We talk a lot about Philippine society being a “democracy” — that our government, being run by people elected by popular vote represents the majority will and, presumably, are motivated by the interests of the broader Filipino public and seek to put the wellbeing of their constituents above their personal interests.
We are also told that the media is our hallowed channel of “truth” — that it is “free” to report the news factually and that its opinion-shapers are at liberty to take a personal position on any issue of public consequence and seek to enlighten their readers by articulating their insights on these matters.
We are told that our actions, decisions, and the framework with which we evaluate moral and ethical questions should be guided by our Constitution; and that our body of laws that lend their ascendancy to that charter is applied to all equally with no prejudice on the basis of class, skin colour, birth place, and appearance.
Finally, we are told that a Congress of legislative officials serve as author and custodian of this body of laws and that each of its members represents (by virtue of their being elected by popular vote) the interests of the people in the formulation and maintenance of these laws.
Supposedly then, everything is on our side!
We are governed by people we chose, represented in the formulation of laws we are subject to by representatives we elect, and kept informed by an industry sworn to uphold the truth and motivated by a desire to enlighten.
Why then does it seem that a tiny minority of Philippine society is favoured by this system while the greater majority is marginalised as evident today in the inequalties around how economic power is distributed, political influence is wielded, and opportunity is granted?
This, it seems, is the most difficult question Filipinos face as we have invested heavily — no, dearly — in this adventure called “democracy”. The key derivative quesiton is even more confronting:
Has democracy failed the Filipino people?
At this point, perhaps it is important that we postulate the notion of what success means; thus the question,
What does it mean to be a successful democracy?
One way to answer the question is to take stock of the quality of our politicians. The timing is good to explore this question using this approach because Filipinos are currently down the once-every-six-year road towards electing the next person to occupy the most powerful office in the land. So just looking at the current crop of presidential hopefuls, are we able to tell ourselves that, yes, our investment in this system of governance called “democracy” was worthwhile seeing that the quality of the people before us vying for our votes has improved?
Suffice to say, our politicians are but products of this democratic journey. One would think that Filipinos will have collectively learned lots of lessons over this 70-year journey (interrupted briefly, we are told, by the martial law years of former President Ferdinand Marcos). In principle, said learning will have contributed towards continuously refining the manner with which the system breeds our politicians, so much so that every generation of said politicians are better than the previous.
Is this the case, looking at what we have today?
On good days, democracy gives Filipinos an opportunity to choose amongst qualified options. On really bad days, Filipinos are imprisoned by a set of options composed of sad degenerates. There is no option to reject the lot. As such, on bad days, Filipinos are forced to choose the lesser evil. It means that no matter how less of an evil Filipinos select, they will be stuck with an evil nonetheless.
Perhaps Philippine politics is an embodiment of hell — a place where evil, though existing in various flavours and degrees (posing as “options” in a “democracy”), prevails.
“I am not one of those weak-spirited, sappy Americans who want to be liked by all the people around them. I don’t care if people hate my guts; I assume most of them do. The important question is whether they are in a position to do anything about it. My affections, being concentrated over a few people, are not spread all over Hell in a vile attempt to placate sulky, worthless shits.” — William S. Burroughs