Commentary by Dr. Jose V. Abueva

July 15, 2012

Need for hindsight and perspective. Focused as we may be on the daily headlines, let’s look at the big picture since the mid-1960s, and particularly during the reversal of democratic political development under the Marcos authoritarian regime (September 1972 to February 1986). During this whole period extending to the present, our country has suffered from a collective failure of political leaders and institutions, including the media, in dealing with the nation’s chronic economic, political and social problems.

The EDSA Restoration of the Old Pre-Marcos System. The restoration of our old and debilitating colonial political institutions, leadership styles, and practices after EDSA 1, under the 1987 Constitution, has perpetuated the pattern of failed leadership and institutions, in spite of some exceptional local and national leaders, the “conscientization” of the middle class, and our vibrant civil society and still hopeful reformers.

The malaise has aggravated public distrust in our political leaders and institutions. Our invaluable “social capital,” as mutual trust among our people, has diminished. A sense of powerlessness and hopelessness feeds on itself and adds to public cynicism as daily reported in the media.

An awakening. As a continuing reaction to Marcos’ authoritarian rule and the entrenched oligarchy’s resistance to reform, in an atmosphere of unbridled political freedom, our country is witnessing an awakened sense of public morality among civic and religious leaders and the middle class.

There is vocal aversion to corruption, patronage politics, ineffective governance, and bureaucratic behavior. Civic-religious groups like the Gawad Kalinga  of the nation-wide Couples for Christ, the anti-corruption movement Ahem, and the Barug Pilipino in Cebu, among many others, exemplify an uplifting assertion of nobility and civic responsibility in our unjust and inhumane society. In 2010 the election of Benigno S. Aquino III to the presidency was propelled by our people’s yearning for political change that he appeared to symbolize.

But institutional reform is not among the President’s priorities. It is disappointing that President Aquino has repeatedly said he does not regard Charter change as a priority. He is confident he can curb corruption and reduce poverty without changing our political institutions. If his administration senses no popular demand for Charter change, does that make it unnecessary? Leaders are expected to lead on the basis of their insights and vision.

So we still suffer from considerable resistance to the exercise of leadership in basic institutional reforms through Charter change. Yet our country is also witnessing continuing violence and an intensifying activism among some politicians, the youth, civil society leaders, and leftist and rightist rebels that our traditional and dysfunctional political system can no longer accommodate. Overall, the nation seems to be increasingly ungovernable. It looks like our political system is becoming “a government run like hell by Filipinos…” in the memorable words of President Manuel L. Quezon.

Without instituting simultaneous structural, institutional and policy reforms, and corresponding change in values and behavior, the Filipino nation may be caught in the vicious cycle of political and social decay and economic underdevelopment. Concerned and politically conscious Filipinos continually complain about this predicament, while many among them resist constitutional, social and economic reforms.

Many political and business leaders have a vested interest in the entrenched political and economic system. They are the ones resisting change that threaten their power and privileges.  They may not understand that the existing system actually works against their own interest in the long run.

Our restored old political system cannot deliver on the promises of the Cory Constitution of 1987. A deeper analysis indicates that our dysfunctional presidential form of government, unitary structure, oligarchic political parties, party-list system, and media cannot deliver on the constitutional promise of building a peaceful, just and humane society under our kind of  democracy and weak rule of law. However, being basically hopeful and prayerful, most Filipinos still believe in democracy as an ideal. Yet some may now be open again to radical and untried alternatives to the unacceptable status quo.

While the Aquino Administration may boast of its political and economic achievements, the Philippines has not emerged from its political and economic crisis that threatens the long term survival of our constitutional democracy—which is still unconsolidated.  

Our democracy could become chaotic and ungovernable. Certainly, it is far from a consolidated democracy in the sense that its institutions of democratic representation and governance are working well for the good of most of our people, and is thus sustainable. 

A silver lining. But there may be a silver lining. In these critical and challenging times under a president who maintains a high trust and approval rating but remains wary of Charter change, congressional leaders are initiating proposals for Charter change that can involve the people in a constitutional discussion that aims to replace our old and obsolete presidential government with a parliamentary government and our centralized unitary system with one of autonomous regions and local governments. The goal is to improve the form, structure and performance of our government in order to serve the common good and arrest the deepening crisis.

Lest we forget, there looms large on our nation’s horizon a luminous new understanding of the Filipino nation and Filipino citizenship in light of the some ten million overseas Filipinos who now call themselves “Global Filipinos.” They are demanding full political participation as Filipino citizens as they contribute vitally to the national economy and the sustenance of their relatives back home. Dual citizenship and absentee voting plus representation in a new parliament will enable them do so.

Global Filipinos will increase the ranks of our middle classes as less dependent and more assertive Filipino citizens who will demand good governance and good leadership. Indeed, leaders of various organizations of Global Filipinos are deeply interested in Charter change and are contributing their ideas to it. Charter change will help build our Global Filipino Nation.

Perhaps, finally, after sixty years of fitful, painful struggle, we Filipinos will be able to consolidate our fragile democracy. We can hope to move peacefully and with more unity in order to attain our desired way of life and our vision of the “just and humane society” in the Constitution.

Sustained leadership and governance. President Aquino should wake up to the reality that with our kind of democracy and public policies, we cannot solve our perennial problems of massive poverty, wide social inequality, joblessness, injustice, violence, criminality, rapid population growth, inadequate infrastructure and public services, and environmental destruction.

He should listen more to progressive leaders in his Cabinet, like Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad who has been a strong advocate of parliamentary government. With informed hindsight and foresight, Senator Edgardo Angara is courageously advocating Charter change. So are Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

The time to organize for institutional change is when you are in power—with the advantage of organizing a solid majority to propose and realize basic institutional change for sustainable democracy and development. 

Dr. Jose v. Abueva is U.P. Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Administration and Director of the Institute of Federal-Parliamentary Democracy of Kalayaan College, Quezon City.



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