Criminality, democracy and the weak state

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Ideological ‘orderism’ agrees that political liberalism is better, but—
How is a weak state such as ours to fight off a social threat like narcotic-drug addiction—using its powers to the utmost, yet without offending democratic practices and individual rights? “No way it can be done,” seems to be the emerging reply; and the rising recourse of afflicted countries is a political and economic ideology the German journalist Jochen Bittner (Die Zeit, Hamburg) calls “Orderism.”

Orderism’s worldview Bittner traces to the kind of populism Russian President Vladimir V. Putin advocates as the remedy for the instabilities and shortcomings of democratic politics in transition. Orderism is also a rebuke to liberal democracy’s failure to make good on its classic promises. The enterprise system commonly paired with political liberalism enriches the already rich, and consigns the poor to even more inequality. Refugees turned away at Europe’s doors mock democracy’s ideal of fraternity.

Orderism is also a critique of the moral poverty of laissez-faire societies that condone every social indulgence—from marijuana to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Democracy is better, but —
Orderism concedes that democracy is the better form of government. But for a democracy to function properly, people must first be educated in its conventions and disciplines. Not only must civic education be instilled in the citizenry; there must first also be a measure of material progress.


During this transition period, Orderism would temper and restrict democratic practice, since—as Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew preached—“[t]he exuberance of democracy leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions . . . inimical to development.”

The influential Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (1927-2008), too, recognized the need for an “authoritarian transition” in some of the new countries.

A convert to Orderism?

Writing in the New York Times (Aug. 3, 2016), on the widespread dissatisfaction with electoral politics that is propagating Orderism, Bittner cites Poland, Turkey and our own country—the Philippines—as among the most recent converts to Orderism.

Bittner also notes that the American demagogue Donald Trump and his presidential campaign based on the “promise of tough order” exemplify the same spirit. Orderism postulates that only the strong state—only the government confident in its powers—can afford to deal with deadly social threats magnanimously.

Downward spiral
Typically, the weak democratic state caught in a downward spiral of instability plods on, until the growing disorder so alarms the propertied classes that they summon to power the proverbial man on horseback. But by then the problem has so grown to crisis proportions that the state’s only recourse is to “shoot to kill.”

This Inquirer item, of Aug. 20, 2016, is illustrative of the problem: “Mexican police arbitrarily executed nearly two dozen suspected gang members on a ranch last year, one of the worst abuses by security forces in a decade of grisly drug violence, the government’s National Human Rights Commission said Thursday.” Whether or not our own political situation degenerates into Orderism, as Bittner the German journalist thinks it will, a pre-authoritarian sequence does seem to be developing in our country.

President Duterte’s revelations on the drug crisis show how thoroughly criminality has subverted not just our police and penal systems, but our local government units as well. And, as Mr. Duterte argues, for our weak state the crisis may already be so grave the rule of law cannot apply anymore.

Infected villages
The official estimate is of 1.3 million drug-users who need rehabilitation, and 600,000 drug traders who must be stopped. The Dangerous Drugs Board says 99 percent of Metro Manila’s barangay units (villages) are infected; the national average the Board places at 27 percent. And, as in Latin America’s slums, the drug crisis is compounding the plight of our poor, already battered by mindless violence, family breakdown and environmental degradation.

Yet a succession of weak governments seems merely to have looked the other way, as “drug lords,” their patrons in public office, and their pushers on the streets have gone about their profitable trade.

The cost of Order
In the course of the 2016 campaign, then Davao Mayor Duterte, drawing on his experience of the drug problem in his city, indicated the extent of the crisis and set down the potential cost in blood of stamping out the drug menace and restoring civic order.

By responding enthusiastically to Duterte’s initially reluctant candidacy, the ABC income group tacitly accepted this social cost. Clearly, it is the electoral elite that powered Mayor Duterte’s ascent to the presidency.

The Duterte appeal
SWS exit polls of the May 2016 elections showed that only income-Class E adhered to the customary factional vote. Here’s how the SWS’s Mahar Mangahas (Inquirer, May 14, 2016) interpreted the presidential vote:

“The higher the (social) class, the more the appeal of Duterte. His lead over Roxas was 26 points in Class ABC, compared with 17 points in Class D, and only 7 points in Class E. The more the schooling, the more Duterte’s appeal; his lead over Roxas was 28 points among college graduates; 19 points among those with some college; 8 points among those with some high school. . .”

During President Duterte’s first month in office (July 1-27) the National Police placed the cost of its “drug war” at 11 deaths daily. During the same period, 4,386 drug suspects were arrested; and 141,656 users and pushers surrendered for medical rehabilitation.

