Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: October 2023
Wednesday, 01 November 2023 08:35

Who are the bigger terrorists?

Third of a series

THE last two parts of this column depicted the many faces of terrorism, highlighting both Israel and Hamas. Both sides are currently hogging the headlines claiming the high ground, preaching to their own choirs, and appealing to the better angels of partisanship. And social media are in a frenzy, churning up all sorts of facts, boosting arguments for each side — including alternative facts — metaphors for prevarications and distortions.

Our conclusions arrived at are that both Israel and Hamas and their Palestinian enablers are terrorists. The two past columns apparently disturbed the sensibilities of partisan readers, as they were intended to further generate public conversation and dialogue. The pro-Israel with their Western allies, particularly America, have put forward the arguments that Hamas and the Palestinian enablers started the cycle of terrorist acts and thus are the bigger terrorists. And vice-versa. In any case, whoever did the first acts or whatever acts constituted the bigger and lesser terrorism is a matter of conjecture and degree. They are terrorists!

Democracy and degrees of terrorism

To frame the arguments of both sides on their gradations of terrorism, we offer an unsophisticated contrast in perspective for those advocating liberal democracy versus those leaning toward Islamic autocracy.

Israel, America, their Western allies, and those democratically oriented countries generally toe the line on this string of arguments. That terrorism must be condemned in all its forms, viewing it as a threat to the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But peaceful means of resolving conflicts typically given credence by Western allies are merely being paid lip service to. Promoting an inclusive society is a central tenet of democracy — yet this fails miserably in the case of Israel for engendering divisiveness, reducing the Palestinians to inferior status in a Jewish version of apartheid. Israel invariably emphasizes their deeds as being counter-terrorism efforts responding to the other side — a tit-for-tat, as it were.

Non-redress of political grievance, pervasive social inequalities and lack of opportunities, which are some of the root causes of terrorism, are not addressed appropriately but are subsumed and merely ancillary to Israel's archaic craving to exist as a state providing a home for the diaspora. Acts by Jews emanating from these premises are justified as payback for the centuries of global discrimination and the extermination of millions of their people.

Jihad, a misinterpretation

From the point of view of Islamic autocracy, jihad has been exploited as a battle cry against Israel. Rooted in Islamic teachings, jihad refers to a broad concept encompassing various forms of struggle, principally in defense of Islam against oppression, injustice or aggression. Its religious edicts have been transliterated into a nationalistic and political context, misinterpreting Islamic teachings. Acts of protecting the weak, fighting against tyranny and self-defense have been employed to justify terrorism. Hamas, in response to a Feb. 25, 1994 massacre of Muslim worshipers at the Mosque of the Patriarch in Hebron, introduced suicide bombing with lethal effect, particularly during the second intifada in 2000.

Although no universally recognized authority and official religious declaration of jihad was promulgated against Israel, Hamas used the language of jihad in their rhetoric and charters to justify their acts. The Hamas charter states, "The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine ... and raise the banner of jihad..." (Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Wikipedia).

Hamas, PLO, PFLP and other militant Palestinian groups frame their struggle against Israel as a form of jihad. But these interpretations are not universally accepted within the greater Islamic community.

The liberation of Palestine and the re-establishment of a Palestinian homeland is, unfortunately, a construct coated in pseudo-religious terms with the cry of Allahu Akbar accompanying any and all aberrant acts, in essence debauching Islam as a religion of peace!

Where we are today

The question of who the bigger terrorist is or who did it first is irrelevant and inconsequential. What should be germane to the Israel-Palestine conflict is how this is resolved before it spreads and engulfs the region, threatening global partisan conflagration. My two previous columns dealt more with terrorism, its genesis and its many faces in an attempt to shed light on the recent conflict that started Oct. 7, 2023. To explain what terrorism is and its impact on the actors and the partisans is obviously not enough and is just a part of the narrative of conflict. A cursory review of the immediate apparent causes started with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine is somehow incomplete.

For our purposes, this column will describe the deeper historical roots segueing to the realities of the last two centuries, telescoping the causes in bite-size arguments that may lead toward dispassionate discussions with the hope of transferring the conflicts from the bloody fields spurring instead of verbal joust — shaping a debate.

