IN past columns, we made a case for pursuing alternatives to our kind of democracy that is not working as intended by our American colonialists. We compared democratic governments and authoritarian regimes — isolating criteria that could work for us and those we need to discard. Whether a government is democratic or authoritarian, it must, above all, 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. The controversy and clash of ideas start with how Western and Eastern cultures define and perceive these freedoms as central to their system of governance.

Democratic and authoritarian priorities

From here on in, their methods deviate, consistent with their ideals and ideology, springing forth from how their power is ultimately arrived at and dispensed with. On the two extremes, a democratic government is elected by its citizenry, deriving its power from that fact. An authoritarian government, by contrast, draws its power from a few selected individuals who control government. Both systems, therefore, originate diverse priorities impacting how their responsibilities to their constituencies are carried out. In the former, serving the people's interest and promoting the common good is its mantra. In the latter, the ruling elite's interest takes precedence. Both approaches are anathema to each other, thus fueling the geopolitical misalignments, dividing the world into different camps.

Our progressive Asian neighbors

The working methodologies from both democratic and authoritarian systems are what we seek for the Philippines. This mix of democratic and authoritarian practices, which is the core of the success of our three Asian neighbors, is what we should emulate. To better understand these mixed features, a telescoped version of each country's government and its development during the tutelage of their most effective political leaders may be relevant — Lee Kwan Yew (LKY) of Singapore, Mohammad Mahathir of Malaysia and Park Chung-hee of South Korea.

Singapore has a parliamentary form of government with a unicameral legislature where members of parliament (MPs) are elected at large in a general election under a political party system. LKY, the prime minister in power since the country's founding in 1965, sculpted Singapore politically and economically from a backward country to a developed one after being booted out of Federal Malaysia. His political vehicle, the People's Action Party (PAP), dominated a freely elected democratic parliament.

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament and a ceremonial head of state, the hereditary monarch (king). Real political power resides in the prime minister (PM), elected by a parliamentary majority of the lower house, the Dewan Rakyat. The upper chamber or senate, known also as Dewan Negara, essentially a sinecure, is appointed by the king upon the PM's advice.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad propelled Malaysia into joining the world's developed countries. In a multi-party system where elections are regularly held, his ruling coalition, the Barisan Nasional, was the dominant political power until it lost power in the 2018 general elections.

South Korea has a unitary presidential system of government similar to that of the Philippines. The president is the head of state and government and is elected by the people for a single five-year term. The country has a multi-party system. But unlike the Philippines, it only has a unicameral legislature, the National Assembly, that oversees government and passes laws, no competing power bloc equivalent to the Philippines' Senate.

Park Chung-hee, president of South Korea for 18 years until his assassination in 1979, oversaw the rapid political and economic development of the country while the government was under military dispensation. He implemented policies pursuing export-oriented industrialization, promoting heavy industries, and encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI), transforming South Korea into a global economic power.

Mixed democratic-authoritarian features

Mulling over the successes of these three countries with mixed democratic and authoritarian governments, headed at one time or another by charismatic but despotic leaders, we focus on the results instead. Overall, the improvement of the living standards of people is imperative, lifting them from stark poverty brought about under a democratically elected representative government but with an authoritarian mindset of their leaders.

Although ostensibly a democracy, both Singapore and Malaysia, particularly under LKY and Mahathir respectively, have at one time or another during their rule curtailed certain aspects of democratic ideals, which they deemed to be Western values incompatible with the cultural contexts of their Asian constituencies — Malay, Chinese, Indian — restricting freedom of speech, political opposition and on occasion, suppression of dissent. Emphasis instead was put on economic freedom, enabling citizens to accumulate wealth.

As to South Korea, starting as a military-run government for four decades, they have not put closure to their war with North Korea, and with such a belligerent neighbor that could restart the war at any time, their democratic freedoms are tempered and shaped by these realities. Under President Roh Tae-woo, another former military general, a full transition to democracy was realized only after Park Chung-hee laid the foundation for the country's transformation into a world-class economy.

Political, structural and economic reforms

These three countries' success is no doubt attributable to several distinct factors, foremost of which are drastic political reforms imposed by a strong, authoritarian and charismatic leader. True, these leaders restricted freedoms, but the trade-off was a rapid increase in the living standards of their people, emancipating a large segment from stark poverty. For specifics:

1. They embarked on a massive investment in human capital, education system, and skills development directed toward an industrialized economy where their workforce is poised toward global competition. Regulatory capture by industrialists was eliminated in Singapore while bureaucratic corruption in government in Malaysia and South Korea was minimized with a harsh rule of law applied.

2. Markets were opened, and foreign direct investment (FDI) was encouraged, prioritizing economic development and industrialization. This was an impetus for growth that allowed them to invest in infrastructures and technology, improving further living standards and the quality of life of the citizenry.

3. The three charismatic authoritarian-bent leaders created strong progressive-minded political party majorities and thus, with strong governance, created efficient institutions, allowing a pragmatic approach to policymaking, and prioritizing practical solutions involving local leaders and civil communities.

4. The governance system of our three neighbors tolerated a certain amount of political stability favorable to long-term planning. Such a climate is conducive to conceptualizing policies and strategies for social progress and economic growth.

Contrast this with the Philippines. From the very start, we have been given a political system and a form of government that, over time, surfaced the least desired trait of our datu-sultanate culture — political patronage. This was ingrained in our political culture, permeating the very sinews of a good part of our political life. Our political system itself is a perversion, and this travesty has been embedded in our Constitution.

Next week: How do we fix this?
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.