Freedom, as flexible as it may seem, is frail. Since taking on the presidency in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has spun the law into its own definition and pushed it to the extent of washing off the very meaning of democracy. Putting justice in their hands and the constitution at the tip of their tongues. For politicians, it’s back to business. For the common Filipino, it’s back to the books.
From its inception in ancient Greece, democracy has since been the foundation of numerous governments around the world and the binding framework that sustains our definition of freedom. “Power emanates from the people.” But what becomes of us when the wisdom of the crowd is spawned from ignorance and misinformation? In this day and age, it is never enough that we bank on the voice of the majority when most of the populace is easily swayed by star-studded campaigns and spare change. Our supposed freedom only becomes a tool of abuse and an instrument of manipulated power.
Democracy comes with the greatest freedom of speech and expression. But when such freedom is used for constructive criticism and political judgment, the administration jumps irrationally on the “dilawan” train — tagging all its critics under the opposition party and purging them from their posts. From orchestrating a scandalous fiasco for Sen. Leila de Lima to the ousting of chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the roots trail from an infuriated stance from the administration. Seemingly, for the administration, there is no gray area. There is no commonplace where ideas and opinions can commune. It is a matter of tagging a statement under a specific color of black or white. There is no open dialogue. There is no free flow of ideas. The only conversations we hear are those of murmuring critics and screaming sheep.
From foreign and local leaders, 71 officials to be exact — Duterte’s vocabulary has bitten its own piece of heaven for he has also made the effort to question God. His way of speech remains constant. Brash, unethical and riddled with evident heaps of ad hominem. Perhaps to him, speaking as he pleases equates to democracy. But such freedom comes with responsibility at the tail-end. Let him be reminded that the Philippines is no longer his mayoral backyard and is far from being such. Our place in the map is constantly being erased by countless human rights violations and our defiance for assistance from close allies such as the United Nations and the European Union.
Duterte’s way of power is one that is abusive of democracy, and is clearly one that makes a complete mockery of its principles. His unorthodox leadership taints what we know best of democracy and turns it into well-coiled weaponry for the administration. He liberates and orders death as if he wields the hands of God himself and has even come to the point where civilians are imbued the freedom to kill suspected drug users, all the while brushing extrajudicial killings under the rug. Roughly 20,000 have already been put down in his unending drug war. Some 19 mayors and vice mayors have also tied themselves to such fate for being in his “narcolist.” Despite such, he speaks with no restraint, but with the ability to wash his tainted name like laundry, with Harry Roque and Salvador Panelo as his laundrymen.
It is indeed true that no country has practiced absolute democracy, but the Philippines had devised its own armed and weaponized democracy. Soon enough, we shall see democracy with a bullet to the head, and Lady Justice, with a placard covering her lifeless body and her scales held by someone else.
We are no longer the ones who emanate the power, but rather we become the fools who lend it to those who seek dominance in the political arena. It is as if we are stripping ourselves of our own stance in society, leaving ourselves powerless in the hands of those who step in power. Modern-day democracy is no longer a system for the people. It is a manipulation game of fools who know better and fools who know less.
The reason why margins of poverty never decrease between the rich and the poor is lengthened by our constant patronization of politicians, who swear oath to the privilege and not to the people. 22 million Filipinos remain under the poverty line and yet their voting logic remains superficial, as they are utilized as political stepping stones by candidates into power. It is impossible to solve poverty in a nation whose poor take their lead from the pursuits of the affluent: putting the wealthy into greater power and themselves at end of the numbing needle.
“The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Our Constitution has defined the principle clearly. But beyond definition, it comes to the question of what he made of our nation and the democracy that supposedly resided within it.
As Plato once said in The Republic: “And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty?”
There is a fine line between understanding the true principles of democracy and indulging in the quaint luxuries of freedom. And by each passing day, with our constant refusal for political involvement and participation, our silence has led to democracy in the Philippines being a mere form of freedom where we are liberated to do as we please. Yet the power we have the right to wield is beyond our reach.
This is the first of two essays by students of the School of Saint Anthony.
BY RAYMUND MATTHEW SUACILLO, SCHOOL OF SAINT ANTHONY