De facto—make or break
I once thought that democracy once established would remain untouched and unharmed. Little did I know that any system can be buffeted at any time. We Commonwealth up to martial law babies forgot that the democracy in which we were born and bred was disrupted by three years of Japanese occupation and dealt such mortal blows by the Marcos regime as to defy full rehabilitation. Only now do we realize that freedom is not a freebie. It has to be fought for.
Here we are again with rumbles about a decaying democracy, in the eye of a revolving cycle of shades of feudalism-democracy-dictatorship. Feudalistic was our precolonial history. More feudalistic was our Spanish “400 years in the convent,” despite Christianity. Democracy with its priceless contribution of public education came and conquered. The Marcos dictatorship shook that democracy. Writ in blood are names of young martyrs such as Eman Lacaba, Lorena Barros, Ed Jopson (“Six Young Filipino Martyrs,” 1997).
Such political cycles are manmade, with leader and/or people contesting leadership. Feudalism has never really left us. A lingering longing for a “strong” leader, bogus or genuine, and conceded a sizeable measure of power, remains. The ease of slipping into extreme authoritarianism is ever present. Democracy, too, has never really left us, even at its most challenged and diluted forms. Thus, ours is a mixed political culture—good if enriching, bad if confusing.
So, is our democracy on the cusp of authoritarianism? Not “on the cusp,” critics say. It’s de facto; clearly here and now, accomplished and operational. Hide not in euphemisms; name it. “We are a police state”; “it’s martial law.” Too much; I still disagree.
Yet, a clear sign of creeping authoritarianism is fear. I love yellow, but I’m afraid to wear my bright yellow blouse. A young man is afraid to wear an Otso Diretso T-shirt; “baka ako madampot.” A housewife will vote “Str88” but won’t hang an Otso Diretso tarp on her gate; her address might be noted. The common man fears he might be the next extrajudicial killing. What media person does not fear? The air must be cleared.
The May elections are make or break. We need nothing less than an “upset” as in basketball. It is imperative to vote in at least five senators from the opposition, or the system of checks and balances disintegrates. Goodbye to another pillar of democracy, wobbly as it already is. The rest of Congress will run amuck over pork barrel like, well, pigs. It’s a free-for- all—no real parties, but father and daughter are each entitled to full lineups in which “honesty is not an issue”! Only in da Philippines.
As a people, the only citizenship function we do religiously is vote. Duty done. But we vote poorly. We vote by: name recall, popularity (show biz, sports figures), notoriety (plunder in millions, billions), song and dance (Bato said so), by the person who raises the hand. We vote dynasties and the corrupt in bundles—all of which have nothing to do with public service. Finally, do we, a people so pliable, “let surveys make up [y]our mind” (Business Matters, Opinion, 4/13/19)?
Winning on such low criteria and mountains of (whose) money makes us pine for the statures of Tañada, Diokno, Salonga, Pelaez, Padilla, Manglapus, Ninoy Aquino, et al. No apologies for my plug, but the closest we’ve come to that in decades is the solid slate of Otso Diretso.
But the stretch before election is zilch. Do we vet candidates for probity, capability, stand on issues, track record, requirements of the position? (See “Choosing senatorial candidates,” Artemio V. Panganiban, Opinion, 3/31/19). Too much trouble.
A few questions on game-changers: Dear millennials, how goes the battle in social media? Dear Church, when will the institution shake out of its inertia? Not yet “shook” enough by the 3.29-minute “Pres. Rodrigo Duterte talks about His Pe—s”? Will the People’s Choice Movement list of 10 top senatorial candidates be made “available… to dioceses, parishes…”? (“Mapping the future,” Business, 4/1/19).
Dear us, will we resist the war chest now reportedly flowing like a dam released? Will we stop being unwitting enablers to dictatorship by apathy? It’s bad enough that leaders fail us; it’s dumb to raise them to more power that is ours.
President Cory Aquino restored the structures of democracy, but its substance was ours to change. We botched it. Will the May elections be a repeat of Edsa 1? The future is ours to see. No to “que sera, sera.”
Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor and book editor; columnist since 1984 and contributor to the Inquirer since 1992.
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