This millennial conflict traces its origin to biblical times when historical claims were seasoned with religious significance. Both are ancient peoples with ties to lands centering on Jerusalem and their desire to control their respective religious sites: the Western Wall and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestine and the Middle East are birthplaces of three great religions: the Jewish faith, Christianity, its offshoot, and Islam. The return of the Jewish diaspora to these homelands abetted by the global socio-political structures dominated by Christianity in the two preceding centuries, following WW1, was the embryo upon which this discord had its gestation. The Zionist movement accelerating the Jewish immigration founded the State of Israel. The British Mandate granted by the Christian-oriented League of Nations made conflicting promises to both Jews and Arabs, pledging support for a Jewish homeland while also recognizing Arab rights. These conflicting commitments laid the groundwork for future tensions.

The Israeli-Arab war that followed the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, creating a refugee crisis that remains unresolved up to the present day. Subsequent wars, the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which, by virtue of Jewish victories, more territories were annexed, further humiliated the majority of Arabs and deepened this conflict.

But the festering wound was Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, the West Bank and Gaza, which went beyond the territory granted Israel by the partition mandate and, to present a fait accompli, established Jewish settlements on the lands where the Palestinians were expelled from. This created a Palestinian version of its own diaspora, funneling them to refugee camps within Arab countries that have not exactly accepted them. Pariahs!

And to rub salt in the wounds, barriers were erected restricting Palestinian movement, further fragmenting their territories and allowing the confiscation of lands by Jewish carpetbaggers.

These are the prevalent conditions in Palestine and Israel spanning decades, unresolved and worsening with the tacit patronage of dominant guarantors who are themselves locked in a surrogate engagement for geopolitical gains.

This is a tinderbox for the next world conflagration if not mitigated.
Published in LML Polettiques

Watch: https://web.facebook.com/RufusBRodriguez/videos/314526151257147

Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Cong. Rufus Rodriguez commended DND Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., during the budget hearing of the Committee on Appropriations for the FY 2024 budget of the Department of National Defense (DND), for his resolute responses to inquiries on the national defense plans against the intrusion of China in the West Philippine Sea.

Cong. Rufus was assured by Secretary Teodoro that DND will “not back down and will continue to build alliances with likeminded nations to enforce international law and contain China’s plans for expansion.”

Moreover, the defense secretary stated the need to upgrade the capabilities of the agencies under the department to prevent or deter aggressions from China.

The next point raised by Cong. Rufus is the recovery of the $1.9 billion spent in advance payment for the procurement of 17 military choppers from Russia. According to Sec. Teodoro, the matter has been referred to the Office of the Solicitor General for legal routes that will lead to positive outcomes.

Finally, Cong. Rufus secured the commitment of DND Secretary Teodoro to look into allocating P240 million for the protection and rehabilitation of coastal areas in the 2nd District of CdeO affected by shear lines.

Cong. Rufus then moved to increase the proposed budget of the Department of National Defense, to include their priority projects such as acquisitions of equipment, the completion of Horizon 1 and 2 phases of the AFP Modernization Program, and budget for humanitarian assistance and disaster response due to the threat of el niño and water shortage in the country.


Published in News
Thursday, 26 October 2023 23:26

Cong. Rufus Rodriguez Performance in Congress

As undeniable proof of his dedication to excellence in legislation, Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez highlights the 20 bills he has filed in the House of Representatives in the month of SEPTEMEBER.

Take a look into the different legislative measures filed by Cong. Rufus that encompasses the HEED platform of governance he has consistently espoused – HEALTH, EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT, AND DEVELOPMENT (HEED).

With your support, Cong. Rufus pledges to unwaveringly produce relevant and inclusive legislation that will directly and positively impact the lives of his constituents in the 2nd District of Cagayan de Oro and the nation as a whole.


Published in News
Cagayan de Oro 2nd District Cong. Rufus Rodriguez commended DND Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr., during the budget hearing of the Committee on Appropriations for the FY 2024 budget of the Department of National Defense (DND), for his resolute responses to inquiries on the national defense plans against the intrusion of China in the West Philippine Sea.

