The problem of Philippine democracy

05:07 AM August 14, 2017

The prominent “divide and conquer” rule, employed to the fullest extent by our colonial masters against a disunited population yet to develop a sense of nationhood, was meant to hasten the domination of the Philippine archipelago. But given our present state of affairs, it may no longer be necessary to emphasize political divisions and our social fragmentation. In fact, the presence of criminal elements and terrorist organizations appears to justify the use of violence in order to quell and prevent further violence.

Any country that is not at peace will not find it difficult to silence reason and dialogue. In this respect, a strong state appears to be the most important element in confronting every social ill that bedevils us. It will not matter to the majority how their leader will do things against the enemies of the state. To them, the use of force is a political necessity in order to effect radical reform in society. President Duterte knows all too well that politics is different from moral discourse. In dealing with the communist insurgency, for instance, he understands that real politics is not about negotiations or agreements, but of the effective use of persuasion


Not too long ago, Filipinos restored their democracy without bloodshed. They fought and toppled the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos to put an end to an abusive regime that had plundered the nation’s wealth. But it can be said that President Corazon Aquino did not succeed in rebuilding the institutions of the country. This failure is due to the fact that as in the presidencies before hers, the power of the office found its limits in the influence of the oligarchy. In the same manner that President Manuel Quezon was not able to break up large estates in order to liberate the Filipino peasantry, President Cory, too, failed in her effort to implement authentic land reform.

Since the time of President Quezon, politics in the Philippines has not been insulated from the submissive requirements of a patronage system that dates back to the Spanish period. Vicente Rafael writes that “the patron-client relationship between God and king has a long history, stretching back to the Reconquista of the Middle Ages… With the Spanish conquest of the New World, the relationship was institutionalized in the form of Royal Patronage.” The Spanish regime exploited the Filipino not only by means of tributes and bribes, but by elevating a privileged class of mestizos called principales, the precursor of our modern-day politicos.


Democratic consolidation is impossible because the majority of our elected officials have the same motive when it comes to perpetuating themselves in their positions of power. Social exclusion has become a basic fact of life in a society where political discourse is left in the hands of a cultured class that labels the masses as outsiders. Exclusive schools and gated communities are a testament to the desire of the middle class not to bother itself with the problems of the common man. This exclusion extends to Philippine culture, history and geography. Renato Constantino wrote that “throughout the Spanish occupation, the Muslims were not considered part of the developing society and was treated as foreign territory.”

Maybe most Filipinos have long abandoned the idea of a consensus and are resigned to the permanence of moral disagreements. We therefore need to move beyond politics and begin enacting policies that empower those who have been pushed to the margins of society. Of course, it is admirable to hear a leader say that the destiny of his people is his responsibility, and his alone. But the problem of Philippine democracy cannot be the President’s singular burden. We need to have that unified moral vision as a society if we must save the soul of this nation.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He was trained at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Bonn and Berlin, Germany.

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