• Twisted path: Democracy versus constitutional government

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    YEN MAKABENTA

    YEN MAKABENTA

    First read
    In the new year, events and administration initiatives impel us to return to the basics of our Constitution and its ambiguities and shortcomings.

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    More in obliviousness than confidence in securing constitutional government in the Philippines, the 50 Constitution framers appointed by President Corazon Aquino to draft the new Constitution in 1986, fatefully and radically changed the very first principle of governance in the 1987 Charter, from that originally provided by the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions.

    In simple and clear language, the 1935 and 1973 charters identically declared and provided in Article II, Section 1 of their Declaration of Principles:

    “The Philippines is a republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

    In an early display of the wordiness that would weaken their entire draft, the Aquino draftsmen substituted the following provision in Article II, Section 1 of the 1987 charter:

    “The Philippines is a democratic and republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

    In making the change, the 1987 draftsmen thought they were insuring the nation against dictatorship, and protecting President Aquino from being overthrown. Some thought they were paying homage to people power.

    In fact, they opened our public life to the tension between “republic” and “democracy” in the design of government systems, and the possible emergence of demagogues at the top of government.

    Without the verbal shift, the nation would have no cause to worry about President Duterte’s proposed radical changes in our Constitution and our public life.

    The danger within
    If the 1987 framers had one great failing, it was their inability to grasp the truth that the great dangers to the nation come from within.

    Abraham Lincoln spoke the truth to his people, when he said in a 1838 address in Springfield, Illinois: “At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?…Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!…If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

    The biggest danger to our own nation today is a presidency which, having won 38 percent of the vote in the May 9 elections, believes it can superintend, a la Cory Aquino, the writing of a new Constitution that would change the government system from unitary to federal, and grant the president powers to declare martial law and a national emergency on his own volition.

    The danger is likewise a government that has ceded large chunks of the bureaucracy to the control and administration of communists, as if it were in coalition with the Communist Party.

    Republic vs democracy
    Wherein, some will ask, does the danger arise from the misguided revision of Article II, Section1?

    It inheres in a confusion over the terms “Republic” and “Democracy.” We confuse one with the other, but in fact there is a clear and fine distinction between the two concepts.

    Political leaders like to mix up the two, because the mixup enables them to claim powers that they do not have under strict constitutional government. Constitutional lawyers and statesmen insist on the distinction because it is vital to preserving the rule of law.

    Fareed Zakaria in his book, The Future of Freedom, underscores the problem when he discusses the phenomenon of elected autocrats in Russia, Central Asia and Latin America, and the delusions of populism and popular majorities.

    Zakaria writes: “Once the people were themselves in charge, caution was unnecessary; “The nation did not need to be protected against its own will.” As if confirming John Stuart Mill‘s fears, Aleksandr Lukashenko, after being elected president of Belarus in a free 1994 election, when asked about limiting his powers, said: “There will be no dictatorship. I am of the people, and I am going to be for the people.”

    DU30 oftentimes sounds like Lukashenko when he talks of his responsibility to the people in his drug war and about saving the nation.

    Democracy and Republic are both forms of government, which sometimes overlap and mix in the systems of various countries.

    The two are not only dissimilar, but antithetical, because there is a sharp contrast between:

    (a) Democracy — rule by the majority, lacking legal safeguard of the rights of the individual and the minority, and

    (b) Republic– rule under a written Constitution, with safeguards for the rights of the individual and the minority.

    In a pure democracy, the majority is omnipotent; the minority have no rights.

    Under a representative democracy like Britain’s parliamentary form of government, the people elect representatives to the national legislature–the elective body there being the House of Commons–and it functions by a similar vote of at least half-plus-one in making all legislative decisions. The same is true of representative democracy under a presidential form of government, which is the one we have today.

    A Republic, on the other hand, has a different purpose and different form of government.

    A Republic is defined as “a constitutionally limited government of the representative type, created by a written Constitution–adopted by the people and changeable by them only by its amendment–with its powers divided between three separate Branches: Executive, Legislative and Judicial.”

    Usurpation of powers
    Zakaria devotes a significant part of his book to a discussion of the tension between constitutional government and democracy. The quarrel centers on the scope of government authority. Republican government is about the limitation of power; democracy is about the accumulation and use of power.