Cong. Rufus was assured by Secretary Teodoro that DND will “not back down and will continue to build alliances with likeminded nations to enforce international law and contain China’s plans for expansion.”

Moreover, the defense secretary stated the need to upgrade the capabilities of the agencies under the department to prevent or deter aggressions from China.

The next point raised by Cong. Rufus is the recovery of the $1.9 billion spent in advance payment for the procurement of 17 military choppers from Russia. According to Sec. Teodoro, the matter has been referred to the Office of the Solicitor General for legal routes that will lead to positive outcomes.

Finally, Cong. Rufus secured the commitment of DND Secretary Teodoro to look into allocating P240 million for the protection and rehabilitation of coastal areas in the 2nd District of CdeO affected by shear lines.

Cong. Rufus then moved to increase the proposed budget of the Department of National Defense, to include their priority projects such as acquisitions of equipment, the completion of Horizon 1 and 2 phases of the AFP Modernization Program, and budget for humanitarian assistance and disaster response due to the threat of el niño and water shortage in the country.


Published in News
Thursday, 26 October 2023 19:29

The many faces of terrorism

Second of a series

THE world has condemned what is transpiring between Israel and Hamas as terrorism, pure and simple. A concerted missile barrage from Gaza was launched toward Israel with no specific targets except to do maximum harm to the populace, and the breaching of the border barriers by Hamas militants indiscriminately killed people from the kibbutz and concertgoers, taking hostages back to Gaza. An immediate retaliation from Israel using deadly firepower from the air, land and sea, a blockade of humanitarian aid, and the cutting off electricity, water and food deliveries resulted in thousands of casualties. The number of dead is climbing on both sides.

My column last week briefly traced the historical antecedents of the causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that bred extremist groups that eventually erupted into deadly confrontations. Violence, blood and suffering are the underlying leitmotif. It ended with a conundrum: Who are the terrorists? The worldview is divided. Israel, the Jews, and their Western Christian allies label Hamas, the Palestinians and the Muslim Arabic allies the terrorists. And vice-versa!

What is terrorism?

The classic definition. It is a form of violence or intimidation carried out by actors or groups of individuals with the aim of instilling fear, creating panic and general discombobulation. It involves the deliberate targeting of civilians or non-combatants, often through acts such as bombings, hijackings, shootings and mass killings. The motives behind terrorism, more often than not, include promoting a specific political, religious or social agenda.

A deadlier kind is the state as the main actor, where government and its instrumentalities are employed against its own citizens to suppress political dissent, maintain control, and enforce authoritarian rule. Applied against other nations and neighboring countries, the tools could include state-sponsored assassinations, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and torture.

State terrorism on an international scale using different methods but with similar consequences are economic sanctions and military interventions causing human rights transgressions and the suffering of the populace. The paradox of state international terrorism is that it is often justified as acts of defense for survival, distinguishing the same as legitimate state actions during times of conflict and national security concerns.

Israel's occupation of Palestine

The impetus for the establishment of Israel was predicated on the Jewish diaspora longing for Jerusalem and the promised land. "Next year in Jerusalem" — the ancient cry! A mandate for Palestine covered by a series of international protocols was initiated by the dominant Western alliance, which may have been enthused primarily to assuage their collective guilt for the centuries of discrimination and European pogroms culminating in the holocaust exterminating millions of Jews. Thus, the underlying legitimacies that gave birth to Israel. On the other hand, the same legitimacies failed to comprehend and encompass the yearnings and aspirations of those who already occupied these ancient lands, resulting in a clash of ideals — political, territorial and religious disputes. The formula and mechanisms put in place for recompense and just sharing of the land were disregarded. The chasm between the two peoples was too deep. The expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes, relegating them as pariahs, herding them into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, and their eventual disenfranchisement were the first acts of terrorism inflicted by Israel upon the people of Palestine and sanctioned, albeit reluctantly by Israel's Western allies. The original refugees and descendants have grown to approximately 6 million souls. The seeds for terrorism have been planted and will flourish.

It can be argued that these actions taken by Israel in the occupied territories were necessary security measures in response to threats from an antagonistic majority surrounding a Jewish minority possessed of a fledgling state — something they have yearned for millennia. Jewish history from the diaspora was always defined by a cowed minority nation bullied by a majority of hostiles. Not anymore!

