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Democracy’s essence is freedom of choice

There are no shortcuts to good governance. Systemic problems require structural solutions. But the political scenario in our country, as usual, is that of a patient in the emergency room. Any mature electorate understands that the fundamental problem of democracy in the country is not about who is doing what in the government, but whether or not the right systems are in place. In any functional democracy, no person who loves his or her country will want to elect a corrupt or incompetent politician in the same manner as someone who loves his or her spouse will not want a magician in the delivery room.

The Philippines is a witness to decades of the same old brand of politics. Unless every poor child will have the opportunity to finish college from a good school, be voted into office, and thereby implement programs that will address the concerns he or she had before, then we are far from being the kind of society our great men and women of the timeless past have envisioned this country to be. Right now, most politicians often trumpet motherhood statements proclaiming love of country and the desire to serve the Filipino people, but they do so by turning a blind eye to the real root cause of the ills in Philippine society.

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Millions of people perpetually suffer not only because the government lacks resources. A clinical analysis of our problems will also point to culture and the kind of politics it so defines. Corruption kills. It kills without remorse because the money that is supposed to be spent on medicines to save a poor person’s life is diverted to the purchase of another’s personal luxury. We need a new breed of committed and intelligent young people in our bureaucracy to voice dissent against corruption. But right now, big corporations control not only our natural resources but also our human resources.

According to Jose V. Abueva, our country is politically weak because it suffers from the malady of transactional leadership. The aim of Ferdinand Marcos in imposing martial law was to take control of the economy. He demanded loyalty, and loyalty was rewarded, at the expense of the human rights of people whose lives were sacrificed. But Marcos did not steal alone. His cronies saw to it that laws, rules and policies were favorable to the greatest thievery in history.

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Corazon Aquino had every opportunity to change this country. But she fell short. Paul Hutchcroft and Joel Rocamora write that “despite the major changes, the political system that Aquino reconstructed with the 1987 Constitution restored many political institutions that can be traced to the 1935 Constitution, most importantly a presidential form of government that went back to the political system built by the American colonial authorities and Filipino leaders.”

The solutions to our social and economic problems lie in the effective and efficient functioning of our institutions. People empowerment means that ordinary citizens are given the opportunity to make intelligent judgments in the electoral process. The essence of any democracy is freedom of choice, which is at the very core of one’s political existence—the consent of the people to be governed.

The rights of others not to be excluded from development mandates that political arrangements must work for the full realization of the happiness of the least advantaged. But the issue, it can be said, is not really poverty, but the concentration of wealth in the hands of the elite. The cruel truth is that the biggest obstacle in realizing the ends of a just society is that our politicians owe a thing or two to their rich financiers. Patronage has become the very instrument to ensure that those who are in power, both in business and in politics, perpetuate themselves. While our foreign conquerors have left us a long time ago, those to whom they entrusted the government of this nation continued to take advantage of their privileged position while keeping the poor in their obscure living conditions.

What we have right now is a tyranny of emerging pharaohs coming from the ruling class, the all too familiar names from landed families who have made governance a profitable business. This dominant social order in the country has wrongly defined its political culture. In principle, a good government is meant to serve the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized. But in our case, the lives of people have become secondary to the personal glories of our leaders.

Lynn T. White mentions how our country’s neighbors have grown exponentially by distributing power to the countryside while the Philippines has erroneously concentrated its decision-making and economic resources in the capital. That is correct. But many of our problems are not only due to the absence of foresight on the part of our leaders. A lot of our leaders actually lack basic moral principles. For this reason, they do not possess the moral integrity to be of service to the people.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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