#118

Originally posted on Facebook last June 12.

It is not true that the Philippines is too democratic. If it were, then citizen participation in government would be the norm. We would celebrate press freedom, civil society, public referenda, and openly contested elections. We have all of this, but not to the point of excess. Some, like our elections, are still works in progress. The problem is that we have too much freedom with too little democracy to tame it.

That sounds paradoxical, doesn’t it? That democracy regulates freedom. Because, after all, democracy isn’t a state of absolute (read: unimpeded, unbridled) freedom. That would either be utopia or anarchy, depending on your premise about human nature. Instead, democracy is in fact just one way, among many possibilities, of structuring society. By its own etymology, it suggests a ‘rule of the people’ and this is achieved by putting in place structures and Institutions such as law and government to make such project feasible.

To suggest that we may in fact have ‘little democracy’ means that these structures and institutions are not ‘there yet’. Freedom is still unregulated to the point that monied elites are free to capture industries that they develop only to the point that it serves their self-interest. Traditional political families are still free to capture seats of power which they theatrically contest every so often. Journalists are free enough to report on the latest juvenile love team, but not free enough from revenge or reprisal to report on corruption and extrajudicial killings. Advocates for social causes are free enough to banner their fights and scream at the top of their lungs, but not free enough to reliably and consistently influence public policy which is still subject to the influence of money, fraternities, and clannish loyalties. Ordinary citizens are free to do as they please and, to a fault, are too free to be selective about the ordinances, statutes, and laws that they violate when their exercise of freedom comes into conflict with someone else’s.

All these checks against some freedoms to support the wider freedoms of the majority — these are the aims of the institutions and structures of democracy.  As long as these institutions are weak, social equity and justice will be elusive, illusory, and incomplete.

How then do we further the democratic project?

I find that we’re at an interesting point in our country’s political history where we are revisiting that very project. A new administration has been elected with a popular mandate and they find that democracy may not hold all the answers to our society’s ills. They suggest, in varying degrees, that there are valid responses from socialism, authoritarianism, and even fascism. However, here’s the rub: will the form of government that they prefer be compatible with the Filipino’s notion of freedom?

We are a people who have rejected the political dominion of Spain, Japan, and America. Once, we rejected a dictator of our own making. As a nation, the Filipinos are characterized by a collective sovereignty that supercedes the sovereignty of anybody else. We may be entering a period where this assumption will be tested once again, as there seems to be some confusion about what vagaries such as freedom and democratic entail. But the arc of history has always been resoundingly clear.

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