Empowering The Filipino People: CORE BELIEFS

WE postponed putting out "Saving Face art II" for one week for good reasons. On 16 May (Wednesday), our friends PNP-SAF Gen. Rey Velasco, former DILG Secretary Raffy Alunan, and journalist Mel Velasco are launching a historic book "Silver Linings" with a full-length, action-packed documentary with it to mark the PNP's Special Action Force's 25th Silver Anniversary. So, ABANGAN!!

No longer valid is the once-accepted proposition that in poor countries, democracy and economic growth cannot co-exist. In the wake of Asia's financial crisis starting in Thailand in July, 1997, we must reject this conventional wisdom.

It may be true that, even without democracy, development occurs. But that extensive financial meltdown 15 years ago proves that growth cannot be sustained, much less expanded, without open markets and accountability in government.

Throughout Asia, the spread of the market economy has not merely brought about higher living standards. It has also had liberative political effects.

Principles of Good Governance

Free markets, however, have no internal regulators to moderate their negative impacts and must rely on government to provide essential checks-and-balances for the general welfare.

Four principles of governance stand out in today:

First, we must uplift moral standards in government and society - to provide enduring foundations for good governance - and remove the grounds for anyone's impeachment.

Second, we must change our flawed political system to create fertile grounds for true reform. The politics of personality and patronage must give way to the new politics of democratic institutions, of nation-building, and of consultation with the people - so that Filipinos are not saddled with 270 political parties to choose from.

Third, we must be bold in our national ambitions, i.e., within this decade, we must resolve to win the fight against mass poverty. Filipinos are increasingly suffering, and there is no time to lose.

Fourth - but not least - leadership by example. We expect leaders to be models of hard work, honesty, probity, competence, dignity, and fairness - who match rhetoric with action, perform not grandstand, and dare enough to lead to our better future.

Most countries are a long way from being "inclusive" - which means converging every sector of the national community into a truly level playing field that provides democratic equity in opportunities and benefits.

Economic Growth And Democracy

Not only in Asia but also in Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, democracy has arrived - along with free markets and the rule of law. This cause-and-effect dynamism - which leads to victory over poverty, deprivation, and oppression - is simple and straight-forward.

Market economies stimulate enterprise, creativity, innovation, and adaptation; whereas the command economy fosters in-breeding, elitism, and eventual stagnation. Economic opportunities and social leveling resulting from free markets undermine despotic regimes - because, as people become more empowered, they begin to demand political participation and seek recognition of their liberated status.

Free markets and open economies have turned dictatorships in South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand into vigorous democracies. In the Philippines and Indonesia, they brought down strongman rule. In Malaysia these days, middle classes spurred by economic growth have generated massive protests for political reformasi.

Civil Society is exceptionally well-developed in the Philippines - thanks to a system of mass-education and tradition of people's participation in electoral politics dating back to the 1900s.

Philippine Democracy Far From Ideal

To be sure, Philippine democracy still is far from ideal. It remains weakened by age-old structural defects, not the least being our historical burden of a "representative" democracy superimposed on a still-patrimonial society. Family dynasties and oligarchies still use their access to the levers of political power to bend public policy toward their economic interests.

Like other transitional democracies, the Philippines really has two components in its political system. One is made up of the urban middle-class, increasing not only in numbers but also in the breadth/depth of the professional and business sectors they cut across; and the other is made up of a rural electorate still dependent on political patronage.

In the Philippines, however, political awareness is particularly strong - even in the poorest communities. As growth spreads, more and more representatives of rural minorities enter the legislature where they can help heal cleavages in national society that until now express themselves only in violent crime.

Fortunately, too, we have a multitude of people's organizations which enlivens civil society. These volunteer groups articulate neglected interests - of the youth, women, indigenous communities, farmers/fisherfolk, overseas workers, urban poor, environmentalists, veterans/elderly, etc.

Cooperative, NGOs, advocates "bleeding hearts" and social media are the building blocks of what eventually become modern political entities and durable democratic institutions.

