Editorial: Philippine-style democracy

·3 min read

ANCIENT Greek philosopher Socrates asked Adeimantus (Plato’s brother) that if he would sail out to sea, would he just allow anyone or people who have the technical know-how in navigating the seas to pilot the boat.

Adeimantus replied that he would want someone who is knowledgeable about seafaring to take charge of the boat. Socrates then asked him why they think that any old person should be fit to decide who should be a country’s ruler.

The conversation between Socrates and Adeimantus recorded by Plato in Book Six of “The Republic,” shows Socrates’ disdain for Athenian democracy, the inspiration of the United States’ founding fathers in establishing representative democracy after breaking away from the English Crown.

The philosopher’s point is this: Voting in an election is a skill, not a random intuition. Voting, like any skill, needs to be taught systematically to people, the electorate. Allowing citizens to vote without an education is as irresponsible as putting them in charge of a trireme (an ancient vessel) sailing to Samos (a Greek island in Aegean Sea) in a storm, according to theschooloflife.com.

Democracy was gradually introduced in the Philippines when it was colonized by the United States near the end of the 1890s.

The Americans slowly introduced their brand of democracy to the locals and educated them about it. However, historians noted that when they allowed Filipinos to participate in running the colonial government, they entrusted running the government to the elite few. The elite few who “controlled the political process realised that each party would have its turn in government. The Nacionalista and Liberal parties (the dominant parties during the American colonial period), which differed little ideologically, dominated politics, and politicians switched parties to gain office. But the democratic system that developed did not represent the majority of the population,” according to a paper published online by the Australian National University.

Democracy in the Philippines came alive after the end of the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos; however, the post-Edsa democracy is still erratic, just like what it was during the pre-Marcos dictatorship.

The country’s fragile democracy is still in the hands of political dynasties, the elite few, also known as trapos (traditional politicians).

Democracy in the Philippines is the government of the trapos, by the trapos, and for the trapos. After the May 2022 elections, democracy in the Philippines certainly will still be a government of the trapos, by the trapos, and for the trapos.

The World Bank report cited in American intellectual Noam Chomsky’s 1991 book, “Deterring Democracy,” still rings true. It states: “For most Filipinos, American-style democracy meant little more than elections every few years. Beyond this, the colonial authorities made sure that only the candidates who represented colonial interests first and last won. This practice did not die with colonialism. The ensuing political order, which persisted long after independence, was one where a handful of families effectively and ruthlessly ruled a society riven by inequality. It was democratic in form, borrowing as many American practices as it could, but autocratic in practice.”

During an oratorical contest in 1939, Philippine Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon heard a speech warning Filipino people “against independence, on the ground that every liberty” that they “enjoy may be lost.” Quezon also heard in the same speech that “while under the American flag,” Filipinos are “not denied any individual liberty.”

When it was his turn to deliver his address in the same event, Quezon replied to the speech: “I cannot permit anyone to say in my presence that our people have enjoyed greater freedom under the American administration, or that our people will not enjoy their freedom under an independent Philippines, as much as they have enjoyed it under the American flag,” he said.

The President then said: “It is true, and I am proud of it, that I once said, ‘I would rather have a government run like hell by Filipinos than a government run like heaven by Americans.’”

If Quezon were alive today, what would he say?

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