Jews as terrorists

The Jews have simply to look inward and rely on their own. Part of the process and prior to the birthing of Israel in the 1920s was a Zionist paramilitary group, the Haganah, formed with the express purpose of defending the growing population of the diaspora Jews trickling to Palestine, principally against Arabs marauding the Jewish settlements — without which Israel would have been stillborn. Haganah was intended to be a moderate paramilitary group in accordance with the strategic policy of havlagah (self-restraint). Haganah was later disbanded to become the precursor of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in 1948 at the State of Israel's independence.

Haganah's moderation gave way to breakaway radical groups — the Irgun and Lehi — that used violence to secure the survival of the Jewish state. Both were avowed terrorists in evicting the British from the Palestine Mandate and to defend against the incessant attacks of the Arabs on the incipient State of Israel. They refer to the Torah to justify their acts:

"Neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat. We are very far from having any moral qualms as far as our national war goes. We have before us the command of the Torah, whose morality surpasses that of any other body of laws in the world: 'Ye shall blot them out to the last man.'" (He Khazit-The Front, Wikipedia)

Through their harsh history, terrorism is in the DNA of the Jewish struggle toward the formation of the State of Israel.

Palestine al nakba (catastrophe)

The Palestinians' own diaspora started with the defeat of the armies of Arab countries upon the declaration of Israel's independence in May 1948. Deemed as the lowest point of Palestine history, the Nakba, the hordes of Palestinians driven from their homes, were no less biblical. They were unwelcome in other Arab countries although allowed to live humiliatingly in refugee camps. And with Israel's intransigence in holding on to these occupied lands, 60 percent of which were added to Israel by virtue of their victory, the Palestinians had no alternative. In their struggle to regain their patrimony, they had to resort to the only means available to them to draw international attention to their grievances and Israel's oppression and achieve self-determination. Violence! The Western world labeled this as terrorism.

And in the aftermath of another Arab-Palestinian humiliation in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Palestinians formalized and recognized their own Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as an umbrella for various militant groups for a concerted effort to liberate Palestine and drive the Jews out of Israel. Led by Yasser Arafat of Fatah, it was not at first militant per se but was involved in both armed struggle and diplomatic efforts to achieve Palestinian self-determination. This was futile when the reality of Israel's permanency became apparent.

Thus emerged those under the umbrella, wreaking havoc — the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist-Leninist group founded in 1967; Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Islamist group in 1970; Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, during the second intifada in 2000; and the Hamas founded in 1987 during the first intifada and the main actor in last month's attack on Israel.

This is the other worldview. Both sides resort to terrorism. All are terrorists!

Published in LML Polettiques

THE last few days, Ukraine was relegated to the back burner, eclipsed by another war. By now, the world is familiar with the circumstances surrounding this war.

After breaking through Israel's security barrier last October 7, Hamas militants gunned down entire families, including women and children, in border communities around the Gaza Strip. Israel's health service said it extricated the bodies of over a hundred community members from Kibbutz Be'eri. Militants attacked the Tribe of Nova music festival, gunning down people as they desperately sought refuge. The attacks killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, including 247 soldiers, a toll unseen in Israel for decades." (AP, Oct. 14, 2023)

Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamist fundamentalist political and military organization that operates and is headquartered in the Gaza Strip, attacked Israel. The Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) late response was no less than devastating, killing thousands of Palestinians — both Hamas and non-combatants, including women and children.

Deadly retaliation

Israel admits intelligence failure in predicting Hamas' surprise attack and was caught with its pants down, resulting in Israel's greatest one-day loss. But Prime Minister Netanyahu made it very clear. "Hamas started a cruel and evil war. We will win this war, but the price is too heavy to bear ... the IDF will immediately use all its strength to destroy Hamas' capabilities. We will destroy and take mighty vengeance for this black day." And then proceeded to exact its pounds of flesh on Hamas by targeting their lair, headquarters and suspected sanctuaries. Palestinian civilians are collateral casualties. An "eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," the old book says. And if drawn to its logical conclusion, we will find a land of the toothless blind!

