Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Dictatorship of the Old Order

(Conference Paper, PHAVISMINDA Conference, Visayas State University, 2013)

Political relations define the state of affairs of a nation. Where a country is immature politically, its people will naturally desire or cry for justice from their government. The poor, who lack the requisite resources for a life well-lived, have no other means except to kneel before their leaders. Development is impossible if people are denied access to or are excluded from the just distribution of social goods. People starving and queuing for food assistance indicate the enormous inequalities that systemic political elitism can create.

President Ferdinand Marcos remains to be the fitting figure of this country’s eternal damnation. He took away from the traditional oligarchs the total control of the national economy. But his reason for doing so is to systematically steal from the Filipino people. While it is true that he built many projects, he also plunged the country into deep debt. The insatiable greed of the Marcos dictatorship essentially wiped out any democratic gains after the Second World War. Furthermore, this crime and injustice extends to the rapacious exploitation of the country’s natural resources. Marites Vitug writes:

In the 1980s, the Philippines had one of the worst deforestation rates in the Asia-Pacific region, losing on an average of 316,000 hectares of forest a year from 1980 to 1990 (ADB 1994)…To a great extent, the presence of loggers in the national legislature demonstrated the traditional ties between political power and access to the country’s natural resources.

Vitug adds that “this was most blatant during the era of President Marcos from 1965 to early 1986, when the number of licenses to log vast forest areas called timber license agreements, or TLAs, soared to a high of more than 400,” noting further that, “Marcos used TLAs as a tool for political patronage, dispensing it to relatives, friends, and supporters.”[1] Now, why this problem? In point of fact, influential and wealthy families, including some moneyed prominent names, have ruled and will continue to rule this land. The scions of the landed few, educated in exclusive schools, are seen as a cut above the rest in terms of leadership potential. There is no level playing field in the opportunities for governance. This makes the common Filipino an idiot on the very day he casts his vote. He has no choice. We live in a shattered nation. Professor Lukas Kaelin writes that in the Philippines, "all is in the family."

A Politically Disarticulated Country

Consciously or otherwise, the majority thinks that in order for the ordinary Filipino to emerge from the callous exigencies of his unwanted existence, he looks up to some demi-gods who will rescue him from a meaningless and boring life. This is the reason why many Filipinos, the masses most especially, worship their political idols. Where a state is weak and dysfunctional, the element of trust and personalism sets into the picture. Policies are mere abstractions for the common Filipino. He sees results in his connections. He therefore seeks to establish and secure connections rather than help build his nation.

While it is a particular truism that we must build this life in which we live brick by brick, we have to acknowledge that this nation is forged in the blood and tears of men and women who willingly sacrifice themselves so that others may live. The harsh reality though is that whatever gains we have achieved in the last fifty years or so, these have been slowly decimated by our leaders who steal with impunity from our people and by the ruling class who continue to take advantage of the innocence of a dynamic but religiously isolated young population.

The dictatorship of the old order has destroyed this country no end. It has rendered electoral exercises a mere moro-moro featuring the most popular and the moneyed. The uncanny ways that many of our intelligent but morally incompetent politicians take advantage of their position and power extends to this very day. Some glimmer of hope came into being in 1986 after the first EDSA Revolution. Still, EDSA was a massive failure on many fronts, including in the area of environmental justice. Vitug cites the case of illegal logging in the country:

“The transition to democracy during the Aquino and Ramos administration spawned reforms in the logging industry. Under each administration there was considerable consensus on the need for forest policy reform. The major obstacles in the reform process lay in actually implementing policy. What blocked implementation or made it difficult were and continue to be, pressures from vested interests in Congress and other politicians…”[3]

The plunder of our natural resources contributes in a very huge way to the suffering that our people have to endure in their day to day hand-to-mouth existence. The lack of environmental sustainability deeply contributes to the unavailability of livelihood and employment opportunities in the mostly underdeveloped but overly exploited rural communities in the country’s poorest provinces.
Incidentally, the above is not what the fundamental law of the land envisions. Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution clearly states that “The State shall protect and advance the right to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature”, but this has been blatantly violated by those in position in their despicable display of brute force and clout. According to Atty. Ruben Carranza, “the constitutional precepts are clear. But they are also subject to implementation by a time-bound bureaucracy dominated by traditional politicians, who in turn, are largely controlled or motivated by big business interest.”[4]

We have to examine, however, why this is the case from the point of view of political theory. We can continue to live in the beauty of an abstract world, but sooner or later, we have to confront that praxis is more difficult than the most elegant of theories. Young men and women can continue to dream and hope that their ideals of a better life will be fulfilled, but somewhere along the way they have to meet the truth and accept the fact that the country in which we live is not an ideal place to be. But we have no option. We have to re-build the shattered dignity of our nation.

While it is true that “what the state needs from the citizenry cannot be secured by coercion, but only cooperation and self-restraint in the exercise of private power”[5], most of our leaders, however, desire that most Filipinos remain uninformed and apathetic so that the former can continue with its own ways of manipulation. One example of which is the undeniable power of Imperial Manila. Consider the fact that all appointments with the rank of a regional or provincial director have to be signed by the President. In a country as geographically disarticulated as the Philippines, this is a tremendous task if such is given its due moral and honest consideration. The fact of the matter, however, is that appointments sometimes are given on the basis of political accommodation. Commitment to public service is no more than an after-thought.

