Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Filipino Transformismo?

It is often difficult for me to read about this country as seen through non-Filipino eyes. Especially from academics. They do not have vested interest in the conclusion of their analysis. All that matters is that their work is able to reasonably substantiate its argument. It would be the same as me making an indictment about the state of democracy in the Arab region for example. I would not hesitate to conclude - chances for substantive change any time soon are slim.

While we must take everything we read with a grain of salt, I am afraid Eva-Lotta Hedman's characterization of the status quo is frighteningly accurate.

In her book In the Name of Civil Society, she describes the Philippine's 'oligarchic democracy':

Observers have variously described democracy in the Philippines in terms of 'factionalism', 'clientelism', 'bossism' and 'caciquism', but the overall pattern has been clear. From municipal mayors to provincial governors to congressmen, senators and presidents, the elected politicians of the Philippines have been drawn from the landowning, commercial and industrial oligarchy of the archipelago, representing its interests both directly and through delegation. Competition for political office has revolved around contestation for the spoils of state power - patronage perks, concessions, discretionary enforcement of regulations - between rival families and factions within this ruling class.

The broad mass of the population, while providing the lion's share of the votes in elections has thus been politically 'disaggregated', drawn into support for local, provincial and national candidates for office through webs of dependence on landlords, patrons and other brokers for votes. Poverty and economic insecurity have combined with a highly decentralized political structure to render the majority of Filipinos susceptible to clientelist, coercive and monetary inducements and pressures during elections, and to thwart electoral efforts by political parties championing the interests of subaltern classes and promoting radical social change.

Meanwhile the prominent role of money in Philippine elections - for buying votes, bribing officials, and otherwise oiling the machinery - has created a structural imperative of fund-raising that guarantees politicians' continuing use of state powers and resources for personal and particularistic benefit and their abiding reliance on landowners, merchants, bankers, and industrialists to fund them. Small wonder that observers have been most impressed by the continuities in this seemingly seamless system of oligarchical democracy in the Philippines, as seen in the close attention paid to 'political dynasties' that have dominated municipalities, congressional districts, and in some cases entire provinces across several generations and many decades.

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