Democracy is about citizens

The advocacy for good governance is so pronounced in many countries and that is a story in itself. Advocacies are initiatives meant to counter imbalances caused by too much or too little of something. In other  words, there must have been a context of bad governance that then provoked good governance advocacies.

I also believe that partisan politics exacerbate the issue of good governance, meaning one faction claims it is representative of good governance while the opposite faction is not. Since every election I have witnessed, more than fifty years of them from my boyhood, the constant refrain is corruption. If corruption is prevalent, then good governance is as prevalently absent or neglectful.


Who can object to good governance? None, or none should. At the same time, when decades of good governance advocacies cannot produce the desired good governance, the advocacies and the way they are promoted must be seriously questioned. Just like advocacies for clean and honest elections when vote buying goes through the roof. Advocacies, in the end, are only as good as the impact they make.

I am beginning to think that good governance advocacies should be the focus of centralized or authoritarian governments. In this type of governance, the key player is truly the government. It is from a central or authoritarian government when power is sourced. If governance is bad, the whole country will feel and reflect it.


Democracies should be quite different. In a democracy, the power emanates from the people, the citizens. Governance is always necessary and important but cannot be more critical than the citizens itself. The source of power cannot be overpowered by lesser forces that only derive the power from it. In other words, in a democracy, the key is always the people. All begin and then flow from the people.

Which then leads me to question whether the Philippines is a democracy or seriously trying to be one. As far back as I can remember, the focus has always been on our leaders, whether in the public or private sector. Philippines governance seems to be feudalism doing a poor job at transitioning towards democracy. Both public and private sectors continue to highlight the need for good governance when there is disproportionate attention given to good citizenship. Yet, democracies are about citizens first and foremost.

It is no wonder that our people are weak, not only because many continue to be poor, but also because they have not transitioned from being feudal subjects to responsible citizens. The elite never welcomed the necessity of strengthening the citizens and that is why there is hardly any effective attempt to empower the mass. It takes statesmanship or refined ethical integrity to surrender historical advantage, especially to those who were of lower status in a feudal system. Enabling of the weak is a tedious human process not unlike rearing children towards their Independence. However, parents are usually eager to facilitate the development of their children while former feudal overseers may choose to take their time.

It’s been over seventy years since our Independence from the United States. My parents’ generation began the journey and now my grandchildren will soon be the dominant generation. For their sake, I hope there will be more awareness on the need of the people to better understand the requirements and principles of democracy. Democracy has become a trite term that remains a mystery to most Filipinos. Ask a simple question like, “What are the responsibilities and accountabilities of a Filipino citizen?” and most likely ordinary citizens will stammer in their answer.

Yet, democracy requires the people to be the source of power, and power here is not only authority. People are the major players in production, in peace & order, in all collective activities and contribution to the nation. How can people, then, be kept largely ignorant of their responsibilities and accountabilities without keeping the nation itself weak?

There have been tendencies to point to Lee Kuan Yew and Mao Tse Tung as examples of how strong leaders build nations in our region of the world. This is another propaganda that tries to uplift leaders at the expense of the people. People read books and the news; they, of course, see or hear Lee Kuan Yew and Mao Tse Tung. They do not see the Singaporean and Chinese people doing all the hard work, all the sacrifices, even to their full liberty just to raise their economic well-being. So two leaders became giants because they stood on the shoulders of their people. They would not have been able to do so if their people were not cooperative, if their people were not producing and simply asking instead.

I hope it is clear by now that an effective good citizenship campaign, from the earliest school years to full adulthood should be undertaken by the leadership of all fields, whether it be government or the private sector. What are more visible are NGOs doing many programs that they say are empowering women, empowering poor communities, etc. This is much more the obligation of major sectors, not NGOs. The capacity of NGOs are limited but the task is mainstream and national. Good citizenship should become a flagship movement and priority of both the public and private sectors. This is beyond a nationalist agenda; this is a patriotic obligation. If people have not been fired up with this understanding, those who know better in our society should not waste any more time focusing on this direction.


Is good governance necessary? Of course. But when it is the main focus of society, it deflects the greater need from being seen and understood. Good citizenship is the more crucial way to go. Good citizens can keep a nation afloat despite a weak government. Good citizens build and maintain strong institutions. And good citizens are the most powerful counterforce against bad governance. And maybe that is why there is no determination to build a strong citizenry.

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TAGS: citizens, democracy, Glimpses, governance, Jose Ma. Montelibano, politics
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