With 2.3 million souls packed in a 365 square kilometer area, Gaza is densely populated. Blockaded by Israel, access by sea and air to and from the strip is restricted to three crossings. All traffic through these crossings has been halted, and no humanitarian aid can get through to Gaza.

The entire population depends on Israel for water, electricity and telecom. All have been cut off. The enclave risks starvation. Medecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) has been administering medical programs in Gaza and manning hospitals and several outpatient clinics for more than 20 years. They are running out of medical supplies and personnel. This is a looming humanitarian disaster.

As we write, the IDF is starting their counterattack for a "complete siege" of Gaza, warning the populace to move south — to keep themselves safe. There is no way a million Palestinians can evacuate their homes out of harm's way on time. There is nowhere to go. Gaza is turning into a mass grave.

Roots of the conflict

Last week's was merely a culmination of the Palestine-Israel conflict. But where to begin? Conflicts are as ancient as the narratives in the land of the Bible. For our purposes, we start with the Balfour Declaration of 1917, establishing a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. This was the impetus for Zionism, a nationalist movement affirming the Jewish right to self-determination in its ancient homeland. This became the core concept for the founding document — Mandate for Palestine, based on the 1919 Covenant of the League of Nations. First, a trickle, then a flood of displaced Jews escaping the European pogroms gave flesh to Israel, exacerbated by the Palestine partition of 1947 into Arab and Jewish land, their ancient occupants.

Upon the declaration of Israel's independence in 1948, the neighboring Arab countries — Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Transjordan — invaded the incipient nation. With American and British support, the Arab armies were defeated; Israel expanded its borders de facto from the territories awarded to the Jews by the UN partition plan. Some 700,000 Palestinians and Arabs were expelled, their land expropriated, and they were never allowed to return. Those Palestinians and Arabs that remained within the territories now occupied by Israel were relegated to second-class citizens with barely any rights – a Jewish version of apartheid. The seeds of the conflict were planted with their determination to annihilate Israel and drive the Jews to the sea.

Israeli occupation and intifadas

In 1967, Israel launched the heralded six-day preemptive war that decimated the numerically superior Arab armies, resulting in the occupation of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, Syria's Golan Heights in the north, and Jordan's West Bank and East Jerusalem. These territories were all placed under Israeli military rule until the present day. The Arab and Palestinian humiliation was total.

Prior to the castration of Arab governments and their armies, militant organizations like the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 under Yasser Arafat rose, pursuing an armed struggle to establish an Arab/Palestinian state in place of Israel. In the convoluted politics of the era, Israel sought to undermine the PLO, which it considered a radical guerrilla band, by encouraging more moderate groups, like the Mujama al-Islamiya, as a charity and allowing the establishment of the Islamic University of Gaza. All these backfired, precipitating the birth of the radicals, now branded as terrorists by Israel and its allies — America and Western Europe. And Hamas, the rival of Arafat's Fatah, appeared in the scene.

To establish their fait acompli, Israel continued expropriating Arab and Palestinian lands in Gaza and in the West Bank, building and expanding Jewish settlements and establishing permanency. This policy resulted in the Arab/Palestinian youth uprising — the 1987-1993 Intifada compelling Israel to the negotiating table, with the help of America, where in the Oslo peace process, Israel's prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat signed a document recognizing the "right of the Palestinian people to self-determination."

The paradox was that the Israeli prime minister himself and the Knesset never did accept the principle of an independent Palestinian state. But it recognized and granted the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) some sort of limited self-governance over Gaza and the West Bank. But the issue of the status of Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements, and the right to return millions of refugees to their homes were unresolved.

The series of negotiations under the auspices of America were simply an exercise of fruitless talks resulting in the outbreak of the 2nd Intifada of 2000-2005, launched this time by Hamas and allied guerrilla groups. This intifada caused the construction of the West Bank barrier, separating physically the occupied territories while also realizing that Israel couldn't occupy these territories permanently. As a consequence, the expansion of some Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank was curtailed. The status of Gaza and the West Bank remained in limbo when Israel in 2005 began to disengage from the occupied territories.

