Building Our Ideal Nation and Republic: Looking Back, and Ahead With Hope

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
July 13, 2014

History. The historical reality was that our revolutionaries then headed by General Emilio Aguinaldo were succeeding in fighting and ousting the Spaniards in the Filipino Revolution. (This began in 1896 under Andres Bonifacio who was inspired by Jose Rizal.)  That’s why Aguinaldo declared our independence from Spain on June 12, 1898.

But the Filipinos lost their independence from Spain. How? By the collusion between the Spaniards and the Americans. Facing defeat, Spain sold our country to the U.S.A. for 20 million dollars at the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. Our leaders would lose the Filipino-American War and the Americans took over our country as a U.S. colony that became a ten-year Commonwealth that lasted from 1935 to July 4, 1946. (But our country was under Japan occupation from 1942 to 1945). We should note that the imperialist U.S.A. had also taken over the Hawaiian Islands as a colony that would much later become her 50th State.

Reasons for our backwardness and failure in national development. Honestly, like many of our countrymen, I am frustrated that we, Filipinos, have not achieved more progress since our independence in 1946, compared to some of our progressive neighbors in Asia that were less developed then. It’s been over sixty long years.

We know some of the reasons for our inability to solve our problems and achieve our goals as a nation. One of them has to do with our lack of unity and focus as a people who form the Filipino nation. Too many of us may not love our country enough to transcend our selfish personal and family interests when we are called upon to obey the laws, support change and reforms, and make some sacrifice in order to promote the common good and the national interest These deficiencies make us a weak nation in the face of our grave problems and challenges.

In turn our weak nation makes for a weak state and its ineffective government, what Gunnar Myrdal calls “a Soft State.” [“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. In Soft States “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.”

Our weak nation and “Soft State” are related to the tendency of many of our leaders to use governmental power and authority more to serve their private and political interests rather than to promote the public good. Entrenched in their power bases as “family dynasties” in our political oligarchy (the rule of the very rich), they lack the spirit of patriotism and nationalism, and a sense of urgency and accountability to the citizens who are the source of the nation-state’s sovereignty, according to our 1987 Constitution. This has led to the collective failure of our national leaders to lead us toward our constitutional vision, ideals and goals through “good governance.”

In turn “good governance” depends not only on good leaders and good citizens but also on functional or effective institutions through which we can satisfy our needs and fulfill our lives as citizens and as a nation. These institutions include our own families, and all kinds of community, socio-cultural, religious, educational, professional, civic, political, governmental, economic, and business organizations. We refer to these various institutions and organizations as belonging to one or another of the three intersecting spheres of (1) State, (2) business/market, and (3) civil society. Indeed some of the institutions are transnational and global in nature.

Of course, we have some outstanding national political leaders who serve our country well. And we have many more local political leaders who stand out as faithful, accountable public servants who faithfully serve their constituents. In turn satisfied constituents trust and support their leaders; and together they work to achieve their common goals and aspirations.

Dysfunctional institutions. However, in the absence of functioning political parties as in the established democracies—like the U.S.A., United Kingdom, Federal Republic of Germany, and Japan –citizens are unable to choose better leaders and hold them accountable for their shortcomings and corruption. As citizens, by and large we tend to focus on personalities, personal popularity, and “win-ability” in choosing our president and legislators, rather than on their ideas and policies and performance in office.

Political parties are meaningless to the people who see no significant difference among them; for our political parties are organizations mainly of politicians concerned with electing candidates and dividing the spoils of office among themselves and their partisans. Politics seems always to be a competition between those who are in office and those outside (the “Ins” vs the “Outs” who want to take their place—with no clear relevance to the people’s welfare and the public interest, and to expected public policy and public services, and reforms.

Poverty, ignorance and apathy make some citizens vulnerable during elections when they sell their votes to vote-buying candidates. The same citizens tend to exchange their support and loyalty for the political protection and employment that the leaders promise and provide as patrons and padrinos. If we could somehow develop economically so that many more citizens can be better educated and employed, be able to escape poverty and rise to belong to the middle class, they will become more secure and independent, more informed about public affairs, and also more critical of bad governance and corruption. They will also demand change and reform in government and politics.

Our weak nation and “soft State” are also related to the fact that our public institutions continue to be weak, obsolete, and dysfunctional. We have not been able to reform or change them in more meaningful ways since 1946 when we gained our independence from the United States under the 1935 U.S. Commonwealth and Independence Act for the Philippines.

We should never forget that in September 1972 President Ferdinand Marcos became a dictator and molded the 1973 Constitution to serve his self-serving personal agenda. By destroying our democratic institutions, he was able to extend his powers as an authoritarian president from the maximum of 8 years to over 20 years, until he was overthrown by the people at the EDSA “People Power” 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 spoiled the military and police as his partners and beneficiaries in power.

Under President Corazon C. Aquino we restored our democracy under the 1987 Constitution. But despite its laudable vision of “the Good Society” and its constitutional ideal of public office and governance, this Constitution simply restored the old and dysfunctional or ineffective political institutions. Under the new Constitution the old politicians who had collaborated with Marcos would quickly recover their power.

By “the old and ineffective institutions,” I refer specifically to: (1) our presidential government with its exaggerated separation of powers and checks and among the President, the

Senate and the House of Representatives, that is causing endless conflict and gridlock among them; (2) our highly centralized unitary structure of governance that concentrates governmental power and decision-making in the National Government in Metro Manila and the lack of local and regional autonomy; and (3) our political party system that prevents our political parties from being principled, policy oriented, cohesive, responsive, and accountable to the people.

Moreover, the 1987 Constitution restricts the participation of foreign investors in our economic development, so they have invested a great deal more in our neighboring countries where they feel more welcome and appreciated. This is one reason why we have not developed as fast as they. Other factors are our lack of infrastructure and the high cost of doing business in the country because of red-tape, corruption, and high cost of electric power.

Our weak nation and ineffective “soft State” cannot hold our officials accountable for their failure and corruption. As a weak and divided nation, we are continually fighting each other in our personal, parochial, and adversarial style of politics. We have not been able to end the

Communist rebellion or the Moro rebellion and achieve a just and durable peace (We hope peace and progress will come to Mindanao through the new and autonomous Bangsamoro.)

Unfortunately, too many of us don’t love our country enough to sacrifice and do much more for the good of all. We seem to be trapped in a vicious cycle of underdevelopment with our weak nation and “soft State,” and ineffective governance, despite some notable improvements in policy and performance. Thus a public mood of dissatisfaction and pessimism and even of hopelessness might still prevail.

Because of our collective failures, somehow we seem to feel that as a nation we have no vision, no common purpose and goals, and no clear direction. This is one of the worst failures of our national leaders. As a whole, they have not focused our sights on our authentic and authoritative vision and goals which are clearly stated in our 1987 Constitution. And on our indigenous and emerging ideals of “good governance.”

Revolt against corruption and bad governance. On the other hand, as a reaction to massive corruption through the misuse of pork barrel funds (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), we are witnessing a crescendo of public dissatisfaction with our traditional politics, leadership and governance, and a rising demand for change to “a new politics” of rectitude and good leadership in a modem society and government. But we have not yet reached the tipping point for organized “people power” to effect change and reform buoyed by rising hope and self-confidence by a majority of our people. The weight of political custom and tradition may still be holding us down.

For this reason we’d like to help raise our sights in order to raise our hopes of what is possible and achievable. We should support the crescendo of citizen demands for prosecuting and punishing those guilty of plunder, malversation, and waste of public funds. And push for the badly needed amendments of our 1987 Constitution.


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