Monday, May 10, 2004

This is an edited excerpt of a paper I wrote on Democratization. In the spirit of futile, useless elections, read on.

Democracy, the kind that is peddled today, was a unique phenomenon that underpinned the political and economic evolution of only a handful of nation-states (Britain, Former British settler colonies; US, Canada, Australia to name a few). While Democracy as a political system has developed organically in Western Europe through a long a period of social conflict, class struggle and compromises, it has not in the Philippines.

Notions of Democracy, the “rule of, for and by the people,” as are conceptions of “state” and “government,” as defined in the Western sense, are entirely alien to the Philippine experience up until the arrival of colonizing Europeans. Indeed, the four century-long colonial experience may be said to have been completely antithetical to this idea of majority rule. It is implicit in the imposition of external administrative control and “civilizing missions” that the “people,” here indios, are not the ones meant to be in charge.

Furthermore, the kind of colonial rule placed in the colonies engendered a highly centralized way of administering colonial endeavors which then translated into the “absolutist” and “arbitrary” post-colonial state.

Just before independence, transfer of control and power to indigenous actors was made hastily. What followed was the wholesale copying of the colonizers’ political systems onto the former colonies. From the organizational structure to the political processes and even the constitution, these were faithfully made in the image of the former metropolitan power. More importantly, the underlying principle of liberal democracy, the product of Western European and American histories, was supposed to have been imbibed and internalized by the newly-independent peoples and governments. Filipinos were then expected to occupy roles and perform functions they had no previous experience in. And they were supposed to do these functions within the institution that is the State.

A State, according to orthodox political science, is one with; a.) a territory, b.) a population, c.) a government and d.) sovereignty. This construct, and its definition, is uniquely reflective and the product of Western historical experiences. On all fronts the Philippine state is already problematic. The territory has been arbitrarily drawn cutting across natural ethnic (cultural-religious), political and economic groupings, which explains the ethnic conflicts still present to date. Many “supposed” Filipinos in many regions in this country would not usually call themselves Filipinos.

Most contentious of all is the question of sovereignty. If we go by its orthodox definition; the complete and autonomous exercise of authority within the given territory, then the Philippine state is evidently not sovereign.

Here it might be instructive to use instead Jackson and Rosberg’s (1986) definition. In the Philippines, what is practiced is “juridical statehood” as opposed to “empirical statehood.” The Philippine state exists in writing, in law, in official international parlance and imagination. The authors maintain that they exist precisely because of their international legitimacy. This is what they call “negative sovereignty,” the avowed principle of non-interference among equally sovereign states. As opposed to “positive sovereignty,” which is the capacity for self-government or the legitimacy coming from the inhabitants within.

Magnanimous in their creation project, former colonial powers were confident that they have done their part in the civilizing mission. They have done their best in imparting their superior values and institutions that would surely lead the way to modernity and development. The future was then in the hands of Filipinos themselves. Or so we have been led to believe.

It probably came as a surprise then, when immediately after multi-party democratic elections were held, many states throughout the world fell into authoritarian regimes (i.e. Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law).

It is curious how the preference for liberal democracy as an uncomplicated “good” is often implicit in the discourse of authors as opposed to “bad” authoritarianism. Democracy, throughout the decades, has acquired a sacred status of sorts. Almost like a cross being brandished to ward off “evil.” Comparable to the search for the Holy Grail, countries throughout the world have come to perceive it as an uncomplicated good, a universally valued “state of being” much like World Peace and Prosperity. Democracy is also being made into an all-purpose cure for the “fundamentalist” ailment in the Middle East.

How this has come to pass is largely through the work of dominant forces in the world today. It is in their interest that the kind of democracy we speak of is one that has been defined by them. The discourse on democracy at present is one that is hardly contested. Although debate and dissident opinions may be alive and well in the academia and non-governmental sectors, the de facto Democracy being fashioned in much of the world today is reflective of the will of international financial institutions (IFI’s; IMF-World Bank) and donor countries, the powers that be.

In directly observable ways, and less bloody but just as appalling as the example mentioned above, economic liberalization enforced in this country directly contradicts the very essence of what Democracy is supposed to be; the rule of, for and by the people. How so? Economic policies are formulated by IFIs without so much as the scrutiny or consent of the populace. Assuming that the populace would make heads or tails of the highly technical language used in these policies. What the IMF says goes. No debate, no question. Read the business section of your newspapers. They make "recommendations" every week or so. What is worse, the ideology behind these policies have already been cemented in neoliberal dogma, they are presented as absolute truths. And besides, there is no alternative. Present conditions are such that would not allow for alternatives to be conceived of as possible.

The Herculean task of resolving these contradictory processes is foisted on the Philippine State, which, as we have shown here, is itself problematic. Unfortunately, the powers that be are either blind to this fundamental problem, choose not to recognize it, or are too smug in their own proclamations of what Democracy and Economic Development look like.

Multi-party elections have been held in this country and yet has there really been change in leadership? Has there really been any change? It is a myth peddled by the United States, that democracy; meaning elections, is the cure for everything.

Democracy, made in the image of Western Democracies, seems virtually impossible to replicate in an entirely different historical entity. Nonetheless, the hegemony of Capitalist-Democratic States compels that this be done regardless of all the contradictions in order for the status quo (capitalism) to continue working.

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