June 24 2010
It was appropriate that Robin Hood was playing in the theatres just as we went to the polls on May 2010. It helps us understand where the Philippines could be headed as a nation.
In the world of Robin Hood- 12th century England- the country is ruled by a king who is dependent on lords for their allegiance and taxes. The feudal lords exercise police power over their territories through private armies.
To maintain themselves economically, the lords engage serfs to till the land in exchange for a share of the produce .
As a result of the increasing demands from the king for higher taxes, the feudal lords decide to band together and march upon London to unseat their royal master. Realizing his plight, the king gives in to the lords’ demands for greater political and economic autonomy.
We could be describing the Philippine political system in the next years.
While masquerading as a democracy the Philippines is fact a semi-feudal nation with a central President (Monarch) at the helm, politicians and their business alliances (Lords)in the middle and the general population ( you and I) as the serf equivalents.
We, the serfs, do the hard work and pay taxes to our political masters. The President and the politicians divide up the tax take in some arbitrary fashion depending on their relative political strengths using pork barrel allocations, illegal activities (jueteng) and business franchises as currency.
In the last years our Monarch garnished the better part of the kitty making her unpopular not only among the populace but also among her feudal lords, prompting a revolt of sorts. To assuage their feelings, our Monarch ceded territories and police powers over to the Lords particularly in the outlying areas (Maguindanao). At the same time, the Lords strengthened themselves by building private armies and fielding their relatives at the polls in greater numbers. The rise of family dynasties was arguably the major phenomena of the May 10 elections.
What is the impact of these developments on Philippine politics?
First, as family dynasties become stronger so will political power move from the center to the fringes of the Republic. Unless reversed, Central Government represented by the Executive Branch is at risk of losing its grip on the national agenda, of being marginalized. As the Presidency is weakened national decisions will increasingly be made by the cartel of feudal players. The dog starts to be wagged by the tail.
If successful charter change should see the culmination of this shift of power from the center to the outer reaches of government. Under a parliamentary system it is the Congressmen, not the people, who will elect our leader. To the extent that Congressmen will increasingly come from dynasties, so will power now be controlled by a motley of local interests rather than by a leader that is directly accountable to the nation.
Second, the rise of family politics threatens the existence of ideology-based political parties like the Liberal Party; Business, NGOs, Media, faith-based entities, and the nation in general. These groups depend for their existence on an independent and active political dynamics and truly democratic people representation. These elements will disappear as votes and national decisions become controlled by a few political players.
Even the military will be affected. As family dynasties become more powerful, so will their private armies, thereby threatening the authority of the military. This we saw in Maguindanao.
How does one reverse the process of political feudalization?
The only solution is for the parties at risk- NGOs, Business, Media, ideology-based political and faith organizations- to coalesce and compete with these dynasties for the minds and hearts of the voters. This aggrupation of interests I call the New Coalition.
Central Government and the military must remain at the margin of the effort. But as described above their interests are best served by the establishment of an independent political force to counter the growing control of the nation by a few.
In subsequent articles we shall expand on the concept of the New Coalition, how it may take form, its long-term objectives and the risks involved.