A “Soft State” and Failing Democracy

Our Constitution says: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” (Section 1. Article II.) In fact our society is dominated by the rich and powerful, and marked by widespread poverty, homelessness, insecurity, lawlessness and injustice.

In Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama he describes “Soft States” as having the following characteristics that apply to the Philippines to some degree (Asian Drama, 1969. pp. 66, and 277). “Soft States are dominated by powerful interests that exploit the power of the State or government to serve their own interests rather than the interests of their citizens. Policies decided on are often not enforced, if they are enacted at all, and in that the authorities, even when framing policies are reluctant to place obligations on people.”

The exploiters of our “Soft State?” are (1) “rent-seeking” oligarchs or rich and powerful politicians and their families…; (2) “warlords”; (3) politicians who use force, fraud, or buy votes; (4) “rent-seeking” businessmen and government administrators and employees; (5) gambling lords, drug lords, and smuggling lords; (6) tax evaders; (7) rebels who collect “revolutionary taxes”; (8) terrorists; (9) and even poor “informal settlers” and “squatter syndicates” who occupy private or public land and are protected by politicians.

Our weak nation and “Soft State” are clearly related to many political leaders who use their  power and authority more to serve their private and political interests than to serve the common good and the national interest. On the whole they have failed to lead us towards our constitutional vision, ideals and goals through “good governance” and the rule of law.

From democracy to dictatorship. President Marcos destroyed our fledgling democratic institutions when he prolonged his powers as president from 8 to 20 years, until he was overthrown by people power at the EDSA Revolt in 1986. Meanwhile, he had plundered the government and the economy, enriched his family and cronies, reversed our economic development, corrupted politics and society, and politicized the military as his partner in power. Our democratization suffered a traumatic reversal from which we have not fully recovered.

Despite our laudable vision of democracy and “a just and humane society” and the  ideals of public office and good governance under the 1987 Constitution, we have not been able to reform and transform our weakened and ineffective political institutions. Under President Aquino, the old oligarchy and traditional politicians, including those who had collaborated with Marcos, quickly recovered their power.

Our democracy has not been consolidated. To this day, 24 years after EDSA 1, we have not “consolidated” our democracy. “Democracy is consolidated when…a particular system of institutions becomes the only game in town, and when no-one can imagine acting outside the democratic institutions” (A. Przeworski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. 1991. p. 26). After democracy was restored, we quickly played various extra-constitutional games. Rebel soldiers sought to remove President Aquino in nine failed coup attempts. We removed President Joseph Estrada in another “people power revolt” and withdrawal of support by the military and the police. President Gloria Arroyo became the target of “people power” revolts, coup attempts, and an aborted rebellion.

To date the killers and torturers of the Marcos regime have not been brought to justice. Despite public outcry, killings and various human rights violations occur with apparent impunity. Corruption and betrayal of public office are rampant. After 2001 free, fair, peaceful, and credible elections were not assured. The judiciary is usually too slow in doing its work, and unable to dispense justice. Rebels, warlords and private armies exist in their own territories.

The 2009 massacre in Maguindanao of 57 unarmed people, including women and 30 journalists is a tragic indicator of the failure of our political leadership and democratic institutions on the whole. There are several other places where the rule of law does not prevail.

We need functional institutions. “Good governance” in a constitutional democracy depends not only on “good leaders” and “good citizens” but also on “functional institutions” through which we are able to satisfy our various needs and fulfill our lives. These include our political parties, electoral system, the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives, the judiciary, and the bureaucracy. Our weak and opportunistic political parties, our presidential form of government, our highly centralized unitary system, and our nationalistic policy on foreign investments have not served us well and need to be reformed.

Filipino democracy is at risk. In 2004 Freedom House in New York downgraded the ranking of the Philippines from “free” to “partly free”; and in 2008 disqualified the country as an “electoral democracy.” According to Larry Diamond: “The Asian Barometer found that the percentage of Filipinos who believe democracy is always the best form of government dropped from 64 percent to 51 percent between 2001 and 2005. At the same time, satisfaction with democracy fell from 54 percent to 39 percent, and the share of the Filipino population willing to reject the option of an authoritarian ‘strong leader’ declined from 70 percent to 59 percent.” (“The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State,” Foreign Affairs, March-April 2008)

“Emerging democracies must demonstrate that they can solve their governance problems and meet their citizens’ expectations for freedom, justice, a better life, and a fairer society. If democracies do not more effectively contain crime and corruption, generate economic growth, relieve economic inequality, and secure freedom and the rule of law, people will eventually lose faith and turn to authoritarian alternatives. Struggling democracies must be consolidated so that all levels of society become enduringly committed to democracy as the best form of government and to their country’s constitutional norms and constraints.” (Larry Diamond, “The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State.” Foreign Affairs, March-April 2008.)

New beginning and hope for change. Fortunately, we are experiencing a rising demand for change to “a new politics and governance” of honesty, transparency, and effectiveness. The landslide election of Benigno Aquino III in May 2010 in which he won in practically all regions and among all social classes attests to the clamor for change in leadership and governance, and for solving our basic problems of corruption, poverty, injustice, unemployment, and criminality, violence and killings with apparent impunity.

But we know that “a sincere and honest president” of heroic parentage alone will not save us from our condition without our leaders’ and the people’s informed and persistent sacrifice and determination to change our political structures, institutions and policies. Our analysis of the roots of our problems as a “weak nation,” a “soft state,” an “unconsolidated democracy,” and “a democracy at risk,” tells us of a more serious, complex, and unending struggle to build a strong and effective nation-state: a functional Republic of the Philippines.

Sooner than later we should finally revise our Constitution to begin the reform and revitalization of our institutions of governance. This early President Aquino has not shown any interest in revising “the Cory Constitution” of 1987. And there are vested interests in maintaining the status quo.



































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