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Siling Labuyo: Liberalism in retreat in the Philippines, Part 3

This last part examines how the Liberal Party can rebuild its footing in an evolving fascist state under President Duterte, defend and restore the liberal order began by the Cory Aquino. The liberal democracy that President Cory Aquino kick started in 1986 was interrupted by several economic and political forces that were in play post-EDSA. Despite 12 years of rule between her and Fidel Ramos, liberalism in economic and political sense were not well developed through stabilizing and enduring policies particularly under a government beset by massive graft and corruption. President Noynoy Aquino’s term was an honest effort to redirect the trajectory to restore the reestablished order but he was not politically experienced and savvy enough to fully recognize the societal and governmental rot that eventually exposed his weak leadership. Focus on graft and corruption while important was more pro-forma and myopic considering the myriad other factors that was hindering the nation from fully taking off. To wit, the Liberal Party’s standard bearer in Mar Roxas, despite his pedigreed and impressive resume and the promise of more “Matuwid na Daan,” lost by a wide margin to a foul-mouthed city mayor with highly questionable character. It was bad omen and sure enough, the tragic character of the Duterte Administration is revealed after a year in office and the chaos that ensued in both domestic and foreign affairs. Singlehandedly, Duterte is like a wrecking ball threatening multiple fronts simultaneously while creating great damage to Philippine democracy and its standing before the world. Duterte’s victory represents visible symptoms of the deep unease with the current state of the nation beset by nationwide drug problem, widening gap between the rich and the poor, and the effects of globalization. The Philippines is already struggling to manage the twin challenges of aging and burgeoning population and economy that is overly dependent on OFW remittances, but the administration’s full-throated assault on democratic institutions will further stunt or even kill the growth of liberal democracy in the country by ushering in Duterte’s new neo-nationalism. Duterte has shaken up Philippine politics by reassessing long-standing alliances particularly with the U.S. and pursuing a naïve foreign policy favoring China’s military expansion in the South China Sea, making a mockery of human rights with a pliant Congress, accumulating enormous debt from China with his “Build, build, build” infrastructure program, vacillating on the Paris climate agreement signed by Aquino, and assaulting independent bodies of the government. Should he follow through or succeed on these provocative plans, Duterte will unleash forces beyond his control – perhaps a fascist state, sharpening the crisis of the liberal order. Which begs the question of what exactly is the liberal order that Filipinos are supposed to be fighting for? Why can’t a middle ground be found with the current administration? Defining such order is critical if the Liberal Party will be the vehicle and at the forefront of such fight. In a nutshell, liberalism espouses equal opportunity - the belief that public goods are benefits that apply to everyone and are denied to no one. At the national level, the Philippine government should provide many of these to their citizens: safety for people and property, economic infrastructure, a clean environment. In the absence of established capability such as in areas of shared global public goods—a clean climate, financial stability or freedom of the seas—the Philippines has relied on coalitions led by the largest power, which benefits the most from these goods and can afford to pay for them. Within these areas, our liberal policy makers ought to define and articulate what the LP’s stand is for people to fully understand the importance of where the party is coming from and where it wants to lead the country. Federalism is going to replace the current system of government (i.e. the Cory Constitution) given the ruling party’s super majorities in Congress. Voting outcome by a constituent assembly is fait accompli but it is at the national referendum where the liberal minded people can impact the shape and outcome of the federal form and its passage. Federalism per see is not anathema to liberal democracy but if the purpose of the Cha-cha is to perpetuate dictatorial power and muzzle the voice of the people by minimizing people’s representation then the people must resist. Given that, the LP must articulate its vision of how federalism ought to be and not just piss in the wind. The House’ Justice Committee’s hearing trying to establish probable cause for the Chief Justice’s impeachment exposed several Supreme Court justices ambitious sucking up to the appointing power by throwing Lourdes Sereno, their perceived nemesis under the bus. Whether Sereno stays or is impeached, the fact remains that the Supreme Court is no longer the last bastion of democracy in the Philippines. The Marcos burial, Sen. Leila de Lima’s continued incarceration, Martial Law 1 & 2, dismissal of graft cases among high visibility cases such as that of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo are portents of a rubber stamp judiciary. Between Arroyo’s and Duterte’s appointees, Duterte will be immune from prosecution and thus embolden to pursue his agenda despite objections from the Catholic Church and especially with a supportive military brass. Widespread drug addiction, insurgencies and general lawlessness in the Philippines worsened because LP advocates of liberal democracy assumed that the government need merely follow the alleged example of the individuals of another age who are supposed to have achieved community by codifying party agreements into law and by providing an agency of some kind for law enforcement. This assumption ignores the fact that machinery for the enforcement of law can be efficacious only when a community as a whole obeys its laws implicitly and a judicial system and a police force that are honest brokers. Such failure allowed Duterte widespread support for his no-nonsense approach to eradicating criminality by using the hammer. LP partisans in Congress will be helpless without the numbers in countering Duterte’s overtures in the democratic front. The lack of LP representation in government is the Achilles heel for this failure. This fight with Duterte is already lost because the LP lost sight of the future while in power. Instead of recruiting truly principled men and women, it followed the same techniques employed by their predecessors pirating those political butterflies eager to join the LP majority for political expediency. The LP has no established machinery or grassroots approach for instilling liberalism among the youth who are equally invested in their future. The LP must invest now in training youth leaders for the future. It must also simplify its party core beliefs for the majority of Philippine voters – the masa. While there’s flickering hope that the initiation of a review by the UN’s International Criminal Court (ICC) for Duterte’s alleged extra judicial killings (EJK) will get him charged criminally and hasten the collapse of his government but the likelihood of it being dismissed is likely. The ICC follows the principle that sovereign governments have the right to control their internal affairs and are given the opportunity to address the matter. In this case, the EJK Senate hearings will probably suffice. Duterte is certainly introducing damaging uncertainty into everything with his authoritarian approach. With liberalism in retreat, nobody knows what the future holds but what is certain is that liberal minded people must regroup now and rebuild a liberal base not only in politics but across the board spectrum of Philippine society. Reversing the current trend will take time but will be worth the effort.

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