Today, Israel avers it no longer occupies Gaza and part of the West Bank, yet it controls the airspace, the territorial waters and access. The blockade continues. Israel still refuses to recognize a Palestinian state. What is needed is perhaps a Palestinian version of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

All of these funneled into what transpired last week. A massacre of soldiers, civilians, non-combatants, women and children — on both sides. A clear state of terrorism. But who are the terrorists?

Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 12 October 2023 20:54

Autocratic pragmatism — one final act

DEMOCRACY failed us! The crux of this six-part series. For a century, we wasted what initially was a good thing, foisted upon us "little brown brothers" as a patronizing experiment. America's first-ever foray into the Far East was essential to a learning curve on geopolitical dynamics leading toward eventual hegemony. But this brand of democracy was different from the one that has evolved and tested in the crucible of America's unique history for over 120 years. It was not transplantable to our equally unique culture and history.

On the other hand, the alternative, authoritarianism, practiced in communist China is not congruent to the culture of the Filipinos, who, during the 300 years of Spain's tutelage, had Catholicism implanted in them. Spanish colonial practices and religion piggy-backed on the Filipinos' native animist beliefs and rituals are the bastion against which totalitarian seeds will wilt on Philippine soil — however, cultivated over the decades of authoritarian ideals. Witness the failure of the Huks and the communist movements and its adjuncts, the NPA and the reactionary Alsa Masa — all failed, not to mention the martial law years. We were led to believe that democracy, to flourish and be sustainable, needed the spasms of sporadic blood drenching, a romantic fallacy perpetuated by America's history of belligerence. What a waste!

We examined three other Asian countries whose system of governance — a calculated mix of democratic and authoritarian practices that propelled their countries into the ranks of the world's developed economies. The common elements extracted from these successful countries — Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea — could be worth emulating.

Combining autocracy and pragmatic decision-making

In 2015, I came across an article (The Guardian, Carlton Tan) singing the praises of Lee Kwan Yew's (LKY) success as Singapore's founder/leader and his methods aptly termed "autocratic pragmatism." And a Harvard classmate, Dr. Primo Arambulo, reminded me of its importance in governance. It simply refers to a leadership style that combines elements of autocracy, where power is concentrated in the hands of one individual or a small group, with pragmatic decision-making, where decisions are based on practicality and effectiveness rather than ideology or principle. These are also the qualities of Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia and Park Chung-hee of South Korea — leaders of Asian countries with different historicity but eventually were successful by many metrics.

These three leaders had charisma, benevolence, passionate patriotism and drive. They were in power for many years, courtesy of their democratically elected political parties, and therefore were in a position to implement long-term policies stamping a certain sense of permanency; LKY for three decades as prime minister; Mahathir, also prime minister for a combined 24 years, the former a parliamentary government and the latter parliamentary-federal. Park Chung-hee was president for 18 years in a presidential-unitary government.

The three held a firm grip on centralized power over their governments. Their dominance of the political system was almost total, effectively allowing them to implement pragmatic policies across the board. They opened markets and attracted foreign direct investments, allowing the modernization of their industries; they invested significantly in infrastructure, providing more jobs and spurring economic growth, making these countries globally competitive.

On the other hand, some autocratic approaches were used, prioritizing stability and rapid economic growth over democratic principles and individual freedoms, suppressing dissent and curtailing press freedoms. These are the trade-offs between economic development and political liberties — one the Philippines may employ to extricate ourselves from democracy's morass. This will be discussed momentarily.

To keep the peace with their diverse racial mix, both Singapore and Malaysia had to implement policies aimed at maintaining social stability, emphasizing national unity, and managing racial harmony. In Singapore, with its Chinese majority (75 percent) and Malay (15 percent) and Indian (7 percent) minorities, LKY emphasized meritocracy, providing equal opportunities for all citizens regardless of race and introducing public housing quotas to promote integration. A unique policy was that of bilingualism, with English as the main language of instruction, creating, in effect, a common language among the various ethnic groups.

Malaysia, with the Malays and the indigenous Bumiputra (50 percent), Chinese (23 percent), Indians (7 percent), and the rest of the various ethnicities (3 percent), introduced the "Bangsa Malaysia" concept promoting a sense of a shared national identity implementing affirmative action policies to lift the majority Bumiputra population.

