COMMENTARY: More work after May 9

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/04 May) — The crazy festive mood of this year’s election season commenced when the Archangel Lucifer, the Far East Hitler, an Intergalactic Space Ambassador and a host of other peculiar characters stepped out of the woodwork to join the race for the nation’s next head of state.

The spokesperson of Comelec asserts the record turnout of nuisance candidates in this year’s presidential election merely affirms the Philippines’ “vibrant democracy”.

Philippine elections are indeed vibrant but only in the sense that it is full of scandal and intrigue. Presidential candidates in particular, thrive on the divisiveness of the electoral process. Thus, personal attacks on one another is not unusual. In fact, the level of negativity has gone nuclear now that we are at the tail end of the campaign period.

A recent editorial in one of the country’s leading newspapers summarized this year’s presidential contest accurately: “What should be the careful, judicious act of choosing the best person to lead and represent the nation has degenerated, in many ways, to bringing out the worst in many voters, stoked by campaigns that rely on hysteria and misinformation rather than sober fact and analysis.”

Given the lamentable state of our politics, it is very easy to be critical, even skeptical, about Philippine democracy as many pundits and commentators are. Perhaps however, it is unfair to condemn the country’s democratic credentials given its juvenile status as a free republic.

The Philippines is a relatively young nation, as historian Luis H. Francia posits in A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos, having commenced the path of constitutional democracy as an independent nation-state only in 1946.

But note that this democratic evolution was interrupted by 14 years of dictatorship under Martial Law. The damage to the country’s political culture caused by this dark period is already well-documented. Suffice to say, this era of tyrannical rule set the growth of Philippine democracy back by at least 40 years. Hence, “biologically” Philippine democracy is essentially still in an adolescent phase.

Therefore, instead of characterizing democracy in the Philippines as being on its death throes, the more appropriate evaluation is that Filipinos have a lot of catching up to do as far as consolidating democracy is concerned. More importantly, there are two recent developments which would indicate the country is on the right evolutionary path.

First, the recognition by Reporters Without Borders of the media’s work as a staunch fiscalizer of government. This role is particularly important during elections because voters rely heavily on press reports on campaign developments. Even Press Secretary Coloma admits this reality as his team struggles to rationalize their candidate’s laggard standings in the surveys.

While press freedom is truly sacrosanct in the Philippines, it is still not a journalism utopia. Some industry players have close ties with politicians so media engagement in politics is not always without fear nor favor. Moreover, the Philippines is still considered one of the most dangerous places for journalists. Clearly, there is still serious work to be done in this regard.

Nevertheless, freedom of expression and press liberty are very much alive and cherished in the Philippines. Filipinos know that these two are indispensable components of democratic rule. And no one will never ever give up these freedoms again.

Second, the recognition of the Philippines as the best place in Asia for civil society organizations (CSOs) to survive and thrive. This distinction is particularly relevant in light of the role CSOs have taken up in our political system.

According to the Caucus of Development NGO networks (Code-NGO), CSOs are now treated by the public, even by government, as “watchdogs and partners in service delivery.” The undertaking of this task was on full display in this campaign.

First in the strong and emotional public statement issued by academics from the Ateneo de Manila University against Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and his campaign machinery for “re-packaging” the impact of Martial Law.

Notably, many schools have declared support for the Ateneo statement against the audacity of the dictator’s son to evade culpability for the tragedies of Martial Law. Indeed, the demand to ensure this horrific period in Philippine history is never forgotten is gaining new momentum.

More importantly, this particular mobilization galvanized public animosity against Ferdinand, Jr. And many commentators attribute his declining position in surveys to this phenomenon.

Another good example of CSO activism is the National Youth Congress on Food, Nutrition, and Ecological Agriculture organized by Greenpeace Philippines last November 2015 to provide the proper forum for youth leaders from all over the Philippines to exhort all five presidential candidates to give our nation’s food security the attention it deserves.

This call rings loud in the face of the unforgivable tragedy that transpired recently in Kidapawan City. It is a harsh reminder that food scarcity is by far the most frightening prospect facing the Philippines.

To conclude, the political dramas will continue even after Filipinos cast their votes on May 9. A new president will be elected but if survey results are reliable predictors, he or she will only have a minority mandate.

There will be howls of protest for sure from the losers. Their supporters will no doubt try to fill up EDSA again while their lawyers bombard the courts with all sorts of motions and pleadings.

But the fact is, majority of Filipinos have grown weary with street rallies. So the chances of having an EDSA 4 is close to nil. And everybody knows the wheels of Philippine justice moves so slowly that many will most likely just wait for any legal action to run its normal course. Hence, eventually everyone else will soon be preoccupied with the business of government.

And the broader community can find further assurance from the experts’ assessment that the economy will continue to do well, no matter the outcome of the elections. Indeed, Filipinos are fully aware of the gains achieved through the past years and are very eager to build on them even further.

On this score the full spectrum of media and CSOs need to ramp up its watchdog advocacies in to order to keep politicians in the straight and narrow. The biggest challenge now is to rally more Filipinos to dedicate themselves to this task. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective. He researches on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.)