Pursuing alternatives to democracy

Pursuing alternatives to democracy Featured

THE previous two parts of this series discussed Philippine perspectives on democracy as handed down to us by America. We were gifted a version of governance that was deemed suited for us. America gave us a liberal unitary-presidential system of government, not its homegrown federal-presidential system, making this an experiment in its first colony.

We also briefly examined a model rooted in China with its underlying authoritarian ideals that propelled the massive, rapid lifting of its people’s lives from stark poverty, but at some considerable cost to their freedoms and human rights, ideals so cherished in a democracy.

This third part attempts to seek an alternative system to democracy and its opposite, autocracy (totalitarianism). Our sights are drawn to authoritarian China, extracting the best features from each that could be adapted and suited to our culture while minimizing their deleterious effects.

After a century of Philippine governments tempered by the subtleties of our brand of patronage politics, the original concepts of democracy may have to undergo drastic rethinking. In the environment of fluid geopolitical dynamics, we reassess our basic principles against developments in the real world. Questions become relevant, foremost of which: Is the preservation of democracy and human rights crucial for poor countries like the Philippines to attain economic growth while achieving respectability among the family of nations?

Democracy and its antithesis

For simplicity, I cite five basic ideals of democracy and contrast these with authoritarianism, the less extreme version of autocracy/totalitarianism, and against how Philippine governments are run as democracies.

1.Power is vested in the people. In a diverse society, power is distributed among the people exercising the same through recurring elections where the majority rules, and those voted to office must govern solely on the people’s acquiescence and for their own benefit. Governments must be accountable to the people through their transparent acts, safeguarded by checks and balance mechanisms.

In an authoritarian system, power is concentrated in the hands of a single leader or a cabal. A monolithic political party exercises control with or without the consent of its citizenry, confirmative of the archetypical Marxist catchphrase — dictatorship of the proletariat.

In the Philippines, we conduct costly elections amid a festive atmosphere, participated in by around 100 political parties, formed by political families and single advocacy groups solely for elections, administered by a weak, inutile and oftentimes corrupt constitutionally independent body (Comelec).

Only a handful of political parties are anchored ideologically. Most have “political butterflies” floating from party to party, a Philippine electoral phenomenon. Upon election, therefore, they owe primary obeisance to their sponsors, political dynasties and their allies in the oligarchy.

2. The rule of law Government operates within a framework of legal principles, where laws are applied equally to all and none above. In authoritarian models, the interests of the ruling elite or the state are prioritized over those of individuals, resulting in restricted freedoms. In the Philippine setting, the rule of law has elicited much concern about its implementation and enforcement. Instances of selective application of the law favor the powerful and the rulers over the governed.

3. Protection of freedoms, civil liberties and human rights

Democratic governments uphold and protect civil liberties and human rights, such as freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. People are free to express their opinions, even those contradictory to that of government’s and the majority’s.

Under authoritarianism, these liberties are often curtailed, and citizens face censorship; press freedom is non-existent; freedom of expression is limited; dissent is suppressed; and political participation is restricted.

In the Philippines, civil liberties and freedoms are protected. But corruption within the justice system is rampant, and violations of human rights have caught the attention of international multilateral agencies. Over the decades, public trust in the justice system has been eroded, particularly among the poor and dispossessed.

4. Rights and obligations

In a democracy, while citizens enjoy their rights and freedoms accorded by their constitutions and the exigencies of democratic ideals, they also have obligations. These are summarized under three main categories: the obligation to vote, pay taxes and obey the law. Qualified citizens are exhorted to vote, and candidates with differing views are allowed to be voted upon. All must pay taxes in varying degrees, with sanctions for non-payment; a justice system to implement laws, apprehend transgressors, provide them with a fair trial, and impose appropriate punishment for the guilty.

In authoritarian regimes, citizens have limited or no right to vote. And if tolerated, they vote for those that the monolithic political parties select for them. All pay taxes, although the powerful have the influence, the privilege, and the mechanisms to avoid payment. And laws, particularly those that impact personal freedoms, are severe and oppressive, and protection against arbitrary arrest and detention may be curtailed.

In the Philippines, elections are the only time when the citizenry reigns supreme over the proverbial “servants of the people” who seek anointment or reelection, where candidates seduce the citizenry for their votes. In many cases, candidates buy votes, and the voters are free to sell them — at an agreed price.

Payment of taxes has become a Filipino practice of gaming the system, particularly for high-income earners and many businesses. Taxes are simply an inconvenience and, short of evasion, must be avoided. This mindset is attributed to bureaucratic corruption, where money is diverted to personal pockets and private accounts instead of the public coffers. Corruption is the biggest disincentive to tax payments.

And the directive to obey laws, as a citizen’s obligation, has been reduced to a Filipino dictum, “lulusot kung makakalusot,” meaning “one gets away — when one gets away.”

5. Political pluralism and participation

For democracy to prosper, the active participation of the citizenry and engagement with their elected representatives are required. Political pluralism allows for a free market of ideas, where real ideologically distinct political parties are formed to represent a diversity of beliefs competing for political power.

In authoritarian regimes, political power is inexorably concentrated on one party or individual. Only the monolithic party line is allowed, marginalizing dissenting voices, containment of political diversity, and inhibiting opposition.

In the Philippines, elections are the overarching environment in which political patronage incubates. The political dynasties and the oligarchy pervade the process, rendering elections mostly choices between opposing members of the elite and the powerful. Political parties are convenient structures for political families and dynasties to perpetuate their hold on power.

Democracy is not working

From empirical evidence, the inevitable conclusions are that the democratic experiment imposed by our American colonialists after centuries of Spanish perversion of our Filipino datu-sultanate culture — a forced marriage of their Western and our Eastern values — resulted in a mongrelized version of democracy that has not worked as intended. Its opposite, the autocracy/totalitarian system, may run against the grain of Philippine experience and culture and may not work either.

But looking back, democracy, as we inherited it, could have succeeded given certain preconditions. Central to this is when the great majority of our people, mired in poverty and ignorant of the nuances of these concepts, are liberated from these conditions. After which, democracy may just survive and flourish.

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Read 356 times Last modified on Wednesday, 20 September 2023 22:18
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