PH classic solution

At the end of the Marcos regime, a new constitution was introduced by President Cory's handpicked coterie, reinstalling the old, discredited structures of democracy. This mongrelized version of a constitution was a compendium of basic laws created as counterpoints to the martial law regime — an inward-looking document that constrained the economic and open market protocols that propelled our Asian neighbors to prosperity. What is worse is that it enshrined the old structures propagating the evils of patronage politics, allowing the emergence of political family dynasties and party lists that perverted the political system in favor of the country's elite. It is unfortunate that this sincere housewife who was born captive of her class, who confessed to knowing nothing about politics, reflected her values exclusive to the greater majority of the Filipinos through this constitution.

Successive Philippine presidents, from Cory's chosen successor Fidel Ramos to Erap Estrada to Gloria Arroyo, excepting Cory's son PNoy, sought to abrogate this constitution, restructure the political and electoral systems and form of government that could make the constitution more responsive to the aspirations of the Filipino; and outward-looking, open global markets, enticing foreign direct investments, propelling the country among the developed nations. All these initiatives to revise the Cory constitution simply fell flat. The constitutional revision processes filtered through the very people whose vested interest had precedence — the congressmen and senators. They had the last say in any alterations. There was not to be any.

Paradox in PH democracy

Thus, our premise for this six-part series on democracy is a synthesis:

This is the paradox of Philippine democracy — that democratic methods, originally imposed by American colonists and nurtured by our own flawed leadership, can't bring about democracy. It requires undemocratic measures to bring about democracy.

Forget about systemic structural changes. Forget parliamentary government and federalism. Forget the creation of real ideologically differentiated political parties. And above all, forget Cha-cha (Charter change). If revisions are allowed, these will only be cosmetic redounding to the benefit of the vested interests, the political family dynasties, and their allies in the oligarchy.

Ferdinand Marcos understood this, and in 1972, he acted. But his decades-long reign was determined not by his ideals of a "New Society" but by greed. And the autocratic methods employed did not result in the greater good, unlike South Korea and, to some extent, Singapore and Malaysia.

President Duterte recognized this too, and he advocated drastic systemic changes. He went through the motions of creating the Constitutional Committee (ConCom) preparatory to shift government from a unitary system to federalism — his election campaign advocacy. But he dropped the ball midterm.

To salvage whatever credibility he has as a populist maverick, he espoused a revolutionary government! But it was all talk. He never did have the political will to follow through.

Thus, we are condemned to our democratic failures unless and until we, not our political leadership, do the final act. And resolve this paradox.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 04 October 2023 19:47

How do we fix our democracy

THIS is the penultimate part of a series of columns on democracy. Focus was placed on four countries in Asia — China, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea — comparative to the Philippines, extracting their best practices in governance, whether such practices are in line with our American democratic legacy or with its opposite, China's authoritarian system. We looked into the amalgam of practices from the three others closest to the Philippines in terms of cultural proclivities as we began post-World War 2 from a similar starting point with informally designated status as growing economies. Today, these three, including China, have progressed to a point where they have assumed the elevated status as developed countries. The Philippines has not!

The premises in these columns are that the most important priorities of governance, whether democratic or authoritarian, are "above all, to serve and promote the welfare of its people by protecting their security and well-being, maintaining law and order, and providing essential public services, which are equated with universal access to health care, education, employment, and dwelling (HEED). For this to be possible, governments must ensure that their economy grows and are stable. Freedom of speech, choice of beliefs, freedom to dissent, and even freedom to bear arms are subordinate." ("East Asian models of governance," The Manila Times, Sept 27, 2023.)

Although advocates of democracy disagree with the subordination of other freedoms, empirical evidence suggests these to be effective in Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea, which did suspend many of these freedoms sometime in their history and restoring some of these later as a consequence of their economic success. Today, these countries epitomize the calculated use of a mixed type of democratic and authoritarian methodologies and strategies that impelled the uplift of their people's lives. The Philippines may emulate the success of our neighbors, extracting their best practices. But somehow, these freedoms dictated by the precepts of democracy may have to be imputed back into the calculation. The critical question is when?

