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COMMENTARY

The vacuum of power

01:00 AM November 14, 2016

An analysis of Philippine society and the many failures of its power structures more often than not is focused on the inability of the central bureaucracy to deliver what is expected from it. With this is the orthodox assumption that the burden must rest upon the national leadership. In this respect, the destiny of this nation has been perceived from the time of Manuel L. Quezon to Corazon Aquino, and now Rodrigo Duterte, to be in the hands of its president. This is inadequate and misleading. The problem must lie somewhere else.

First off, we cannot blame the Filipino for such kind of mindset. Our history books have taught us that the turning points in the course of any country’s history have always been that single courageous act of will of its leader—Napoleon Bonaparte during the French Revolution, Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War, and Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent protest to win India’s independence from British rule. For this reason, we have always looked up to someone who will deliver us from all our miseries and finally emancipate our people from many decades of oppression.

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Yet, the story of many a great men cannot really be the only story of a country’s march to freedom. History is also the story of millions of unknown men and women who struggle every single day in order to find meaning in life and to make the lives of other equally unknown mortals worth living. The inability of this nation to rise from the ashes of colonial subjugation is perhaps due to our failure to recognize the important role and contribution of the ordinary Filipino in nation-building.

The emphasis has always been on what every single citizen is entitled to. The ordinary Filipino never asks himself how important he or she is in transforming this society by being responsible as a citizen. People have rights, but for every right to be actualized, a corresponding duty must be fulfilled. A child has the right not to be hungry. His parents, in this regard, have a duty to feed their children. We have a right to a clean government. We therefore have the duty to be vigilant against corruption.

The vacuum of power in Philippine society does not lie at the top. It can only be found below it. The inefficacy of any administration to sustain its gains, whether social, political or economic, is due to its ineptitude in terms of strengthening the basics of modern democracy—respect for human dignity, the rule of law and subsidiarity. The Filipino does not only lack power—he or she is actually immobilized by systemic corruption, dynastic rule in the provinces that has outwitted the Constitution, and an indifferent public that casts a shadow of despair on all the dreams and aspirations of every poor Filipino out there.

Human poverty is not just the lack of resources. It is also about the helplessness of a people to choose freely a life they have a reason to value. Poor development outcomes are a result of the degradation of the power structures in the country. Inequality reveals the ills of persistent abuses and public officials who act with impunity. As a result, we have a protracted armed insurgency in many parts of the country that has caused disruption in the delivery of basic services to the poorest sectors of the population. The cunning ways, motives and interests of most of our legislators often disrupt rather than promote the cause of peace.

Many of those who are in power position their surrogates in elective posts in order to perpetuate their control and dominance. Indeed, our weak institutions reflect the latent omission of the ordinary citizen as a stakeholder in the state and its future. The exclusion of the poor Filipino in the equation of power remains to be the silent narrative that will bedevil us for generations to come.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden. He was trained in political party building in Bonn and Berlin, Germany, under the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

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