    To quote Zakaria: “Many 18th century and 19th century liberals saw democracy as a force that could undermine liberty. The tendency for democratic government to believe it has absolute sovereignty (that is, power) can result in the centralization of authority, often by extraconstituional means and with grim results. What you end up with is little different from a dictatorship.

    “Over the past decade, elected governments claiming to represent the people have steadily encroached on the power and rights of other elements in society, a usurpation that is both horizontal (from other branches of the national government) and vertical (from regional and local authorities as well as private businesses and non governmental groups).’

    Putin, Lukashenko and Chavez are exemplars of the usurpation of powers.

    Governments that usurp powers do not end up producing well-run, stable governments. A strong government is different from an effective government; in fact, the two may be contradictory.

    Lessons from Chavez and Venezuela
    Illiberal democracy runs along a spectrum, from modest offenders such as Argentina to near-tyrannies such as Kazakhstan, with countries such as Ukraine and Venezuela in between.

    Contrary to what some of my readers have pointed out, Smartmatic is not our only lesson from Venezuela.

    I will add two points which I failed to include in my previous column (“Democracy with a foul mouth and an adjective,” Manila Times, 3 Jan 2017).

    1. Venezuela today is close to mass starvation, with its government unable to feed its own people, despite having the second biggest oil reserves outside the Middle East.

    2. Chavez began his presidency spouting an ideology called Bolivarianism with echoes of socialism and Marxism. Toward the end of his rule, he proclaimed an ideology of “socialism of the 21st Century,” which he contrasted with Marxist–Leninist socialism as spread by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in the 20th century, arguing that the latter had not been truly democratic, suffering from a lack of participatory democracy and an excessively authoritarian government structure.

    Last time I looked, DU30 also proclaimed himself a socialist.

    yenmakabenta@yahoo.com

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    7 Comments

    1. “(a) Democracy — rule by the majority, lacking legal safeguard of the rights of the individual and the minority, and

      (b) Republic– rule under a written Constitution, with safeguards for the rights of the individual and the minority.”

      Clearly, there is a big divide between these two systems of government. What were the legislators thinking? Possibly trying to put together the ideas of two-party system into one?

    2. There is no fear that Duterte will turn out to be another Hugo Chavez. In the first place, Duterte’s program of government is practical and down-to-earth while Hugo Chavez is out of touch with reality. Like the Aquinos, he believes only his criticism of the US will solve all of Venezuela’s problems with any need of a practical and workable program to address her ills that caused these problems in the first place.

      President Duterte’s program of government is practical and down-to-earth. First, he wants a federal government. We need a federal government to address the persistent rebellion in the South. The people of Mindanao should have a greater say on how this rebellion should be solved rather than just rely on the national government of solving it. Then, he wants to remove the 60% local ownership of corporations in the Philippine constitution. Even with the removal of 60 % local ownership in corporations in the country, some safeguards can be instituted so that foreigners do not control our commerce.

      He wants a strict death penalty. We do not have the means to efficiently rehabilitate criminals. A strict death penalty law is one way to give them justice by cutting short their misery instead of hoping criminals will change. A strict death penalty law was existent in the 19th century when governments had little capacity to give criminals a better way of life. Life was miserable and the best way of making life good for criminals is executing plenty of them.

      President Duterte’s means of obtaining these vital reforms is unorthodox. He hopes that by his EJK of drug addicts, he can scare politicians into approving his constitutional reforms. Scaring politicians seems to be the only practical way of knocking some sense into their heads since they would not listen to the pleas of some kind-hearted president. President Arroyo quarreled with the Senate on the issue of Senate investigation in aid of legislation. If President Arroyo just did what Duterte did — that is, start her administration with the EJK of drug addicts — our Senators will be too scared to pick a fight with her.

      The way to stop these unorthodox reforms is a closer cooperation between the Presidency and Congress especially if the President is a nice girl like Arroyo. Only threatening our legislators with harm seems the only way of obtaining their cooperation.

