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A democracy of intellectuals

12:23 AM January 11, 2016

THE PROBLEM with politics in the Philippines is that we, the Filipino people, do not decide our future collectively as a nation. It is often left in the hands of the elite. And yet, the tragic consequences of their wrong decisions are suffered by the majority. We can point to various structural solutions that must be put in place, but the greater difficulty that we actually have in our immature democracy is cultural rather than technical. Dr. Clarita Carlos rightly says that “elections are the bedrock of democracy.” But the greater question that should really bother us as a nation is this: Democracy for whom?

Politics in the Philippines is a way of life. In this sense, in order to understand what Philippine politics is all actually about, we need to understand our way of life. It is a way of life that is inseparable from our everyday mode of thinking. The individual often dismisses the pronouncements of those who are in positions of authority because what they say often doesn’t create an impact on one’s life. The only thing that really matters politically to the individual is the opinion that affects his or her personal life.


The Metro Rail Transit, for instance, has never been a political issue, not until it made manifest the incompetence of those who are in the bureaucracy. This became clear the moment people felt the huge discomfort caused by an inefficient mass transport system. What is simply a matter of regularity, in terms of maintenance for technologically advanced societies in the West, is a nightmare to thousands in a Third World country like ours. But the problem is not only technical. The problem is the way we do things.

Let me elaborate. The “Broken Windows Theory” has been effectively employed in some developed societies by technocrats. What the theory teaches is that anything that is found to be broken, say a door knob, should be fixed immediately. It is not only for aesthetic value. The basic idea is that the moment we take for granted those little things, our problems will soon multiply. But the concern is not really the tiny details that we need to attend to. If and when those who should be responsible disregard things because they consider them small problems, such leads to a bad attitude. This will then infect people. And this bad attitude will eventually corrupt the whole system.


Radim Sip speaks about a laborer who has read only one book in his entire life and who has been working in a factory in all of his adult years. The normal state of things is that nobody will listen to the opinion of this man. But Sip argues that even this poor man can inspire others if he does an unexpected move in a certain situation that solves a problem. What is necessary is to transform this action into “an intelligent behavior that will clear away some obstacles.”

Many leaders often underestimate the capacities of their subordinates. This being the case, decision-making has become the monopoly of those who think they know everything and, yet, are often exonerated when things get broken.

Democracy is not only for intellectuals. A democracy that is based on the ideas of a limited few only creates an irreparable divide in society. It simply advances hegemonic relations that further alienate ordinary people from important decision-making processes that affect their lives. When our leaders only say things as a matter of political correctness, and yet do not actually use their power for the collective interest, then the furtherance of the common good suffers. But it is not only our government officials who are guilty of this. A patriarchal system has created little tyrants in the many domains of Philippine society. A lot of resources have been used to build empty towers rather than support the future of our children.

The man on the street with a very good idea is often silenced because he feels that he is not in the position to say anything. The mighty podium is often dominated by a few, including those who claim to be men of God, whose depth of opinion is not only boringly questionable, but more often than not, results in monstrous blunders. Indeed, glorifying the achievements of the advantaged few in our society causes more despair than happiness. It highlights the ability of one or two, but it hides the latent inequalities in the social hierarchy that has stifled the self-realization of many.

The only way for Philippine democracy to truly mature is for us to allow those in the margins of society to speak their mind. It is not our job to fulfill the ambition of one person so that he or she will find his or her destiny and claim a piece of our history as a nation. This is what we have been doing for a very long time but with disastrous results.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of Philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in Applied Ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. His most recent publication, “Consumerism and the Post-9/11 Paranoia: Michel Foucault on Power, resistance and Critical Thought,” is in the Philosophical Quarterly of Israel.

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