Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Can we have real democracy in the homeland?

During their 44-year occupation of our homeland, the Americans established a colonial government that resembles to a great degree their democratic system of national government. The manner in which the colonial government was established and administered made the Filipinos forget about the lopsidedness, brutality, cruelty and harshness that were brought to their nationalist forefathers during the Philippine-American War.

The American occupational government gave the lasting impression on subsequent generations of Filipinos that the Americans came only because of their self-proclaimed, God-ordained "Manifest Destiny"; supposedly a mission of pure benevolence and generosity, the intention of only Christianizing (forget that most Filipinos were already Catholics) and preparing them for self-government and democracy.

To quote President McKinley to a Methodist delegation (1899): "...there was nothing else for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them...".In 1946, America "granted" us our political independence. We then continued to have what we proudly proclaim as a democracy. As in much of human endeavor, it should be remembered that the selection of a particular political ideology, i.e. communism, socialism, or democracy, etc, could only be justified on the premise that the net result will be the "common good".

Fast forward today. …All or some of us may have heard or read that we Filipinos are not ready for democracy, then and now. One of our Asian neighbors retired PM Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore said so a few years ago. Do we hesitatingly agree with him? Can we claim that we do have real democracy in our homeland? Based on the history of nations, it is said that democracy depends on several preconditions to work for the common good, and that the absence of these prerequisites will guarantee its failure.

The preconditions to true, effective and efficient democracy are:

1. National Unity

2. Mass Literacy

3. Relatively High Standard of Living

4. Sizable and Stable Middle Class

5. Sense of Social Equality

6. Tradition of Tolerance and Individual Self-Reliance.

Let us now look at how we Filipinos measure up to these necessary conditions for true democracy to flourish and effectively function for the common good (well-being of most, if not all, citizens) of our homeland:

1. National Unity – A nation is a community of people who feel that they belong together: they share deeply significant elements of a common heritage (territory, language, common historical experiences, etc.) and that they have a common destiny for the future. Thus for Filipinos, a nationalistic attitude and behavior is to be seen as an imperative to attain the well-being for the majority, if not all, in the nation.

When the chips are down so to speak, the demands of family, tribe, locality, religion, conscience, economic interest and a host of other appeals are subordinated to the national allegiance. Such nationalism is demonstrated for example in the readiness to defend the nation against all assaults as in a war, or during peacetime, in the zeal for the nation’s welfare in all dealings with other countries, including their foreign agencies or corporations. As a nation, we fail this criterion.

2. Mass Literacy - UNESCO's Y2002 statistics shows that 95.3% of the Filipino population are basically literate - that is, people who have the ability to read and write and understand a literate simple message in their language or dialect. A functionally literate person is one who has a range of skills and competencies, cognitive, affective and behavioral which enables him/her to live and work as a human person, develop his/her potentials, make critical and informed decisions, and function effectively in society within the context of his/her environment and that of the wider community (local, regional, national and global) in order to improve the quality of his/her life and that of society.

The Filipino majority is basically literate but significantly lacking in the ability to make critical and informed decisions for at least two important reasons: there is no real transparency in high government which led and leads to incomplete dissemination of essential information and most important, the failure of the educational system to inculcate social awareness and critical knowledge and study of its history. As a nation, we pass this measure in terms of basic literacy but apparently fail or barely pass criterion on functional literacy.

3. Relatively High Standard of Living – Whatever the region or the culture, every country with a GDP per capita above US$4,000 is a free and democratic country, with the exception of Saudi Arabia. For example, these countries are found in North America (USA, Canada) and Western Europe; South Asia and the Pacific: Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. WB Y2001 data estimated that the annual average income per Filipino is US$1030 compared to South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand at US$9400, $3300, $1940 respectively. Our relatively low wages attract investors but the Philippines has the lowest income per head after Indonesia, among the larger economies of East Asia [our small middle class discouraged foreign direct investments (FDI) in manufacturing e.g. Japanese has bypassed us in recent years].

Our poverty rate is a disturbing 38% - more than 1/3 of Filipinos are poor and 45% of us survive, i.e. existing not living life on P100 a day. In contrast, Thailand has a poverty rate of 13%, Malaysia 16%, and Indonesia 27%. In terms of GDP growth rate, the Philippines ranks 112 out of 190 countries per the CIA World Factbook 2001. Singapore is No. 8, Malaysia No. 12, and Thailand No. 92. We see greater disparity between us and our more affluent ASEAN neighbors in the Growth Competitiveness Index of the latest Global Competitiveness Report, where the Philippines placed No. 61. Singapore was No. 4, Malaysia No. 27, and Thailand No. 31. The only ones below us were Vietnam (65) and Indonesia (67). If we tread carelessly, Vietnam might even overtake us. As a nation, we fail this criterion.