The above is the implication of the situation when the families of the few and powerful political elites rule, thereby contributing to what Prof. Kaelin calls the “demonization of the State”. As such, according to Dr. Jose V. Abueva, “in a nation of ethnic, linguistic and social diversity, and social inequality, there are varying degrees of resentment towards a highly centralized and Manila-centric governance”.[6] This explains the Moro rebellion and the communist insurgency. He adds,

Many Muslims resent their relative poverty, exclusion and underdevelopment and the political and cultural dominance of the Christians; thus the perennial Moro struggle for political and cultural autonomy, if not secession…The Maoist Communist rebellion dates back to 1968, succeeding the Soviet-oriented communism that began decades earlier. The rebellion is partly ideological – based on social inequities and injustice…[7]

Professor Alex Magno has explained on many occasions the disarticulation of the Philippine economy, which for him, is based on a landlord-tenant relationship. Forever enslaved, the tenant is at the mercy of his master, and colonialism helped foster this master-servant dialectic that has totally alienated the poor from power. Resigned to his fate, the poor Filipino does not believe his country has something for him. He thinks that he is a slave even in his land of birth. Professor Randy David explains that if only Filipinos understood that the future of one's family depended on the progress of the country, then he would not cheat on his taxes and would consider giving what he has as a contribution to the country's growth.

A Weak State of Transactional Leaders

The Philippines is not a democratic country. What we have are dysfunctional political institutions. They are not irreparably damaged, but because we have a badly debased political culture, any type of moral reform will not make societal change imminent. Thus, this dysfunction advances the opportunity for corruption. Our weak state sows the seed to what Abueva calls transactional leaders. Transactional leaders exist only in order to derive profit from any form of political relations. Alliances are formed on the basis of political convenience. While politicians forgive and forget each other, the indelible scar on the diminished life of the masses haunts them and the children of their children. Dr. Abueva writes:

Our weak nation and soft state are clearly related to our leaders who use their power and authority more to serve their private and political interests, rather than to promote the common good.[9]

The 1987 Philippine Constitution states that the “Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them”. (Article II, Section 1) But this is not the political reality because our leaders and their cahoots in business engage in their rent-seeking ways in order to extract everything from the blood and sweat of the Filipino. The problem is not only a matter of representation nor of recognition. There exists some kind of a demonic machine out there that systematically exploits and takes advantage of the powerless majority. The result – people are excluded from growth and development, inevitably resigned to their fate, hopeless and without a future.

Still, this situation is being exploited by some who prophesy that their genius is some kind of a silver bullet that the poor needs. This reminds me of Ludwig Feuerbach – for God to be good, man has to view himself as wicked. The moment someone projects himself as intelligent, then that makes his listener mentally poor. This leader instantly becomes his salvation. In truth, this intelligent savior has offered nothing but motherhood statements about jobs, education and housing. Somewhere in the woods and the jungle of city life, the common man is concerned about where to get the next meal for his brood of five. 

A real democracy exists when institutions function for the good of the people. Transactional leaders do not want to change the system because they profit from the status quo. Reform, however, cannot begin from the top. It must begin from where real power emanates – the people themselves. But we do not need the children from the old order because they are a product of our original oppressors. What is happening is that their children or grandchildren have now suddenly become the saviors of the poor victims of an oligarchic economic and socio-political system. Can we expect these people to rectify the errors of natural lottery?

If the leaders we produce are nothing but those that come from the most exclusive of schools, then we shall have failed to truly democratize leadership and public service. Democracy, to be truly effective, must work for the common man and not only for the talented few. Former President Fidel V. Ramos succinctly puts it this way:

Under dictatorial rule, people need not think – need not choose – need not make up their minds or give their consent. All they need to do is to follow. By contrast, a democracy cannot survive without civic virtue. The political challenge for people around the world today is not just to replace authoritarian regimes by democratic ones. Beyond this, it is to make democracy work for ordinary people.[10]

A liberal democracy may not be possible for a society of devils, but nor does it require a society of angels.[11] What we need is a critical mass of people who still believe in the decency of human life and that the Filipino nation still has a future. This will require the overhaul of our oligarchic economic system in order to achieve an all-inclusive growth for our people. To achieve this, the political order must be reformed by means of establishing authentic people’s parties where ordinary citizens can participate in creating the political agenda and ergo, in state decision-making.


Solving our problems will require dismantling the dominance of the political elite who manipulate the consciousness of the masses. Any real democracy means that each and every individual possesses the power to realize his desire to be, which means, loosely translated, that he has the opportunity to acquire a decent life and provide for the well-being of his family without fear of losing it. Thus, instead of being the instrument toward the achievement of the greater value of human freedom, the state in various instances of a poor man's life has simply become its irreverent obstacle.

[1] Marites Vitug, Forest Policy and National Politics, in Forest Policy and Politics in the Philippines, ed. Peter Utting (Quezon City: ADMU Press, 2000), 11-14.
[2] Lukas Kaelin, The Problem of Family Politics, Philippine Daily Inquirer Commentary. Retrieved April 23, 2013. 
[3] Marites Vitug, Forest Policy and National Politics, in Forest Policy and Politics in the Philippines, 37.
[4] Atty. Ruben Carranza, Energy Development and its Impact on the Environment, in The Economy or the Environment, Maribeth Reyes, et al, eds. (Manila: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 1993).
[5] Alan Cairns and Cynthia Williams, Constitutionalism, Citizenship and Society in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), 43.
[6] Jose V. Abueva, The State of our Nation and Democracy in 2010, Governance Folder, 2011, 3.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Randy David, Citizenship, Philippine Daily Inquirer Commentary. Retrieved April 23, 2013.  
[9] Abueva, 2011, 5.
[10] Fidel V. Ramos, Democracy and the East Asian Crisis, Inaugural Address at the Center for Democratic Institutions, ANU, Canberra, November 26, 1998, 2.
[11] Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Theory, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 293.