The State of Our Democracy and its Prospects Part Three

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

March 17, 2013

Filipino Democracy is an Oligarchy. It is the rule of very rich families, many of whom are known as “political dynasties.” Many, but not all, political or family dynasties are known to abuse their power and authority to protect their political dominance amid widespread poverty, landlessness, homelessness, unemployment, and injustice. Consequently, a large proportion of our insecure citizens continue to be dependents on their wealthy and powerful political patrons in our patron-client democracy. They are un-empowered citizens of a democratizing polity.   

Realizing this, the 1987 Constitution provides: “The State shall guarantee equal opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be provided by law. Twenty-six years after the adoption of the Constitution, Congress has not passed a law to implement the constitutional guarantee. If the framers of the Constitution had been serious and discerning, they would have defined what they meant by “political dynasties.” They should not have left it to the legislators to do so.

Many legislators belong to “political dynasties,” commonly understood as “political families” whose members occupy various elected positions in their communities, or in Congress. They enjoy a virtual monopoly of political power vis-à-vis their rivals where wealth is very unevenly shared and our oligarchy has too much control of our resources. “Despite wide-ranging reforms since 1981, big chunks of the market remain effective oligopolies or cartels,” according to a paper of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.

According to Louie Montemayor, political scientist at De LaSalle University, “little has been done at the top to impact on the dominance of the elite. “There’s some sense to the argument that we’ve never had a real democracy because only a few have controlled economic power. The country dances to the tune of the tiny elite.”

As the economist Cielito Habito explained: “the growth in the aggregate wealth of our 40 richest families in 2011, which Forbes Asia reported to have risen by $13 billion in 2010-2011—was equivalent (in value) to 76.5 percent of the growth in our total GDP at the time, which official data show to have risen nominally then by P732 billion, or around $17 billion. I found that this ratio was only 33.7 percent in Thailand, 5.6 percent in Malaysia, and 2.8 percent in Japan—suggesting that our income inequality is much worse than in our neighbors. Relative to rise in total incomes, the wealth gain of our billionaires that year dwarfed those in our neighbors…, suggesting much more skewed distribution in our country. xxx The clear imperative is to pursue more inclusive growth. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 11, 2013)

How are we, Filipinos, to achieve “inclusive growth”? Dr. Habito explains: “In a democratic society, then, pursuing inclusive growth is not about redistributing wealth and income to equalize it; rather, it’s about providing genuinely equal opportunities for all. xxx This entails ensuring quality education and health services for all; correcting historically lopsided access to land and natural assets; equitable access to credit by small and large borrowers alike; a justice system that is blind to people’s social and economic status; and a competition policy that levels the playing field for big and small enterprises so that the latter can thrive along with the former. In other words, it calls for correcting our social, political and institutional flaws, in all their obvious and subtle forms, that perpetuate unequal access to economic and political power.”

Analysts say it is helpful that the government is spending more than P40 billion on its conditional transfer program to the poorest people, in exchange for their children going to school and getting proper health care. The analysts say that “the most direct path out of poverty is  improving workers’ skills, using higher tax revenues to boost spending on infrastructure, and rebuilding the country’s manufacturing sector.” So they endorse the cash transfer program and K plus 12 educational reform of President Aquino.

We have an “Unconsolidated Democracy.” From the end of World War II in 1945 and our independence in 1946 through the 1960s, when our population was around 50 million, we made progress as a democratic and developing nation. But our youth, especially, should be reminded that in September 1972 President Ferdinand Marcos, the only Filipino president to be reelected since independence, became a dictator and molded the 1973 Constitution to serve his perverse personal agenda. 

By destroying our fledgling democratic institutions, he was able to extend his powers as an authoritarian president from the maximum of eight years to over 20 years, until he was overthrown by the people at the EDSA Revolt in February 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.

But through patriotic resistance by many militants and committed leaders, by Ninoy Aquino’s long imprisonment and martyrdom, by Corazon Aquino’s heroic challenge to Marcos in the 1986 “snap elections,” by the militancy of the underground press, and by the spontaneous, spirited  “people power” revolt at EDSA, we finally ended the Marcos regime and “restored our democracy” in February 1986 and under the 1987 Constitution.

However, under President Cory Aquino and her successors, the old oligarchy and traditional politicians, including those who had collaborated with Marcos, quickly recovered their power. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is a senator, Mrs. Imelda Marcos is again a representative, and Ms. Imee Marcos is governor of Ilocos Norte.

And, despite its laudable vision of  “a just and humane society” and a democracy and its ideals of public office and good governance, under this Constitution we have not been able to reform and transform our weakened and ineffective political institutions.

To this day, 27 years after the EDSA “People Power” Revolt in February 1986, 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).

In contrast, we have played various undemocratic “political games.” Rebel soldiers sought to remove President Aquino in at least seven disruptive coup attempts that fortunately failed. In the course of his impeachment trial President Joseph Estrada was removed in an extra-constitutional “people power revolt” with the resignation of Cabinet members and the withdrawal of his support by the military and the national police. President Gloria Arroyo became the target of intended “people power” revolts, coup attempts, an aborted rebellion, and proposed “snap elections.”

To date the killers and torturers of the Marcos regime have not been brought to justice, and have been practically ignored by succeeding post-EDSA regimes. But at last Congress has passed a law to indemnify the victims of human rights violations under Marcos. Despite public outcry, various human rights are still violated with apparent impunity. Corruption and betrayal of public office are still rampant. Our indigenous peoples bear the brunt of non-inclusive development.

As we have observed, rebels, warlords and private armies exist in their own territories. The military and the police under civilian rule do not have the monopoly of the use of armed force expected in a democracy. The judiciary continues to be too slow in doing its work and is often unable to dispense justice especially to the poor. The trial of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre of 58 men and women, including journalists, by the ruling Ampatuan clan is now on its 4th year.

Lately, in Sabah, Malaysia more than 30 Filipino members of the Royal Army of the Sultan of Sulu were killed in encounters with Malaysian military and police who also suffered casualties. The crisis has yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, hundreds of Filipino residents in Sabah have evacuated to Sulu and Tawi Tawi, with more to follow, creating a socio-economic crisis.

On the other hand, elections have been generally free, fair, peaceful, and credible since 1987. Following his ouster as president in 2001, Joseph Estrada was charged with plunder and detained in his suburban rest house. After a seven-year trial he was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Only to be pardoned about a month afterward by President Gloria M. Arroyo. After 40 days of impeachment trial by the Senate, Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed from office after he was found guilty of betrayal of the public trust for failing to report and pay his true income. Former President Arroyo was charged with electoral sabotage and placed under hospital and then house arrest. In October 2012, after years of conflict the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front finally signed a framework base agreement for establishing a Bangsamoro political entity to replace the failed Autonomous  Region of Muslim Mindanao.

But overall our democracy continues to be at risk. We should therefore take to heart the warning that we must deepen and strengthen democracy, or we risk its failure if widening poverty and unbearable social inequality should cause serious civil unrest that will trigger a military rebellion and another authoritarian rule.

“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.)

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1 Comment

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One response to “The State of Our Democracy and its Prospects Part Three

  1. Thank you for this three-part blog, Dr. Abueva. I posted the series in the website http://philippinehistory.ph once again.

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