4. A Sizable & Stable Middle Class - Philippine society in terms of socio-economic classes is labeled as A, B, C, D, and E. The ABCs are comprised of the rich, the well-to-do, and the middle class who combine to about 20 percent of the population, the Ds or “masa”, roughly 65 percent, and the Es, the very poor, about 15 percent (per SWS data). Obviously, the middle class is small (about 8%) and may be on further decline due to the widespread economic hardship and emigration to other countries.

A burgeoning Chinese AB class who may be alien to the native’s patrimony and therefore may truly care less for the natives because of separate schooling and social background are replacing the native middle class Filipinos. Reminds me of a younger Chinese who told me years ago, “Before, we were segregated and not allowed citizenship, now it’s our time and turn”. We remember hearing and reading about some members of Congress accused of accepting bribes from illegal Chinese immigrants to obtain legal status or citizenship (prior to legalization in 1975). As a nation, we fail this criterion.

5. Sense of Social Equality – Obviously, there is not much social equality to talk about. Prejudice and its manifestation in social discrimination exist, though discrimination is primarily based on socio-economic standing rather than racial. However, we can recognize that even those with only a hint of Spanish, American or other Caucasian blood oftentimes feel, assume and display racial superiority; that is, where one is in the racial color spectrum matters; the case may be true also among the Chinese who now control much of our commerce and industry. In recent politics, it is well known that the D and E classes, the masa and the very poor respectively, were the ones responsible for Joseph Estrada's victory in the 1998 presidential election. It was social class, rather than region, or religion, or gender, or age, that was critical to that election, since Erap lost the ABC votes (per SWS). Of course, the ABC people resented this fact. As in 1998, the dominant Y2004 election issues are and results can very well be a repeat of the class conflict. As a nation, we fail this criterion.

6. Tradition of Tolerance and Individual Self-Reliance – Several factors as alluded to above: from our tribal mentality, varied racial heritages and prejudices, e.g. Spanish/Caucasian or Chinese versus native Indio/Malay, religion (Christian or Muslim), and socio-economic class consciousness to physical characteristics seems to contribute to a sense of social inequality and thus absence of a tradition of tolerance.Furthermore, the concentration of wealth to a few, i.e. fifteen (15) families in the country per ADB Country Report and the absence of a significant land reform or wide ownership of agricultural land and manufacturing industry result in the lack of available and/or continuous work beyond subsistence levels for the majority.

All these, in addition to the fatalism derived from religion and the help afforded by the extended family did not create nor encourage a tradition of self-reliance. We encapsulate and observe thus: If you're poor, “bahala na”; And if you're rich, "Bahala na silang magutom." As a nation, we fail these criteria.

In conclusion, we Filipinos based on the above measures do not have now the capacity to effectively and efficiently implement a true democracy beyond the fruitless exercise of periodic “elections” – which time and again is a circus and con game imposed by the “elitist democracy” that began during the pre-WW2 “Philippine Commonwealth” and which continues to the present time. As I have indicated in previous writings, this political charade could not and will not be broken given the dominant realities of an elitist democracy, and thus result in the absence of true and popular democracy of, by and for the Filipino people.

The erosion of our relatively nascent political democracy was demonstrated by the ability of Marcos to proclaim martial law in 1972, pushing the Constitution aside, suspending political parties and elections, and imposing his 14-year dictatorship; and also by the subsequent coup attempts by the military, an indication for its trend towards disrespect for constitutional democracy.Our commonly acknowledged personalization of political loyalties can be largely attributed to the lack of appreciation of deep national issues and sophistication of the majority, who seem to require the personal figure of a leader (celebrity nowadays?) to bring political abstractions down to the level of comprehensible reality (are they even discussed?).

Most important, poverty-ridden people are not likely to make their first concern the preservation of liberties, political forms and international agreements, all of whose significance are obscure to them.My prognosis of the socioeconomic and political cancer is pessimistic; but oftentimes as in our homeland’s case, becoming pessimistic and cynical came from a process of appreciating and recognizing a cruel societal reality; a nation-state still based on semi-feudal political and neocolonial economic structures that requires a nationalistic and drastic resolve to break it out of the willful neglect by its elitist rulers in government, business and their foreign partners. Whether this resolve can come about depends on the Filipinos in the Philippines.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Democracy won't really solve our problems. Usually, Filipinos equate democracy to freedom. They failed to realize that democracy is a game of numbers. Who gets the most number is the winner. Remember that the US acquired the Philippines because of democracy. The Treaty of Paris got ratified because those in favor of the annexion only won by ONE vote.

We have bogus officials because of "democracy"