WE are watching the sad spectacle of a failing state, 116 years after our leaders declared our archipelago an independent one. Our state is one that seems to be short of some of the basic conditions and responsibilities of a liberal democracy.
Widespread corruption in the upper echelons of governance, widespread criminality, inability to provide basic services. Involuntary movement of population abroad seeking a better life for their families and a high level of unemployment are but a few symptoms of the malaise besetting the nation and making it a failing state.
To what can we attribute these problems of governance? The most important is the lack of popular democracy or people participation, a lack that has allowed the hijacking by an unscrupulous few of the reins of government.
This has not always been the case. Under American tutelage the Commonwealth government that followed the American of the Philippines as a colony, one which was only interrupted by a Japanese puppet government, and then after the Commonwealth the Philippine Republic’s government, which was again interrupted by the euphemistically described constitutional authoritarianism of Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, the Philippines was a state known to have the oldest constitutional democracy in Asia. It was considered to have had a successful exercise of self-rule. Under its competitive party democracy that saw the peaceful transition of administrations this country had a pretty reasonable track record of political stability.
The destruction of the competitive party system by Marcos and its replacement by single party rule of the KBL planted the seeds of a democratic system gone awry. Cory Aquino did not restore the competitive party democracy and her constitution, which provided for a multi-party system created a political tower of Babel.
Today we have governments elected not by voters following an ideology or supporting a program of government but, since the Edsa People Power revolt, are governments that are captives of the politically entrenched economic elite. These are government headed by popular personalities drawn from the movies and the world of entertainment and from the popular clans. Sans party platforms that elected officials pledged to carry out, our leaders are freed from the responsibility of managing the state for the well-being of the majority of its citizens.
Today we have the sad spectacle of former heads of ruling parties convicted of malfeasance in public office. In other countries these officials are dismissed from their parties forthwith, if they do not resign first. Today the people are still waiting for the major parties to hold accountable their leaders now convicted in court.
This is not surprising given that so-called political parties today are simply groupings of traditional politicians that surround popular (read “winnable”) candidates that are bankrolled by opportunistic businessmen and moneymen out to perpetuate their erected monopolies and preserving their rentier class. With media captive also of vested interest, the voting population is merely served with a short list of favorite candidates of the power structures above.
Under these conditions the rule of the oligarchy is preserved as they indulge in the game of musical chairs. One day a set of plutocrats are on the top and another day the other set is elected to office.
The question is why the Filipino people allow this to happen. One explanation is that our people have a penchant for instant gratification. A thousand peso bill (or less money) in exchange for a vote is better than a promise by other politicians for a better life. Another is that our extended family system supported by subsidies and reinforced by patronage politics is an accepted informal social security system oiled by the pork barrel system and other congressional spoils.
Treated by high profile projects with dramatic impact in rural areas that have little socio-economic productivity like basketball courts and public plazas, the electorates become unwitting victims if not willing accomplices of the system.
What will it take to bring about the politics of principle and the demise of personality politics?
A long, rugged and tortuous route is accelerated growths that can fast track higher levels of productivity, incomes and employment! Indeed economic security makes for a less dependent and independent voting population.
But who knows? The power of prayer plus the increase of social networking triggered by the communications revolution might do the trick!