A strategic stance on democratic governance | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

A strategic stance on democratic governance

The Filipino nation, in its frustrating uncoordinated dance of collective actions, primarily operates on a short-term, one-year scale. Government agencies craft plans on this whimsical timeframe, with the General Appropriations Act serving as the tangible “North Star” and the Department of Budget and Management as the diligent shepherd. Come December, a lavish release of funds transforms posh hotels into festive venues, complete with an array of holiday-themed goodies deemed justifiable expenses.

There’s a growing realization of the necessity to plan for the short-term (three years), medium-term (five years), and long-term (10 or more years). This attempt at rationality collides with the disruptive logic of elections and government appointments, creating peaks and troughs in governance.

Elections, both local and national, become the tail wagging the government dog, offering a fleeting illusion of empowerment through the ballot. The intervening years witness politicians and bureaucrats showcasing achievements based on self-crafted performance criteria, leading to tactical inefficiency in governance.


Periodically, a visionary voice emerges, proposing shifts to federal or parliamentary governance. While these ideas resonate, they lack the operational details required to sway public opinion. This gap in tangible implications hinders informed decision-making.


Enter the “game of the long,” a concept borrowed from a Thai futurist advocating foresight and futures thinking. This involves consciously extending expectations and endurance for ongoing processes, recognizing that patience is crucial for transformative change.

Consider the West Philippine Sea issue that requires strategic patience in dealing with China’s persistent bullying. A succession strategy spanning multiple presidential terms is imperative to match China’s strategic stamina, especially when dealing with a “young” senior like Xi Jinping, who might be around for another 18 years. In Filipino lingo, “ang pikon, talo” (Whoever loses their temper first, loses).

The corollary to this is to stay in the game. Take the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal—a decaying vessel requiring successful resupply attempts. Without a strong, undeniable long-term presence, each successful resupply now will be pointless.

The refreshing redirection of political will that President Marcos has shown toward international law regarding alliance-building over Rodrigo Duterte’s embrace of Chinese claims to the West Philippine Sea is only as far as the end of his term, and domestic forces of policy reversal are already hyperactive even without visible Chinese intervention.

Shifting to the game of the long calls for adopting the carabao’s patience and calmness or emulating the sacadas, virtual human carabaos seeking their place in the Philippine sun despite obstacles to their rightful entitlements by a social and political order that emulates Chinese behavior in the West Philippine Sea.

Over the next 20 years, what would spell success in meeting myriad challenges is internal resilience, the way our vision of democratic governance is achieved. In the Philippines, as elsewhere in the world, democratic institutions face challenges from authoritarianism, theocracy, and oligarchy. Our public intellectuals must help us navigate the future and protect and strengthen democracy against anti-democratic threats.


The Filipino nation needs to embrace foresight and future thinking, consciously playing the game of the long to navigate the intricate dance of governance and overcome the challenges that emerge in its collective journey. As Jane McGonigal puts it, “When something of massive consequence happens that no one predicted, we often say it was simply unimaginable. When we say something was unimaginable, usually it means we failed to point our imagination in the right direction.”

In the summary report on “Visions for Democracy” that the Institute for the Future and the National Democratic Institute published this year, they attempt to point us in the right direction by identifying the signals of democracy’s decline. One of the five signals is the “continued expansion of the use of “lawfare” to silence critics and stifle public debate in places like Turkey, Russia, Hungary, and the Philippines.

The other four where the country is not mentioned arguably have roots in the Philippines. These are the hundreds of new voting restriction laws in the United States after the 2020 election; institutional decay seen in survey results showing record-low trust in government; violent rhetoric and embrace of authoritarian leaders and leadership styles; and the hollowing out of civil society institutions in Hong Kong after the Chinese clampdown.

I can offer no better signal of our democratic predicament than Rodrigo Duterte, surveying his nihilistic handiwork, who now decries the lack of democratic opposition to the current administration.

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TAGS: democracy, governance, On The Move, political column

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