Orderism in East Asia
“Order” and ‘Progress” as national goals are familiar to us from Latin-American caudillo regimes: the motto is still emblazoned on Brazil’s flag. But Orderism may have worked better in East Asia—where strong states facing existential threats came through their authoritarian transitions with sturdy civil societies. And the key to successful democratic transition seems to be inclusive economic growth. Japan after 1945; South Korea and Taiwan beginning in the middle 1960s: they all needed just one generation of rapid—and shared—growth to complete their political democratization. Indonesia has taken longer, but it now seems to have a working multi-party system.

For fear of ethnic strife, both Malaysia and Singapore—though highly prosperous—remain one-party states. Mainland Southeast Asia has an even longer way to go toward working-democracy status.

Inclusive growth our need
In the Philippines, it is our failure to achieve inclusive economic growth that prevents political modernization.

Makati corporate profits are booming; but the SWS notes that despite six successive quarters of “societal progress,” 300,000 more families went hungry in July 2016 than in January 2015.

I doubt seriously whether Orderism will work in a dual society like ours. We Filipinos may still be “feudal” enough for our politicians to treat office as just a way of acquiring patronage; yet we’re also “modern” enough for people to fight tenaciously for their civic rights. Ultimately, of course, forms of government respond to national realities more than they do to abstract theory.

Citizen competence
President Duterte brings a refreshing kind of impulsiveness to government. Already he has faced up to issues—mining and the environment, for instance—that previous Presidents had merely ignored.

He has also put together what seems to be a “can do” Cabinet—particularly in its economic leadership. Reform will not be easy, since democratization—to succeed—will demand a measure of citizen competence and some “give” from our long- entrenched elite. But change can now begin to take shape.

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7 Comments

  1. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    04 September 2016

    In this Commentary of his, Juan T. Gatbonton is all for “orderism” which, of course is just a clever synonym for tyranny or despotism.

    He obviously resorts to this rhetorical device to soften the impact if not to justify the ongoing extra-judicial killing of all those who are engaged one way or the other in the narco problem, whether as drug lords, drug pushers, drug addicts, or their supporters–a megalomanic drive which has so far netted an estimated 2,000 or so victims under Der Fuhrer Rodrigo Duterte’s “berdugo” [executioner] PNP chief General Roland “Bato” de la Rosa.

    Both are doing this regardless of the blatant fact that they are deliberately trampling on the Constitution with its Bill of Rights, the Rule of Law, the Rules of Court, and even the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

    Tell me: Is the Constitution with its Bill of Rights and all the other fundamental safeguards against TYRANNY or ABUSE BY AUTHORITY, suspended or rendered inoperative? By what or whose authority?

    Juan T. Gatbonton obviously skirts these embarrassing questions or issues in this Commentary of his. He may rule the day when one of “Bato” De la Rosa’s bloodthirsty policemen “gets” him or somebody close to him EXTRA-JUDICIALLY for whatever reason.

    MARIANO PATALINJUG
    patalinjugmar@gmail.com

  2. Francisco Fernandez on

    Yes I believe that this current administration is undergoing a period of “orderism”. It seems to be bloody the way the streets are showing it. Let fate takes it’s course for the Philippines. I only hope this development would result to a better future for our children… particularly when I’m gone.

  3. I can strongly attribute the seemingly success of “Orderism” which is the apparent solution to the deep-setted criminality, lawlessness and narcu-politics in the Philippine setting from Duterte’s unselfish approach and his God-fearing in deeds though less in words.

  4. One of the best editorial ever read… our is not easy to solve, one is diverse politics that`s full of personalities and some are just brainless and don`t know how to run or can`t run a country. The other are the brand journalism we have who love to sensation a story.

    Another are authoritative commentators( e.g. the Pres. must do this or this is the way it is or it should be done this way other wise he/she a failure or corrupt) what a crap/brainless of moon lighter journalists some are paid scumbags.
    let the person be a Pres. first, unless the writers` payor is in a hurry to humiliate the present ruler.

    Now we have at present tough and hard worker too bad for this losers stooges go ahead cry like a river or jump in the river instead….

  5. Pablo A. Dublin on

    It is both heartening and refreshing to know we have a few like Mr. Juan T. Gatbonton and Ms. Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia in our midst writing coherent, neutral, and straight-forward commentary (ies) of our dire needs to withstand the divisive critics; clearly explained why the war on lawlessness is unpopular to the lower social class (only 9 % voted for President Duterte, ergo, either there’s denial or lack of understanding to the drug problem by these group), and why it is the right approach, even historically, the right method followed by the President’s men.

  6. Interesting observations and analysis. It also seems like common sense.

    In simple terms what exactly will need to be done, and by whom?

    Perhaps knowing and accepting our mistakes, making the necessary corrections, discipline and long and dogged hard work might help.

    If “orderism” is the solution, let’s embrace it then, forget democracy until we can afford it.

    We have serious external, internal threats, and the OFW’s who are losing or about to lose their jobs can not be relied on to prop up our economy forever.