs), security guards, LGU task forces, action teams or as CVOs (Civilian Volunteer Organizations).

The United States, which has institutionalized training programs for the AFP and the PNP, orients them to use “irregulars” or local pro-government militias and civilian volunteers to secure and consolidate an area that was originally controlled by rebel forces. During the late 80s, U.S. counterinsurgency expert and adviser Colonel James Rowe of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group (JUSMAG), was involved in clandestinely training so-called vigilante groups controlled by local warlords in the counter-insurgency campaign. Col. Rowe was later to be assassinated by the NPA in Quezon City on his way to JUSMAG headquarters.

Thus, from the counterinsurgency perspective, the private armies of warlords are seen as “force multipliers” in the war against terrorism and rebellion (as well as against crime), and are paid for and maintained occasionally with government funds.
B. The Role of Warlords in Elections

The places known to be dominated by warlords and strong political clans, are known for their overinflated and surprising voter turnouts, which warlords could deliver to an allied candidate at the national level. For example, during the 2004 presidential elections, the Ampatuans delivered to their ally and patron, then presidential reelectionist Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a near 99% of the votes in their precincts.

It is during the elections that the problem with private armies spring from the need of politicians and influential clans to be secure. First, they are used as protection from alleged assailants and insurgents; and second, private armies are used for illicit activities like intimidation, assassinations and election manipulation.

In sum, operating from the paradigm of rent-seeking, key government officials such as the president and senators depend on the votes that these warlord political clans generate for them. While generating votes from these clans and ensuring that they too will also hold their positions tightly, warlords are left to themselves. They allow them to operate in their bulwark and create illicit dealings that will benefit the clans and warlords. Often times, provincial elites or warlords are also relatives of those people holding key positions in the national government. This toleration by the central government is a sign of the state’s weakness to enforce the rule o law and makes impunity a common phenomenon.


A. Ampatuans (Maguindanao)

Mindanao is filled with notorious warlords and warlord clans. The most infamous one is the Ampatuan clan which up to now very much influence politics and elections by their unwavering power and control over the people. Despite their notoriety and the detention of their key family members, the Ampatuans continue to dominate their territory by the use of armed power and fear.

B. Dimaporo (Lanao del Norte)

The most feared of the Mindanao warlords was then the late Ali Dimaporo, with his successor Abdullah. Abdullah Dimaporo and his wife Imelda are both in Congress while their son Khalid is now governor. It was not an exaggeration that Ali Dimaporo was known as the Mad Dog of Mindanao. He was able to become provincial governor, congressman, university president of Marawi State University, and even advisor of Marcos and operator of the most powerful political machinery in Mindanao. During his heyday, his Barracudas, a private of more than 500 men terrorized both Christian and Muslim settlers in the Lanao, whose communities they often converted into ghost towns with burnings of crops and killings of those who dared to oppose his rule.

C. Tan (Samar)

The Tan political clan holds sway and monopolize political power in Western Samar and is headed by Rep. Mila Tan. Her children are Gov. Sharee Ann Tan and her brother Vice Gov. Stephen James Tan. They use not only vote buying, but also rely on the use of political violence such as death threats, and the use of violence against their rivals and the use of arms, etc.. To maintain and legitimize their armed group, they have maintained a very close alliance with the military, having been involved in the psywar campaigns of the AFP, and have even made the military a contractor in projects used for counterinsurgency. This is done through their involvement with the Army’s Special Operations Teams and the Social Integration Program. The Tan dynasty has built an alliance with the national government, assuring block votes during national elections for their administration allies.

The Tan Family’s muscle was recently highlighted with the assassination of their popular political rival Mayor Reynaldo Uy in 2011. Mayor Uy had been an unwavering human rights advocate in Western Samar since the Marcos dictatorship. He played a key role in the investigation and removal of then 8th ID chief Gen. Jovito Palparan from Samar for gross human rights abuses. It has been alleged by many sectors that the Tans were the masterminds behind the elimination of their key rival in the province.

D. Duranos (Danao)

Ramon Durano Sr. is a dominant political power holder in the northeastern towns of Cebu province. His main political base however is the city of Danao which his family has controlled for over 50 years. He owns and operates one of the biggest coal mines in Cebu. Between 1949 and 1972, he was the Congressman from Cebu’s first district. He used his firm control of his political base in the town of Danao to reach out to other politically powerful people like the Osmenas, Pres. Garcia, and then President Marcos, as well as his legal and business skills to build and industrial complex in his town. Danao town is also known as the Paltik Capital of the Philippines.

