Our Failing Democracy

Democracy, Philippine style, is overrated.

In our democracy Delfin Lee, owner of Globe Asiatique and alleged mastermind of one of the biggest real estate rip-offs, is able to secure a preliminary injunction stopping the DOJ from pursuing a criminal case against him.

In our democracy Wilfredo Torres, a reported con-man, has claimed ownership of a 24 hectare property in Quezon City on the strength, apparently, of a court-approved fake title.

In our democracy the Ampatuans have still to be jailed for a massively documented human massacre.

In our over 60 years of democracy we have mostly been ruled by abusive leaders.

Where are our democratic institutions when we most need them?

On paper democracy, the notion of  government by and for the people,  is compelling. However it presupposes  conditions that are non-existent certainly in our country, like the idea that all votes are created equal. Ours is one peso one vote, not one person one vote. Ours is the Golden Rule: He who owns the gold rules.

There can be no true political freedom without true economic freedom. Rousseau, Locke et al. failed to mention this when promoting the democratic ideal.

There are calls to tweak our system to make it more effective. The loudest voice is to move from a presidential to a parliamentary structure. By having a Prime Minister elected by the party members rather than a President directly voted upon by the people, it is said we shall have a more unified government. The advocates are the entrenched interests and family dynasties bent on perpetuating their strangle on our political throats.

In fact we already have a Parliamentary system except in reverse. Instead of the leader following the party, in our system the party follows the leader. More correctly, Congressmen switch to the presidential party; so Congress and Malacanang are aligned. Pork barrel makes sure of that.

The Senate theoretically provides a check to the Executive  but not really. It was never a hindrance to the abuses of the Marcos and Gloria administrations.

The Judiciary is on paper the institution that makes democracy work, the supposed guardian of our laws and freedoms. Unfortunately, it has too often failed this standard.

It did not prevent the martial law years.

It possibly restrained the impeachment of GMA.

It allows for the likes of Lee, Torres and the Ampatuans to go unscathed.

Every day it enables innocent people to be charged and guilty ones to move free.

Lawyering in this town is about getting to the judge rather than getting to the law. Courts have become commercial enterprises.

And yet no one takes the judges to task. Who judges the judges?

The Supreme Court is the body that polices the judiciary but we are unaware that it has ever brought its weight to bear. Perhaps it is a professional courtesy  among a band of brothers, to leave each other alone. They huddle for warmth.

The Ombudsman has the power to prosecute public officials. Is Carpio-Morales, a former Supreme Court Justice,  prepared to act against her kind?

Constitutionally, Congress could move to impeach Supreme Court Justices but the burden of proof is heavy (as it should be). Plagiarism is insufficient.

The Integrated Bar could do something but will it bite the hand that feeds it?

On his election the President proclaimed the reform of the Judiciary as among his highest priorities but he has since backed off on this. He is probably unprepared to expend political capital in this way.

This leaves only the people and media to sound the call. Strangely, neither has risen to the occasion. Is it because judges, like priests, still carry the mantle of probity? Is it because we do not understand what is possible? Is it because, like pollution, we no longer know how to breathe clean air?

The failings of the judiciary have so far flown below our collective consciousness. Justice is daily dying of a million pinpricks and we do not know it. All we sense is the smell, the smell of something rotting in the core of our democracy.

It is said the ascendancy of P-Noy, an honest man, is proof the system works. Historically it might just be a break in the clouds. In fact, in that it masks the underlying flaws and lulls us into complacency, his Presidency is arguably a disservice.The landscape post 2016 is still grim.

So in this spring of our content, while there is time, let us fortify our democratic house before the gathering storm.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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3 Responses to Our Failing Democracy

  1. Another very good piece.

    SUGGESTION: You should have a “Share” button so your pieces can be read by others. Example: Facebook.

  2. Thoughtrift says:

    Is it because we do not understand what is possible? Is it because, like pollution, we no longer know how to breathe clean air?

    Like a spring we are wound down, and soon the force of our compression will exceed that of those pushing us down and we will spring back.

    Let us not wait for our countrymen to begin a violent revolution before we enact change. If the economic majority in our country see that they can get away with violence due to sheer numbers then these lawmakers will regret their choices. Imagine all the cooks in wealthy households poisoning their employers. Or every bus driver running over the policemen on the street. It only takes one leader to unite the oppressed. One leader with the vision and the eloquence to make people realize their capabilities, both for good and for evil. All it takes is one leader. And little do the crooks in government know that with every act of corruption they are only arming their worst enemy.

  3. thenutbox says:

    The viability of Philippine democracy is not only a political or question but a sociological one. Philippine democratic institutions don’t work as they should because we are still used to its old patronage-based social norms. The social and political institutions work not in accordance with their functions but with various factors such as paternalistic and other personal ties, economic considerations, etc. But this is true in other democracies as well, even in “successful democracies” like Japan. Filipinos are still in the process of strengthening our institutions and making them act solely based on their functions. They are still in a transition to modernity. I think it is a slow transition, but the Philippines are getting there.

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