For all intents and purposes, President Rodrigo Duterte is on the driver’s seat and is holding firmly to the wheel. Sometimes you really don’t know what to make of him. An enigma of sorts, Duterte continues to bedevil his opponents and seems to be two steps ahead of his perceived enemies. The opposition’s gambit to be a critic instead of engaging in critical collaboration with the administration will continue to misfire and backfire for the simple reason that their premise is wrong.
The opposition’s premise is that Duterte is a threat to Philippine democracy and must be neutralized or eliminated with the administration’s extra judicial killings, kowtowing with Chinese leaders (vis-à-vis selling out on the South China Sea territory grab), persecution of opposition leaders, etcetera as exhibits A, B, C, and D. This premise is evident by Vice President Leni Robredo’s actions and pronouncements along with the rest of the Liberal Party leadership.
A better approach will be joining the administration in championing the conversion to federalism. Don’t laugh but hear me out and you will understand why. Defending against a perceived assault on democracy is a lost cause because democracy around the world has been in retreat for decades. The golden era of democratic bloom after the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 80’s is over. It is pointless, therefore, for the Philippines to continue to hold on to a form of government that has proven ill-suited for the Philippine situation.
Philippine democracy is patterned before the Republican form of government that the United States has experimented on. The ascendancy of President Donald Trump exposed the limits of such form of government as frustrated Democrats, despite holding the majority in the Lower House watch in dismay as Trump embarrasses himself before the world stage. His obvious compromised situation does not even stop him from cavorting with strongmen that are enemies of the United States. There is gridlock and Washington that promises to unleash economic recession that will have global implications. If Trump’s mission is to destroy the United States to please Russia’s Vladimir Putin, then he is succeeding.
The Philippine copycat constitution has proven its inability to stop corruption in all levels of government and actually guaranteed the success of capitalism at the expense of the Filipino poor. Philippine democracy has devoured itself and the opposition wants to keep it alive. Zoom out to 30,000 feet and tell me what you see? Cory Aquino’s Philippine democracy experiment has been a failure because it has not delivered on its promise of uplifting the poor. Instead, it brought untold misery to the poor with lack of healthcare, thriving political dynasties and unparalleled corruption in government, Filipinos scattered in Diasporas, and God knows what else. Is this what the opposition is fighting for?
In a democracy, the responsibility for self-rule lies with the people. We the people have proven to be inept in running a democracy much like in other parts of the world thus it is our fault that the likes of tight-wing populists like US Donald Trump, Digong Duterte, UK’s Boris Johnson, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro , and others have come to power in response to a dysfunctional democratic government. Why? Because they provide simple answers to complicated questions.
When Donald Trump promised a wall on the US southern border to keep illegals out, disenfranchised voters were able to relate to it because it supported their own biases regarding immigration. When asked what he will do regarding the widespread illegal drug trade and use in the Philippines, Digong said, “I’ll kill them all!” People loved it because they see and feel it every day the scourge of illegal drug use. Boris Johnson’s response to Brexit was to suspend the Parliament so he exercise his executive powers to deliver a hard Brexit.
Keeping a working democracy is hard work and there lies the very essence of why democratic governments are failing. Democracy requires a lot from every citizen to keep it functional. When the people keep electing politicians who are only interested in getting rich and staying in power, we produce a corrupt government despite how well meaning the leader is. The fact that the Philippines has lost its middle class is a testament to the failure of the Philippine experiment.
We have our own biases and that is how we color our world. Democracy requires that each citizen value other people’s opinion and respect the diversity of its people. Filipinos think highly of America but not for China. The Philippines was colonized by the Americans and therefore the goodwill is reflected in how we perceive Americans. The Chinese, however, are perceived as only taking advantage of the poor with their business empires in the country. Thus, it reflects on how the Chinese actions are seen in the South China Sea despite the help it is giving to the Duterte administration. It’s pure racism but when you’re floating in a sea of problems every day, it’s hard to think straight.
The Philippine form of government, much like the US shows the limits of democracy when a strong president takes control of government as it voids the check and balance envisioned by the constitution. Their xenophobia, racism, and authoritarianism is a product of such imbalance because the guardrails that were put in place has become inutile. The Philippine Supreme Court upheld Duterte’s Martial Law declaration in Mindanao twice. Did Cory Aquino ever envisioned this?
Before, the elites kept talking about the majesty of democracy and have defended it from perceived “undemocratic” assault. These elites are the very people at the top of the economic, political, and intellectual pyramid who are vested in protecting democracy for themselves. But there is a downside to the very freedom the elites have been protecting for the “people” as it now turns back to haunt them. Easy access to the social media has empowered the people’s exercise of the freedom of speech but such exercise is fraught with dangers from fake news and misinformation that social media habitués tend to easily “like” and “share” without much thought.
Federalism offers an opportunity for the opposition to change the trajectory of Philippine democracy by decentralizing government and minimizing the reach of a powerful president. Each regional state is free to chart its own course and local dynasties will have to fight it out for such representations.
Clearly, there are more to learn about federalism but it would take a hard decision on the part of the opposition leader to think strategic and see the value of going all in for this form of government. Everybody seems to accept the fact that the Bangsamoro autonomy will bring about deliverance to the Moro people. Federalism guarantees such autonomy to every regional state. Why not set aside politics for now and truly think of the majority of Filipinos who are poor instead of the elites who loves the misery of the Filipino people while perhaps changing their political fortunes?