The patchwork state | Inquirer Opinion

The patchwork state

It matters to ask, according to Patricio Abinales, why the American era in the Philippines (1898-1935) did not produce any of the likes of Rizal, Mabini, or Jacinto. Instead, Philippine society simply saw the emergence of an elite class of  ilustrado politicians who would then govern the country for decades. The children of the same people will perpetuate the dynastic order of politics in the country. Manuel L. Quezon is considered our first traditional politician. While he may not have created any dynasty, he actually provided the impetus for it.

Since the time of Quezon, Philippine politics has been defined by self-serving interests. This is apparent in the unwarranted privileges that are wrongly enjoyed by the few. It simply reveals why the country is a patchwork state. According to Abinales, in a patchwork state the interests of politicians overlap with the legitimate work of the government. As a result, those in the margins are not only excluded from progress but also bear the burden of the lack of foresight in the basic structure.


In this postcolonial era, the two poles in the Philippine political landscape have only made manifest that political parties are competing against one another for relevance. But due to a lack of strong leadership and an alternative order of things to present so as to convince the public, the opposition may have caused its own insignificance. And so, as it was in the past, government decisions are not a matter of principle but, for the most part, merely a question as to who has the numbers in Congress.

If the country must rise from the ashes of its postcolonial struggles, then it must embrace that level of civility worthy of the dignity of the Filipino. Society must avoid the kind of malignancy that political provocateurs bring to the public space. The agora of dialogue should not be poisoned. As a matter of principle, it is only by means of reason, not by force, that any society can realize social justice. In fact, institutional reform is a nonnegotiable principle in state- and nation-building.


Moral solidarity is crucial. Without a common, yet pluralist, vision, there is no way forward. Politics should be grounded on ethical virtues, philosophers say. If power corrupts in an absolute way, then only moral virtue can transform any society. For the most part, we are that kind of democracy that is only good on the surface. The socioeconomic order remains dominated by an old order that has persisted in its mastering the division of the spoils of colonial conquest.

Perhaps, we are at that point in time in which we are forced to witness whether or not our gamble on the radical leadership of one man is right. In fact, it is not just the frustrations we experienced in the past, and are continuing to feel, that have given rise to the new level of antagonism now pervading politics. The democratic deficits in the country have been quite obvious. But the biggest catastrophe of any modern democracy is when people forget that the task of building a nation should never be left to politicians.

No society has flourished because of political correctness. It is impossible to do away with conflict in politics; there will always be a clash of ideologies. But it is not a question of who holds power in the state. Rather, it is a question of maturity in terms of understanding power. In a patchwork state, the people accept things for what they are. They are often content and will no longer ask questions. But we have been forewarned. In the words of the great Benjamin Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He was trained in democracy and governance at the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Germany. Ateneo de Davao University recently awarded him a research grant on a writing project titled “Radical Democracy in the Time of Duterte.”

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