E. Singson (Ilocos Sur)

The head of this clan is Chavit Singson, former governor of his province, and former deputy national security adviser under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Known originally as the artillery of the Crisologos, the Singson family has wrested control over the tobacco industry in the Philippines. This was the outcome of a fierce and violent struggle over economic and political power of the province against the Crisologos, whose patriarch Floro Crisologo (the father of Congressman Bingbong Crisology) was assassinated right inside Catholic Church in Vigan, Mafia style. Most of the descendants of their remaining political rivals like the Crisologos and the Sanidads have fled the province or have built their businesses or practiced their professions elsewhere.
F. Dy (Isabela)

The Dys have reigned in Isabela for more than three decades. They use their private armies to secure their political power and manipulate politics and the electoral process in Isabela. They have used their political clout to strengthen their economic base, to immunize them from prosecution for their crimes in the province and illicit logging activities. They have also used their private armies to eliminate their enemies, political rivals or insurgents.

G. Montanos (Cavite, 1935-1972)

One of the most notorious warlords was Justiniano Montano Sr. who dominated Cavite politics from 1935-1972. As a politician who became Congressman, Governor of Cavite and even Senator, he depended for his success on relentless threats and the use of violence. His private army including a band of assassins like the notorious Nardong Putik (Leonardo Manecio) were enlisted by Monano for the Maragondon Massacre. His engaged in many illicit businesses like operating a major smuggling syndicate, extortion, questionable real estate deals and rigged horse races and boxing matches. One of his biggest mistakes was to go against Marcos because of Montanos smuggled blue seal cigarette smuggling (and other goods) from North Borneo which clashed with the Ilocos-based Philippine tobacco industry where the Marcoses had a big stake. Martial law ended Montanos political career in 1972. He was never able to recover again.


Article XVIII, section 24 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution states, “Private armies and other armed groups not recognized by duly constituted authority shall be dismantled. All paramilitary forces including Civilian Home Defense Forces not consistent with the citizen armed forces established in this constitution shall be dissolved or, where appropriate, converted into the regular force.” The existence of political dynasties which breed warlords is likewise prohibited by this same constitution: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Warlords and political clans do not rely solely on force. They exert either and both soft or hard power on their constituents. The umbilical cord between national and local warlords must be broken if not weakened. National politicians especially presidents are elected with the support of rent-seeking political brokers, thus successive presidents are forced to pay off powerful politicians with local and national privileges, thereby compromising the integrity of the state and the rule of law. The state apparatus weakened while political dynasties and warlord families gained strength.

In order to neutralize political clans and warlords, it is important to go back to how they had emerged. Monopoly of power was achieved by the political elites through a lopsided structure of opportunities and social and economic inequalities. They had also entrenched themselves in power through the undemocratic electoral processes. There is a need to democratize government machineries and political authority whereby people’s representation in policy making is effectively ensured. There is a need to fix our electoral process so that the monopoly by the elites will be reduced. Genuine political parties should be built from the grassroots, parties that will operate on the basis of principle and platforms and not catering to the interest of the elites. These political parties must truly represent the aspirations the needs of the people especially farmers, workers, indigenous peoples and other marginalized sectors of our society.

It is also important to empower the masses. Empowering means understanding the intricacies and complexities of our unjust political and economic system. Empowering means understanding our adversaries such as the local oligarchy and warlords. The masses should be enlightened so that they can be defended from the deceptions of the political elites. Also, education and national consciousness of the masses must be increased. These will enable them to be aware of the truth about the society and to know the rights they must experience.

I would like to end with the anecdote about Atty. Pedro Abad Santos, a prominent lawyer and pre-War Representative of Congress in Pampanga, and the older brother of his more famous brother former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Jose Abad Santos. This is a true story, I do not want you to do and advise the same thing. But it shows how frustrating political violence and the impunity inflicted by warlord politicians –those vested with the monopoly of economic and political warlord politicians — can be.

Pedro Abad Santos was later to become the founding Chairman of the pre-war Socialist Party of the Philippines. His residence in Pampanga was always teeming with oppressed and abused tenants of Pampanga who wanted to seek his legal assistance as he was known to be the lawyer of the poor who fought his own social class of hacienderos. One day, after years and years of being the lawyer of tenant farmers who were abused, kidnapped, raped and maltreated by their landlords, Pedro Abad Santos, a lawyer at that, told the crowd of peasants: Do not go to me anymore to tell me that you are being abused and oppressed because our judicial system is controlled by the landlords and the rich. Because our judges are in the pockets of these hacienderos. The next time your hacienderos abuse you again, KILL THEM, and then, I will defend you!

Thank you.


Coronel, Sheila S. (2007). The Rulemakers: How the Wealthy and Well-Born Dominate Congress. Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Kruezer, P. (2009). Philippine Governance: Merging Politics with Crime. Internet Source.

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

Mercado. F.E. (2010) The Maguindanao Massacre and the Rise of Warlord Clans” Autonomy and Peace Review, Vo. 6, No. 1.

Sidel, J. (1989) Beyond patron-client relations: Warlordism and local politics in the Philippines. Kasarinlan Journal, 4(3).

Simbulan, Dante C. (2005) The Modern Principalia: The Historical Evolution of the Philippine Ruling Oligarchy. University of the Philippines Press.

Simbulan, Roland. (2007) Political Dynasties in Mindanao. Lecture before the Faculty of the Western Mindanao State University. (online)




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