      Thus, Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. had no choice except to throw a grenade at the rally of the Liberal Party in Plaza Miranda in 1971 to knock some sense into our politician’s heads. His greatest mistake is paying Rolando Galman to shoot him and giving his Presidency to his incompetent wife and equally incompetent son. He should have become the President to see how well his reforms will move the country instead of relying on his incompetent wife and equally incompetent son to carry out these reforms for him.

      By paying Rolando Galman to shoot him, Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr showed he had NO GUTS to bring reforms to our country. President Marcos and President Duterte had one thing in common that all winners have – they both had the GUTS to carry out their reforms in spite of the barrage of criticism they had to endure to carry their reforms in mind. The Aquinos, like Hugo Chavez, are just LOSERS.

    3. If only if this present government and the next if will continue to follow the previous I WIll Choose to raise arms to kill as many as I can specific y than die starving day by day. I pray that day will not come, i pray that Belarus and Venezuela will be remembered an dreaded example for the blocked minded public.

    4. Last I also studied though, it is the media’s job to demonize ideas and dehumanize opposition.

      Your point, I’m sorry to say, is lost on me. There is not very strong evidence of your claim that Communists are taking over.

      It’s also as if the last 40 years of radical terrorists who guise themselves as Communists had taught the country that continually fighting them with military only does more damage. You conveniently forget that this is the only reason these terrorists have any significance on the negotiation table. It is not at all because of their ideology, which clearly isn’t working out.

      Its not very complicated, Duterte has never shown himself to be a man dedicated to any ideology, he has more often shown himself to simply care for his countrymen above all. He makes this clear every opportunity he gets it seems like. It is clear that negotiating with the communist party yields more results than confrontation ever has, even the liberal party knows this, because ultimately the civilian casualties are the first people in line of casualties in every confrontation.

      With civilian lives in mind, Duterte negotiating with the communist party falls in line with his actively unveiling definition of a national socialist, does it not?

      Kababayan Muna, it’s not rocket science. If there is an ideology that you so desperately want to pin him down under, remember this phrase.

    5. Yeah, the Nazis were called Nazis because it was shorthand for National Socialist.

      Despite that they were fascists.

      Last I recall Duterte also said he is a nationalist and a socialist. Does that mean being a nationalist and socialist equal you to a fascist? I’ll leave that to your common sense and your personal bias to decide,

      Last I also studied though, it is the media’s job to demonize ideas and dehumanize opposition.

      Your point, I’m sorry to say, is lost on me. There is not very strong evidence of your claim that Communists are taking over.

      It’s also as if the last 40 years of radical terrorists who guise themselves as Communists had taught the country that continually fighting them with military only does more damage. You conveniently forget that this is the only reason these terrorists have any significance on the negotiation table. It is not at all because of their ideology, which clearly isn’t working out.

      Its not very complicated, Duterte has never shown himself to be a man dedicated to any ideology, he has more often shown himself to simply care for his countrymen above all. He makes this clear every opportunity he gets it seems like. It is clear that negotiating with the communist party yields more results than confrontation ever has, even the liberal party knows this, because ultimately the civilian casualties are the first people in line of casualties in every confrontation.

      With civilian lives in mind, Duterte negotiating with the communist party falls in line with his actively unveiling definition of a national socialist, does it not?

      Kababayan Muna, it’s not rocket science. If there is an ideology that you so desperately want to pin him down under, remember this phrase.

    6. Tama, kong iisipin mo may marami tayong makukuha in terms of trade and other economic benefits from the U.S. than from Russia and China combined.

    7. Wow! Yen Makabenta can be a change-man as far as coming out with highly politicalized statements. Is this the start of a new day-dawned change is coming. Don Chino Roces your passion for nationalism is indeed respected and your rabid anti-Marcos stand is well respected.

      WE believe that Duterte is handing over the rein of government to the Communists and i strongly believed the Pilipino people and the imperial Americans will not take it bowing down. I hope not!!! It is a very simple Rule of Law tenet that will always be the rule of any democratic and a Republican State!!!

      God bless the Philippines! My home sweet home. God bless the Pilipino people. Don’t let BUMAPOPA reign in the Phlippines!!! Mga bulok na mamamayan maghahalal ng mga bulok na mga politikos resulta ng bulok na pamahalaan!!!