At the turn of the years and during the holidays, I became a student once again. While doing research on the topic, “the economy of culture,” I was led by my findings to the book, The Future of Freedom by Fareed Zakaria (W.W Norton & company, new York 2003), which was surprisingly sitting in my library unread.
This in turn led me to look up and reread two other books: The Third Wave, by Samuel P. Huntington (University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma, 1991); and Achieving Democracy: Democratization in Theory and Practice, (Continuum International Publishing Group,Newc York, 2011).
I blush over this display of scholarship; but a serious journalist, especially a columnist, must hunt down sources and corroboration for his reports and opinion.
I was impelled to do this research because of two recent reports and commentaries I read on the Philippine political situation, which I found shocking and unsettling:
1. A recent column of my colleague Kit Tatad and a matching editorial by the Manila Times, which contended that our constitutional system of government is being surreptitiously transformed into a communist one, under our noses by one powerful busybody in the Duterte administration.
2. A news report published by the Philippine Star, which reported that President Duterte does not mind if his achievements are eclipsed by his negative traits, including his foul mouth. He told GMA News that he has no incentive to maintain a positive image and clean up his way of talking, because it is no longer election season.
DU30 interesting, not unique
From my research, I want to share the finding that President Duterte is no new thing under the sun. He has interesting precedents, though he is a shock in his own way.
Indeed, the most remarkable thing about his trajectory in Philippine politics and administration, is how he mirrors the leadership styles and practices of now departed leaders, notably Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Here’s Zakaria writing on Chavez, and marvel at how the Venezuelan’s policies and practices are now being echoed by our CEO and commander-in-chief:
“A colonel in the army, Chavez was cashiered and jailed for his part in an unsuccessful coup de’etat in 1992. Six years later, running on an angry, populist platform, he was elected president with a solid 56 percent of the vote. He proposed a referendum that would replace Venezuela’s constitution, eviscerate the powers of the legislature and the judiciary, and place governing authority under a ‘Constituent Assembly.’ The referendum passed with 92 percent of the vote. Three months later, his party won 92 percent of the votes in the new assembly. The proposed new constitution increased the president’s term by one year, allowed him to succeed himself, eliminated one chamber of the legislature, reduced civilian control of the military, expanded the government’s role in the economy, and allowed the assembly to fire judges.“
“ ‘We are heading toward catastrophe,’ warned Jorge Olavarria, a longtime legislator and former Chavez supporter. ‘This constitution will set us back 100 years, and the military will become an armed wing of the political movement.’ ”
The new constitution passed in December 1999 with 71 percent of the vote. Despite the fact that Venezuela went through grim economic times during his first few years, Chavez never dropped below 65 percent in public approval ratings.
“By early 2002 it seemed as if his luck was finally running out. Public discontent with his thuggish rule and a failing economy combined to spark massive demonstrations. The army and business elites plotted a coup and in March 2002, Chavez was ousted – for two days.”
Chavez, who is skilled in organizing “people power” and — who was helped by the undemocratic nature of the coup – was comfortably back in power within a week…
In some ways the country was ripe for a revolution. But what it got was a new caudillo, a strongman who claims to stand up for his country against the world (which usually means the United States)….
“More dangerously, Chavez represents a persistent hope that constructive change will come not through a pluralist political system, but in the form of a new messianic leader who will sweep away the debris of the past and start anew.”
The rest of the story is well- known.
On 7 October 2012, Chávez won election as president for a fourth time, his third six-year term. He could not attend his inauguration for his new term on January 10, 2013, because he was undergoing medical treatment in Cuba.
On 5 March 2013, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on state television that Chávez had died in a military hospital in Caracas.
Today, Venezuela is a basket case, plagued by hyperinflation, in default on its loans, and going nowhere.
Three waves of democracy
Zakaria’s book came on the heels of Samuel Huntington’s third study of democratic reform in the modern world, The Third Wave.
In his three books on political change, Huntington concluded that there have been in all three waves of democratization in history.
France, the United States and Britrain were the most visible examples of the first wave of democracy. A wave describes a group of political changes happening close together in time in different countries.
Initially, the Harvard professor’s definition of democracy included any country that allowed 50 percent of adult males to vote and was governed by an executive who maintained majority support in an elected parliament or was victorious in periodic popular elections. By the end of Huntington’s first wave of democracy, 33 countries met at least the threshold for national democratic institution. Only 11 would survive the subsequent wave of democratic reversals and the outbreak of World War II.
The second wave of democracy covered the period from 1943 to 1962. The second wave witnessed a rapid process of democratization. Two major events made rapid democratizaton a necessity: the defeat of the Axis powers in World War II and decolonization. Both developments created political vacuums for democracy to fill.
In the second wave, the term democracy corresponded more closely to today’s accepted meaning. At a minimum, in order to be called democratic, countries must have universal adult suffrage, protection for civil liberties and political rights, and mechanisms to hold leaders accountable.
At the beginning of the second wave, roughly 50 countries could be considered democratic, including the Philippines. By the mid 1970s, many had reversed democracies; and these, too, included the Philippines.
Huntington’s third wave of democracy describes a global trend of democratization that began with Portugal in 1974, and swept over much of Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, during the next 20 years.
Democratic milestones in southern Europe and Latin America were mirrored in places like Turkey (1983), the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987), and Taiwan (1988). The most dramatic events occurred in Eastern Europe with the collapse of communism and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Democracy with an adjective
Under President Duterte, Philippine democracy appears to be mutating into what political scientists have wryly called “democracy with an adjective,” because the thing has to be modified with an adjective.
The chief insight I have gained in my research, is the illumination I got on the course that President Duterte appears to be taking, which is highlighted by the following decisions and policy directions:
1. DU30’s declaration of a war on illegal drugs, and the consequent killing of over 6,000 drug suspects.
2. DU30’s resolve to produce and ratify a new Constitution during his watch, which will change the political system into a federal one, and make the proclamation of martial law the sole prerogative of the president.
3. DU30’s determined shift of Philippine foreign policy from closeness to the United States toward China and Russia.
4. DU30’s embrace of Communists in his government, without the formal signing of a peace agreement with the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army or NPA.
5. Duterte’s commitment to the establishment of an autonomous Bangsamoro government that will include all Muslim groups.
If you try to locate the Philippines within Zakaria’s respected study, we will likely fall in chapter 2 entitled, “The Twisted Path.”