Do Filipinos Deserve Democracy?


The streets are quiet. The blaring of bull horns is gone. The street “parliamentarians” are waiting for the next opportune time to launch another round of mass protests. Only the fasters and prayer “warriors” of PAG-ASA (Peoples Assembly for Genuine Alternatives to Social Apathy) are continually visible at the People Power Monument as they quietly stir the conscience of the nation. Their prayer, fasting, and action for the renewal of democracy have now continued, without break, for 21 days. Meanwhile, Congress is starting to debate the fate of the impeachment complaint filed against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), who many think cheated in the 2004 elections for the President of the Philippines.

Amidst all these, the vast majority of Filipinos still have to make up their minds about the future of the Philippines. As indifference and apathy slowly creeps in to replace indecision, one question looms large. Do Filipinos deserve democracy?

Constitutional Formula for Paralysis

Earlier TruthForce! cited a recent national survey revealing that 80 percent of Filipinos want GMA out. But they have not taken to the streets or visibly manifested their discontent. They realize that the problem facing the Philippines is not only one of leadership. They know that the GMA scandal merely points to the on-going destruction of the institutions of Philippine society and democracy which, in turn, are products of a deeper moral and spiritual crisis.

Thus, in their search for a genuine solution to the crisis in all its depths and dimensions, many Filipinos shrink at the prospect of a takeover by Vice President Noli de Castro, as the constitutional successor to the President of the Philippines. As running mate of GMA, they see Noli as a party to the electoral fraud that they are convinced GMA committed in the last national elections. In addition, there are pervasive rumors about his alleged practice of “envelopmental” journalism (or journalism for hire). Filipinos also see him as an inexperienced and indecisive leader who continues to taint his reputation by his continued support for GMA and his silence on many pressing national issues.

If not Noli, a snap election, as provided for in the Constitution, can be called to give a fresh mandate to the Presidency. However, Filipinos are strongly allergic to a takeover by traditional politicians (“trapos”) who are salivating at the prospect of replacing GMA and taking over the reigns of political power. Filipinos view trapos as equally corrupt, perversely egotistic, deceitful and as divisive as GMA. Mention the name Marcos, Erap, Lacson, Santiago, and a host of other names, and four letter expletives and curses spontaneously erupt. In the words of one youth leader: “Sukang-suka na ako. I want to vomit every time I hear the name of GMA and the other trapos contending for the political leadership in this country.”

This is the reason why many Filipinos basically pooh-poohed GMA’s recent desperate suggestion to convene a Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) purportedly to solve the problems of the country through the creation of a federal, parliamentary form of government. GMA continues to insult the intelligence of Filipinos with such a proposal which is a thinly disguised mechanism for her to remain in power indefinitely.

Under a Con-Ass approach, the two houses of Congress form a body to amend the Constitution. This is in contrast to a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) where representatives are chosen directly by the people in a national election. Since most of the Senate and the House of Representatives are made up of trapos, any changes to the Constitution will surely benefit the interests of trapos.

Instead of solving the deep systemic and moral crisis of Philippine democracy, such a Charter Change (Cha-Cha) initiative will be worse than business as usual. Through Cha- Cha, GMA will be given the chance to capture political power, indefinitely, as Prime Minister. Genuine parties, among others, are a pre-requisite in a parliamentary form of government. There are no genuine parties in the trapo politics of Philippine political life. It therefore will be very easy for a Prime Minister, thru such proven practices as political patronage, among others, to mobilize the power and resources of government to consolidate her or his power. GMA has already brilliantly demonstrated this dangerous possibility by the seemingly legal use of government funds to support her candidacy, as president and in creating a political majority. GMA’s proposed federal parliamentary system, in essence, is nothing but a form of authoritarianism disguised as a better form of government.

Thus, Filipinos, who often take shelter in the Constitution, are in despair. Strict adherence to narrow interpretations of what are possible solutions within the ambit of the Constitution, brings them the same rotten “solution” to the deep structural, moral, and spiritual crisis that is strangling the country. Narrow “constitutional” approaches will guarantee the final death of democracy in the Philippines.

Transitional Revolutionary Government

Sensing this dilemma, other groups are proposing a broader interpretation of the Constitution. They say that the final source of sovereignty resides in the Filipino people. As the sovereign of the democratic and republican state of the Philippines, the people have the right to abolish a government that no longer serves its constitutional mandate of providing “peace and order, protection of life, liberty, and prosperity, and the promotion of the general welfare”.

Therefore, thru a new People Power, backed peacefully by the idealistic military officers, the Filipino people can set up a transitional revolutionary government (TRG) to replace the rotten, oppressive and deceitful structures of the pseudo-democracy that has been imposed on the nation. This revolutionary government can then tackle the urgent and long-term task of systemically rebuilding and renewing democracy.

