WORM’S EYEVIEW: The Pathetic State of Our Democracy

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/23 April) — It’s really too bad that we’ve passed up so many opportunities to entrench the democratic spirit and institutionalize democratic habits and practices in our society, especially at grassroots level, and more so in Mindanao.

Had our leaders and putative shakers taken this task seriously ever since the formal recognition of our independence in 1946, by now we would perhaps have become the exemplars of the democratic system in the developing world, perhaps even be a developed and more progressive nation.

We’ve had so many elections, inaugurated freedom and independence countless times, held numberless rituals extolling democracy; but for lack of vision, leadership, political will, and sustained affirmative action to institutionalize them we’re still stuck on trial-and-error mode.

Like the legend of Sisyphus, we’re ever trying to scale the heights, backslide to starting point, and back to dreaming.

The biggest opportunity we fumbled was EDSA ‘86 and the post-Martial Law period. It awakened such primal instincts in us to excel, individually and collectively, to become a beacon to peoples yearning for freedom and good governance. We even sponsored the first-ever Conference of Newly-Restored Democracies, with President Cory no less as keynote speaker.

Alas, it turned out to be ningas cogon, a pentecostal outpouring as fleeting as the weekend it took to hold it. It could have been the perfect opportunity to start over. Flush with the spectacular success of EDSA, we could have seized the day, refocused the beam of democracy, and marched resolutely to the Promised Land of a people-powered, democratic, and progressive polity.

But we naively left the task of harnessing the societal fervor to the Yellow Forces; we actually expected heroic performance from them, cleansing our system, banishing the excesses of the past from it. Trustingly, we relegated to them the task of building a righteous and just government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

But no such heroics took place; a pity, because, drunk with heady optimism then, even rabid ambition moved most everyone to gamble on a new dispensation to the extent of subordinating ego for the common good.

At the time, you could feel the fervor and the patriotism surge through the many triumphal gatherings and parties held among former street parliamentarians here and abroad. It was exemplified in the bonhomie that characterized post-EDSA camaraderie among far-left, far-right, and middle forces who congregated to celebrate. You would bump into the likes of Jose Ma. Sison, Bernabe Buscayno, Linggoy Alcuaz, Nelia Sancho, Charles Avila, Victor Corpus, Cesar Arellano, Steve Psinakis, among others; and even Norberto Gonzales, Nur Misuari, Nikki Coseteng, Parouk Hussin, Jun Magsaysay, Raul Manglapus, Joe Concepcion, even Doy and Celia Laurel, and so on.

But, I guess, “once-an-oligarch, always-an-oligarch” unless there is massive and determined vigilance by people with a keen sense of sovereignty.

No sooner did the celebrations cease than swarms of oligarchs and political entrepreneurs descended upon Malacañang and Congress and the rest of the bureaucracy. What we thought was the restoration of democracy and the rise of idealism and statesmanship morphed into what turned out to be a retaking of privilege: a reinstatement of the sense of entitlement among the already wealthy and privileged.

The reign of greed and dynasty and money reasserted itself and took advantage of the unguarded triumphal euphoria. What privilege or advantage Martial Law had snatched from the inheritors of the cacique system reverted to those that previously held the monopoly.

So it is not surprising that basically the same faces, the same dynasties, and the same spirit of acquisitiveness and cupidity in Marcos’s “New Society” would return, recover previous advantages, and ultimately dominate as they do today.

One need not look beyond the laughable party system to understand how bastardized politics has become. Except for the mountain-bound Communist claque, no group claiming to be a party exists today except in the minds and pockets of their putative leaders. The so-called United Nationalist Alliance, for example, is not really a political party, as are the Liberal and Nacionalista “parties”—which are basically the personal vehicles of their patrons and financiers.

It’s a pathetic political situation given the presence of so qualified, experienced people in academe, the professions, and countless civil society groups.

Actually it is they who failed to take the cue; it is they and their institutions that failed our society. Somehow they forgot that to be able to act effectively in a democracy, citizens must address social problems with social solutions, political problems with political solutions, and disorganization with organized approaches by organized individuals.

But they left the task of conceptualizing and mobilizing a new structure and system for post-EDSA society to the melee of a free-for-all laissez faire competition. This ensured that only the most aggressive and entrepreneurial of politicos would prevail and dominate, effectively turning politics and democracy into a transactional arena.

Manny among others is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of Philippines, member of the Philippine Mission to the UN, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. [email protected]