Gov­ern­ments change, vot­ers change, but our mis­takes have been the same.

Business World - - OPINION - MARVIN A. TORT MARVIN A. TORT is a for­mer man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of Busi­nessWorld, and a for­mer chair­man of the Philip­pines Press Coun­cil. ma­tort@ya­

US po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Larry Jay Di­a­mond says that mod­ern-day democ­racy con­sists of four key el­e­ments: (a) A po­lit­i­cal sys­tem for choos­ing and re­plac­ing the govern­ment through free and fair elec­tions; ( b) The ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion of the peo­ple, as cit­i­zens, in pol­i­tics and civic life; (c) Pro­tec­tion of the hu­man rights of all cit­i­zens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and pro­ce­dures ap­ply equally to all cit­i­zens.

Us­ing th­ese pa­ram­e­ters, how then can we rate “democ­racy” in the Philip­pines? Do we have all four el­e­ments present, op­er­at­ing in a vi­brant and dy­namic man­ner? Are our elec­tions hon­est and cred­i­ble? Do peo­ple — or most of them — care enough to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics? How are we do­ing on pro­tect­ing hu­man rights? Is the law the same for both rich and poor?

If we can­not fully mea­sure up to Di­a­mond’s “stan­dards,” how then should we grade “democ­racy” Philip­pine-style? Or maybe Di­a­mond, a po­lit­i­cal so­ci­ol­o­gist and lead­ing scholar in the field of democ­racy stud­ies, doesn’t re­ally know what he is talk­ing about? This is de­spite be­ing a pro­fes­sor of So­ci­ol­ogy and Po­lit­i­cal Science at Stan­ford Univer­sity, and teach­ing cour­ses on demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment, and pub­lish­ing pa­pers on for­eign pol­icy and democ­racy.

Per­haps an­other mea­sure, an al­ter­na­tive to Di­a­mond’s seem­ingly “tech­ni­cal” def­i­ni­tion, is Lin­coln’s “govern­ment of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple” in his Get­tys­burg Ad­dress. In­ci­den­tally, let­ter-writer James Lan­g­ley, in a Let­ter to the Ed­i­tor to The Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished in March 31, pointed out that this was not a Lin­coln “orig­i­nal” but was bor­rowed.

He noted that a book by au­thor John Bartlett pub­lished in 1951 de­tailed that “in 1384, John Wy­cliffe wrote in the pro­logue to his trans­la­tion of the Bi­ble, ‘The Bi­ble is for the Govern­ment of the Peo­ple, by the Peo­ple, and for the Peo­ple.’” Lan­g­ley also noted that Bartlett cited Theodore Parker us­ing this phrase­ol­ogy in a ser­mon in Bos­ton’s Mu­sic Hall on July 4, 1858.

Lin­coln’s law part­ner Wil­liam H. Hern­don, hap­pened to be in Bos­ton at the time and re­turned to their law firm in Springfield, Illi­nois with some of Parker’s ser-

mons and ad­dresses. Hern­don, in turn, had claimed “that Lin­coln marked with pen­cil the por­tion of the Mu­sic Hall ad­dress ‘Democ­racy is di­rect self- govern­ment, over all the peo­ple, by all the peo­ple, for all the peo­ple.’”

From where I sit to­day, either “stan­dard,” Di­a­mond’s or Lin­coln’s, do not ap­pear to ap­ply to Philip­pine- style democ­racy, where author­ity is still prone to abuse; where power can be wielded whim­si­cally; and where peo­ple tend to pri­or­i­tize self over com­mu­nity, vested over na­tional in­ter­est, and per­sonal over com­mon or pub­lic good.

Peo­ple have been dy­ing on our streets, many gunned down either by po­lice­men or un­known as­sailants, or were vic­tims of crime. Even our po­lice­men have had their share of the dead. Sol­diers have like­wise per­ished in places like Marawi, be­liev­ing they were de­fend­ing our demo­cratic way of life. There seems to be no end to the blood­shed.

And Congress, in pur­suit of what it be­lieves to be right and proper, chooses to deny an ap­pro­pri­ate and suit­able bud­get to three govern­ment agen­cies as it ap­proves the na­tional bud­get for 2018. And while th­ese three state of­fices are per­haps rel­a­tive un­knowns to most of us, and while such de­nial ap­pears min­is­te­rial and more an at­tempt to send a “mes­sage,” it also con­veys a num­ber of wrong sig­nals.

There is no deny­ing Congress’ power of the purse. But, how this power is wielded, whether ef­fec­tively or oth­er­wise, also in­di­cates our level of po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity.

As things are, what re­cent events have un­veiled are the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of Philip­pine- style democ­racy, and how ac­tions of the elected few may not al­ways re­flect nor pro­tect the in­ter­ests of their vot­ers.

Per­haps it is time that we stop kid­ding our­selves with delu­sions of democ­racy, or of achiev­ing great­ness as a na­tion within our life­times or that of our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren. At best, what we have is a nom­i­nal form of democ­racy that sim­ply goes through the mo­tions of pre­tend­ing that ours is a “govern­ment of the peo­ple, by the peo­ple, for the peo­ple.”

We pe­ri­od­i­cally troop to the polls to “elect” lead­ers, de­spite the seem­ingly lack of choices, pri­mar­ily to le­git­imize the grant of “author­ity” to a select few, who will de­cide for us on mat­ters of state and gov­er­nance, even if their de­ci­sions do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the de­sires and the as­pi­ra­tions of the very peo­ple who le­git­imized their hold on power.

The pub­lic in gen­eral is rarely con­sulted in mat­ters of state, and in craft­ing laws, only the select few with vested in­ter­ests and ac­cess to power get to voice their sen­ti­ments and ven­ti­late their con­cerns — at least in man­ner that they can be at­tended to. For the rest of us, how­ever, our lead­ers will just have to de­cide for us, whether we like it or not.

Sadly, one gets the sense that our “demo­cratic” in­sti­tu­tions and our gov­ern­ments, our laws, are in­con­sis­tent and barely stand the test of time. Ad­min­is­tra­tions change, and so do vot­ers, and in­sti­tu­tions and laws change along with them. And, not al­ways for the bet­ter. Hope re­mains, of course. For noth­ing is im­pos­si­ble. But when true and last­ing change for the bet­ter will oc­cur, one can only guess.

We have been a re­pub­lic since 1898, with next year mark­ing our 120th an­niver­sary as an “in­de­pen­dent” na­tion. One would think that af­ter 120 years of na­tion­hood, that we would have learned our les­sons. And yet, it seems, we have learned lit­tle from the past, as we keep re­peat­ing mis­takes. Gov­ern­ments change, vot­ers change, but our mis­takes have been the same. �

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