As its name implies, the TRG will not be a permanent form of government. It will simply create a new structural context for solving the most urgent problems facing the country today. It will usher in a new Constitution through a participatory nationwide process. The TRG will then dissolve itself when the conditions for true democracy will have been established.

The proponents of the TRG emphasize that their proposal is constitutional. They quote the Constitution to justify their approach. “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” (Article II, Section 1.) “Civilian authority is, at all time, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State.”

Proponents of a Transitional Revolutionary Government (TRG) also cite history to legitimize their proposal. People Power I ended the martial law of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. In its place, they established the Revolutionary Government of Corazon Aquino. This revolutionary government then created the 1987 Constitution which is now the governing political framework of the land.

Furthermore, People Power II ended the corrupt regime of Joseph Ejercito Estrada or Erap. In their interpretation of Article II, Section 1 cited above, the Supreme Court of the Philippines justified this second assertion of People Power as constitutional because “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” In this instance, People Power II allowed the constitutional process of succession to take place. But the means to install the new government, thru people power, was within the bounds of the Constitution.

Even though the proposal is attractive to those who are totally fed up with the oppression, corruption, and deceit that trapos have inflicted, many remain doubtful that a TRG will be a viable answer to the problems that the country faces.

First there is the possibility that the TRG can morph into a military or military-civilian junta, neither of which are acceptable to most Filipinos. Over a decade of martial law under Marcos has convinced them of that.

Second, they do not trust many of the proponents of a transitional revolutionary government. The loudest clamor for a TRG is coming from trapos and armed rebel groups. On the trapo side, among others, is the Unity group, headed by a motley mix of trapos associated with Erap and politically obsessed religious evangelical groups. Armed groups proposing TRG include the Communist Party of the Philippines and dubious military characters like retired General Abat, sometimes linked with the Machiavellian intentions of former President Fidel V. Ramos.

Third, even if indeed a TRG is the solution to the current crisis, they are not certain whether there is a powerful enough gathering of decent middle forces, backed by an idealistic military which can maintain the original benign intentions of a TRG. They are concerned that once successful, the TRG might be captured by other armed and political groups which would convert the transitional into a permanent revolutionary or authoritarian government.

From Understandable Indecision to Dangerous Apathy

Under these conditions, indecision is understandable. All the different options available are problematic. However, the continued lack of a viable alternative or the fear of what it would take to advance a viable alternative, is transforming the paralysis of the will by indecision to a paralysis of the will by apathy. Many Filipinos are starting to seek comfort in the “Bahala na!”, “what will be, will be” attitude. They are saying: “Come what may, I will just focus on what I am doing.”

However, a rude awakening will confront Filipinos in the near future. They will realize that their continued indecision, in essence, has transformed itself into apathy which is something totally different. With apathy, one has reached the point where it no longer matters whether Filipinos live in a democratic or a totalitarian society. In effect, Filipinos then surrender themselves to whatever form of government may come. For in the end, nothing truly matters.

Totalitarian Government: The Bitter Fruit of Apathy

When most citizens have moved from indecision to apathy, they will send an unmistakable signal to the egotistic political and military powers that feed on the darkness of fear and unconcern of citizens. With apathy, Pilipinos are signaling the on-set of a struggle of existence among the most powerful and often most ruthless elements of Philippine society. They will have sent the signal that they will not resist the imposition of a totalitarian form of government to resolve the crisis of governance plaguing the country.

Most people do not realize that Philippine society is facing a grave turning point in the next few months. If not enough citizens visibly show their deep concern about democracy in the country, the contesting political and military powers will interpret this silence as de facto assent for a forcible take-over of government. Apathy will therefore signal to the politicians and generals that Pilipinos are suffering from a democracy fatigue. Therefore they will not resist the imposition of a totalitarian government.

Deserving Democracy

As the saying goes, the price of freedom and true democracy is eternal vigilance. Filipinos need to nurture their democratic future through sacrifice and concrete deeds of defense and creative initiatives. This means, above all, dispelling indecision and apathy and stepping forward to share the burden of establishing a true democratic society.

The great Philippine hero, Jose Rizal, once said. “There are no tyrants if there are no slaves.” A rotten political system exists because citizens have allowed it to fester and decay all these years either thru neglect or indifference.

The next few months are critical. It will reveal whether Filipinos deserve democracy or whether they prefer to be the slaves of their fears and apathy, thereby allowing tyrants to emerge and suck the lifeblood of this country for their own gains.

No matter what happens, we will deserve it. For we will reap what we sow. When we sow apathy, we will reap a totalitarian government. When we sow vigilance and noble actions, we will deserve our democracy.