After almost a century of our system of governance associating it with democracy, a mindset was shaped enforcing a bias that authoritarian and totalitarian approaches to governance may not work in the Philippines. We tolerated for a time a drastic change as in the time of the Marcos dictatorship but eventually rejected it for a semblance of democracy restored by the Aquino government. But what was restored was simply a façade of democracy, and this faux re-installation of democratic practices and the subsequent governments arriving full circle with another Marcos has not given us the desired quality of life that Filipinos deserved, comparable to those of our economically advanced Asian neighbors. What gives?

We will put in proper perspective the causes and the practices that seem to be the proverbial albatross hanging around our democratic necks, preventing us from attaining the desired results.

Factors why our democracy failed

The Centrist Democratic premise, described in these series of columns, past articles and our CD literature, centered on "traditional political patronage as the primary evil in Philippine governance." This has been ingrained into our political culture, permeating the very sinews of a good part of our political life. Our political system itself is a travesty that has been embedded in our 1987 Constitution. This has spawned several elements that have contributed to the challenges and limitations of democracy in the Philippines. Some key factors are not necessarily in sequential order.

1. Political dynasties. A culturally positive, close-knit Filipino Asian family trait has been perverted into the sordid practices of politics where power is concentrated within a few families to the exclusion of other capable people, preventing competition for power, a cherished democratic dogma, and limiting political choices. Such concentration of power is self-perpetuating, spanning several generations.

2. Dominance of vested interests. The emergence of political family dynasties necessitates alliance with the moneyed, the elite class and the oligarchy, forming a formidable influence in government — where their own people are ensconced. The interests of this powerful group are, therefore, protected and enhanced. Thus, the priorities of government are distorted toward a few rather than society in general.

3. Weak institutions. The Philippines is characterized by weak institutions, starting with the electoral system where money and logistics determine the winners, undermining the process resulting in massive voter disenfranchisement and fraud, eroding people's trust in elections and, ultimately, the legitimacy of sitting officials.

The institutional weakness permeates other branches — the Congress' House and Senate, intermittently at loggerheads advancing vested interests staking their respective turfs, delimiting their legitimate oversight function over government.

A weak judiciary and its adjunct, the prosecutorial and enforcement agencies, are beholden to the appointing powers, negating accountability and transparency, placing its independence and impartiality suspect.

4. Widespread corruption. Regulatory capture by allies in the oligarchy, bureaucratic slippages and rent-seeking have undermined democratic processes. They erode public trust in government institutions, distort the allocation of critical resources, hamper economic development, weaken accountability and transparency mechanisms, among others, and impair the rule of law. Despite efforts to combat corruption, it continues to be pervasive.

5. Socioeconomic disparities. With endemic poverty, the gap between the "haves and the have-nots" continues to widen, creating social tensions contributing to political instability and dividing Philippine society into unequal classes.

6. Limited access to public services. Basic government services paid for by taxes (if paid at all by a distrustful citizenry) are curtailed. Universal health services are non-existent, and so is mass housing. Lack of employment drives Filipinos overseas, draining the country of human assets. Access to quality education essential to a well-informed citizenry in a democracy is limited. A recent example: though lacking in classrooms, low teachers' salaries and unfilled permanent positions, the Department of Education diverted much-needed budget toward an "intelligence fund" — a confidential, unaudited lump sum allocation for questionable expenditures.

So, what now?

The obvious solution is structural systemic change. This has been the cry of frustrated and angry Filipinos agitating toward a more inclusive and just system of governance. Since the 1987 Cory Constitution, every succeeding regime campaigned on constitutional and structural change on every permutation of "pagbabago." All stillborn or aborted and discarded into the dustbin of legislative legerdemain — by the very people entrusted with this task, Congress.

Any government elected to office by a citizenry afflicted by the failures and conditions of democratic anomalies and who are themselves plagued by ignorance on the positive nuances of democracy will always revert to their populist tendencies — put back into political power, again and again, the officials who will best serve their individual and family interests, not the Filipino society. The Scottish thinker Alexander Fraser Tytler was succinct on this concept:

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses..."

I propose to reverse this assessment and reorient our democracy with a mix of authoritarian practices and perhaps save us from ourselves.

Next week: "One final act"

Published in LML Polettiques