The AFP/PNP and People Power Revolutions

Founded in the crucible of nationalist rebellion in 1896 against Spanish colonization, the AFP largely remained professional until President Ferdinand Marcos proclaimed martial law in 1972.

Politicized military units emerged after years of Marcos massaging and became his main prop for dictatorial rule until February, 1986 - when a mutiny of the professionally minded core of the AFP set off a peaceful revolution that ejected (within four days) the overstaying strongman without bloodshed. EDSA-Uno became the prototype of similar uprisings and rebellions in the developing world - to this day, in the Middle East and Africa.

Since becoming a nation more than 113 years ago, Filipinos have fought to live in independence and freedom, and to win for themselves spiritual well-being, material prosperity, and respect in the community of nations. The 1986 People Power Revolution comes third in line among three defining beacons in Philippine history, along with the revolutionary Spirit of 1896 at Pugad Lawin, and the patriotic Spirit of 1942 at Bataan and Corregidor.

These three shining moments underscore our people's unceasing struggles for freedom and progress.

Spirit of EDSA

Among these three, the Spirit of EDSA beckons directly to younger generations, being the most recent. As the uniquely peaceful revolution of our time - taking the world by surprise about how much a massive feat could be accomplished non-violently - it serves as inspiration to oppressed peoples everywhere.

Once again, in January, 2001, the AFP and National Police joined the people's uproar to oust an incompetent regime. Had some generals stuck it out with deposed President Estrada, they could have precipitated divisions in the Armed Forces and deadly civil war. Witness what is happening in Syria today!

Over these past 25 years, our focus on AFP-PNP reform has been on conscientizing our public servants in uniform: To internalize in them a moral purpose and legal duty to God, country, and people.

This conscientization program seems to be working - judging from the relative ease of EDSA Dos in January 2001 (as compared to EDSA Uno) with which the opponents to President Estrada's cronyist/corrupt regime were able to enlist key military and police organizations on the side of good governance and integrity in public service.

Making People Power Revolutions Unnecessary

Even so, Filipinos cannot have a citizens' revolution - no matter how peaceful - every 15 years. Neither should we always count on soldiers and policemen to tip the balance in favor of the citizenry and the common good.

Our country - in fact, all countries whether developed or developing - needs a prolonged period of political stability and sustained economic development so that farmers, workers, entrepreneurs, industrialists, and government servants can create new social wealth for everyone's benefit. But we may never have such stability so long as civil society must intervene to repudiate an abusive regime, as has been done twice before.

Violent revolutions - as witnessed in Central America, and are still seething in Africa and the Middle East - we must make unnecessary. Filipinos, for their part, must not allow their political processes, political institutions, and democratic leadership ever to fail again.

Surely, we Filipinos are justified in celebrating "people power Philippine style." But people power cannot again and again substitute for durable democratic institutions or replace regimes that corruption, extravagance, cronyism, and incompetence inflict on national society.

Building strong political institutions and establishing an effective, just, and competitive State require unceasing, consistent effort.

Worst of our problems is the great gap that divided the few who are very rich from the many who are very poor - perpetuated by the "tanggap" (corruption).

We must first deal with the fault-lines in politics - most basic being the weakness of our fragmented party system - which breeds turncoatism, dynastism, and factionalism, and fails to punish the greed of crony-capitalists and dynastic families.

THE IRON TRUTH IS THAT "DEMOCRACY" IS STILL A PROMISE UNFULFILLED IN THE PHILIPPINES, EVEN IF "HERE, IT IS MORE FUN."

SO, HOW TO GET THERE, WHERE TO GO? STUDY "SILVER LININGS," A BOOK TO BE LAUNCHED ON 16 MAY AT 4 P.M., AT THE A.F.P. MUSEUM/HISTORICAL LIBRARY, CAMP AGUINALDO. IT'S A WAKE-UP CALL FOR EVERYONE.

Please send any comments to fvr@rpdec.org. Copies of articles are available at www.rpdev.org.

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