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To kill a ‘democracy’

/ 12:07 AM February 26, 2016

We just can’t seem to get our act together. Edsa I provided an excellent opportunity to radically transform our society during that euphoric year when a “freedom constitution” allowed for revolutionary change. But instead of seizing that historic chance, our leaders backpedaled and chose to just play the old game of musical chairs: by restoring a previous oligarchic system masquerading as a democracy, after kicking out a corrupt plutocratic regime.

One could objectively say that since the Philippines became independent in 1946, political power and economic power have been wielded by no more than 100 families coalescing around several dominant rival political clans. This palpable reality militates against positive, long-lasting and inclusive development. Edsa I was therefore a failed midwife to that elusive social reformation for which the Filipino people have been clamoring since independence.

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As a consequence of leadership failure during that critical post-Edsa period when a de facto revolutionary constitution allowed, indeed mandated, sweeping national change, the following irreducible minimum requirements for reforms were virtually put under lock and key: genuine comprehensive agrarian reform, abolition of political dynasties, decentralization of major cities such as gridlocked Metro Manila, restructuring of the bloated and inept bureaucracy, building world-class air and sea ports, providing efficient public transport networks, upgrading educational and intellectual institutions, and refocusing excessively landlocked socioeconomic programs seaward, as dictated by the Philippines’ archipelagic character and bountiful marine resources.

True, the Philippines has been getting good ratings lately from international investment houses. But let’s not delude ourselves: Those passing grades reflect mostly elite progress, not a trickling of substantial wealth down the economic pyramid. The Philippines, with some 30 million people still in the poverty range, lacks a strong middle class to be considered a real, vibrant democracy. Ours is a center barely holding despite the remittances of millions of overseas Filipino workers.

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Indeed, the circus atmosphere of our personality-driven, dynast-led, patron-dependent electoral process, where “guns, goons and gold” still hold sway, is a mockery of democracy. To exalt the popular votes of such a corrupt process as the very “voice of God,” as some influential justices and opinion-makers describe it, is an insult to common sense, wisdom and the divine Maker.

As if those demeaning features were not enough, government bodies such as the Commission on Elections have lent their considerable weight to the continuing assault on whatever democracy we have left.

Let’s consider two late-breaking issues:

Rappler’s suit at the Supreme Court on Feb. 19 against Comelec Chair Andres Bautista for his highly questionable move to limit election coverage to the big established media networks, and the agency’s vacillation on Manny Pacquiao’s scheduled megafight with Timothy Bradley on April 9.

According to Rappler, Bautista’s “grant of exclusive broadcast rights to the presidential and vice presidential debates to the nation’s largest commercial television companies and their chosen partners is out of touch with reality.” Its rationale is that Bautista’s decision inflicted heavy collateral damage on smaller media firms, such as Rappler, an online news agency.

The wider damage appears to be on the estimated 48 million Filipinos who get their daily news from tablets, smartphones and computers. That’s close to 25 million registered voters that belong to the 18-34 age group, or about 46 percent of the Philippines’ total registered voters. To deprive them of maximum election  news is to deny them information and insights that could make them better informed citizens.

It’s understandable for large networks to aggressively pursue their commercial objectives, but as the constitutional body that administers elections, the Comelec should not abdicate its responsibility to ensure equal access to all parties. This is the first time since the post-Marcos era that a government agency awarded exclusive rights to a public event, including the power to police all media, to the titans of television.

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On the Comelec’s wishy-washy approach to the coming Pacquiao-Bradley fight, former party-list representative Walden Bello has a good point. “This globally and nationally televised fight a month before the elections would mean hours and hours of coverage before, during, and after the fight. This media attention, supplemented by national pay-per-view television coverage during the fight, would be massive free advertising that would give Pacquiao a tremendous advantage against most of the other candidates in the race for the Senate,” Bello said in a recent statement, suggesting that Pacquiao either postpone the fight or risk being disqualified from the senatorial elections.

Bello, a senatorial candidate, should make good on his threat to file a disqualification case against the controversial fighter from Sarangani, if only to prod the next Congress to amend the 1985 Omnibus Election Code so that candidates who are celebrities are banned from unfairly exploiting their fame through sports events, movies and similar appearances during the 90-day election campaign period.

Killing a fledgling democracy doesn’t have to be done with one lethal stroke, as Ferdinand Marcos did in September 1972, when he issued Proclamation 1081 which plunged the country under martial law. It can be done slowly but with the same result through a hundred little cuts in the right places.

Narciso Reyes Jr. ([email protected]) is an international book author and former diplomat. He lived in Beijing in 1978-81 as bureau chief of the Philippine News Agency.

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TAGS: Comelec, democracy, Edsa People Power Revolution, Manny Pacquiao, presidential debate
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