The State of Our Democracy and its Prospects Part Two

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

March 10, 2013

Last Sunday we dealt with our subject from various viewpoints: (1) our ongoing modernization as a nation; (2) democratization under American colonial rule; (3) authoritarian rule during the Japanese occupation; (3) re-democratization after independence in 1946; (4) authoritarian rule under the Marcos dictatorship; and (5) re-democratization after the EDSA Revolt and under the 1987 Constitution. We highlighted our constitutional vision of building “a just and humane society” and our ideals for democracy. We also elaborated our concept of “good governance.”

Our strengths as a people and an aspiring democracy. Despite our many problems and weaknesses as a developing nation and an aspiring democracy, that we shall highlight below, as a whole Filipinos are hopeful and resilient. Having suffered long under the Marcos dictatorship, we value our freedom and democracy. And we do hope to develop our country.

We have outstanding national and local political leaders among our more numerous politicians who tend to be self-seeking and corrupt. Our vibrant civil society organizations and our free and outspoken media interact with political leaders and government officials who  respond to them as accountable public servants in a democracy.  To bind us as a nation we can recall a shared history, our heroes of the past and the present, and our common challenges and struggle. Filipinos are supposedly “happy” compared to other nations. And “It’s more fun the Philippines.”

But we are still a weak nation. Despite more than a century of nation-building and democratization, our political leaders have failed to unite, empower, and inspire our diverse peoples as a nation. Too many of our leaders do not transcend their personal and family interests when called upon to lead, to enforce and obey the laws, to support change and reforms, and to sacrifice in order to promote our common good and national interest.

As a people, we tend to emphasize our rights and privileges and minimize our duties and responsibilities. Our “social capital” in terms of social and political trust in each other is low. The poverty, joblessness, and insecurity of many our citizens make them vulnerable and dependent on their political patrons who offer them patronage, financial assistance, and protection, in exchange for their votes, allegiance, and loyalty.

We sense our predicament when we observe the national unity, determination, sense of urgency, and progress of the Japanese, Chinese, South Koreans, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Vietnamese, and the Thais.  

Many Muslims resent their poverty, exclusion and underdevelopment, and the political and cultural dominance of the Christians; thus the perennial Moro struggle for political, economic, and cultural autonomy, and the Moro rebellions since the early 1970s. Indigenous Filipinos (the lumads) also feel discriminated and excluded in our national development. The Maoist Communist rebellion dates back to 1968, succeeding the earlier Soviet-oriented Communism that began in the 1930s.

In a nation of ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, and social inequality, there are varying degrees of resentment towards a highly centralized and Manila-centric governance expressed in the pejorative term “Imperial Manila.” This fuels the legitimate demand for far greater regional and local autonomy and federalism.

Given the advantages of our having a global lingua franca and a national language, there is a reaction to the dominance of English and Filipino—the supposedly evolving national language which is largely Tagalog—in our language policy and official communication. Such centralized structures, and language policies and practices are prejudicial to the people in the outlying provinces, and especially the poor, whose languages are not used in official communication. The predominant use of English and legalese in court trials is at the expense of many people who do not understand the language. As a consequence, many Filipinos are being alienated from their own languages, cultures, and institutions.

We have a “Soft State.” The political reality in our oligarchic society is marked by the dominance of the rich and powerful, and by widespread poverty, landlessness, homelessness, insecurity, injustice, and a weakened “rule of law.” In Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama, he describes “Soft States” as having the following characteristics that seem to apply to the Philippines to some degree (Asian Drama, 1969. pp. 66, and 277).

(1)“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. (2) “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. (3) “Governments require extraordinarily little of their citizens [and] even those obligations that do exist are enforced inadequately, if at all….. (4) “There is an unwillingness among the rulers to impose obligations on the governed and a corresponding unwillingness on their part to obey rules laid down by democratic procedures.

Who are the exploiters of our “SoftState?” I would include (1) “rent-seeking” oligarchs or rich and powerful politicians and their families who exploit the State to serve their selfish interests; (2) “warlords” who use violence to gain and protect their power and political position; (3) politicians who use force, fraud, or buy votes to win elections and stay in power; (4) “rent-seeking” businessmen; (5) “rent-seeking” public administrators; (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,” maybe for sheer survival as migrants in the big cities, and “squatter syndicates,” who occupy private or public land and use their votes to buy the protection of politicians.

Our weak nation and “SoftState” are clearly related to our leaders who use their  power and authority more to serve their private and political interests, rather than to promote the common good. Entrenched in their power bases, they lack the spirit of nationalism and the sense of urgency and accountability to the citizens who are the constitutional source of the nation-state’s sovereignty. On the whole our political leaders have failed to lead us towards our vision, ideals and goals through “good governance” as defined earlier.

As Prof. Francisco Nemenzo sees it: “We need a State that is strong to implement fundamental reforms, to break elite resistance, and to withstand imperialist pressure.” (“Beyond the Classroom: UP’s Responsibility in Helping Rebuild a Damaged Nation,” U.P. Centennial Lecture, February 15, 2008.) I would say that without a strong, democratic State we cannot have “the rule of law” and “good governance” as we have defined it.

The Republic of the Philippines has some features of “a failing State.A “failing State” is one in which: (1) the government does not have effective control of its territory; (2) it is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population (erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions); (3) it does not provide domestic security or basic services to its citizens (inability to provide reasonable public services); (4) it lacks a monopoly on the use of force [there are rebels and warlords who control their territories]; (5) it may experience active violence or simply be vulnerable to violence; (6) it has a high perception of corruption.” (“Failing States and Failed States,” Foreign Policy, January 7, 2006.)

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