On Democracy, Political Dynasty and Citizenship

Democracy is rigged and, despite the homage bestowed upon it, is actually a farce that derides the way politics should be. In fact, it has never been operative, not even, in the self-appointed bastion of democracy, the United States of America. What we often witness, dramatized in our cable TV, accented by news networks and chronicled in websites, magazines and dailies are the appearances of democracy. What is at work, what rules the world, since the supposed nascent of democracy is plain and simple aristocracy, that is,  the rule of the few, who, thanks to their effective machinations, are able to sustain their will to power under the mantle of an appearance of democracy.  Democracy is a masquerade that has duped us and we are the unwitting, unwilling victims of our sorry political naivete.

This, in a nutshell, is how I gather the remarks put forward by Prof. Peter Simpson, a visiting scholar from the City University of New York, in a recent forum held last March at the University of Santo Tomas and it came to mind in the aftermath of the country’s midterm elections.  There was a host of vital issues at stake last May 13 but nothing rubbed closer to the problem of democracy in the Philippines than the question of political dynasty.

Last April 21, the Philippine Daily Inquirer featured in its “Talk of the Town” segment a survey of all the senatorial bets’ position on political dynasty.  Expectedly, outsiders of political dynasty were critical about it; those who came from traditional political families were rather ambivalent in their stand while the newbies from the emergent power clans hid their outright endorsement of their pedigree’s power trip behind the oft repeated appeal to the popular will as the final arbiter of their political fate.

As they are, the candidates’ responses merely show why we can’t hope to see any resolution of the problem of political dynasty in the near future.  Those who are against it have too little power to even make a dent and those who are part of it do not even see it as a problem, much less, why it is so.

The success of the likes of Binay, Ejercito, Aquino, Angara and Villar was a clear testament to the political advantage of those with greater access to resources, social network, media, political machinery and more importantly a family name that catches the electorate’s pygmy memory.  In the future, we might indeed have a Senate with 24 seats occupied by senators whose main distinction would no longer be their last but their first names. Legislative districts will no longer be classified in number but identified according to the leaders’ lineage.  Provinces and towns might even be re-named according to the genealogies of their political lords and the Philippines’ 7,100 islands will be transformed into family enclaves, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

This scenario will have rendered unnecessary the writing of critiques similar to Eric Gutierrez’ The Ties That Bind or Sheila Coronel et al’s The Rulemakers or Primitivo Mojares’ The Conjugal Dictatorship.  No one after all will find it tasteful to read on something that has become the normal state of things.

Prof. Kaelin’s insights on “The Problem of Family Politics” (PDI, April 22, 2013) were particularly instructive.  There really is a genuine need to re-think the already blurred relationship between the family and the state in the Philippines.  Appeal to popular will or the invocation of the family’s genetic love of public office, I mean, public service will hardly contribute to the quality of debate regarding political dynasty. It will probably take time for members of these political dynasties to realize that the issue is neither their political future nor the satisfaction of their insatiable heroic desire to serve but the survival of our democratic life.  More than leadership, democracy is about citizenship; more than government, it is about empowerment and it certainly depends for its flourishing on the possibility of equal opportunity, autonomy and the absence of hegemonic rule.

Prof. Simpson’s critical attitude towards democracy becomes understandable when seen in the light of something like Philippines’ political landscape.  Apparently, democracy earns its bad reputation because of its inherent vulnerability to abuse and manipulation.  At the end of the day, what we see in practice is not really democracy but democracy in its perverted form.

It is possible that the debate on political dynasty will yield positive results when the focus shifts from the question of how to downgrade the power clans’ will to power to how to upgrade the capability of citizens as the primordial sovereign.  We can mitigate this constant ancestral itch to rule when we expand the political, economic and cultural space necessary for the citizens’ self-determination.  In the long run, what will save democracy in this country from further decay is not computerized election but citizenship education.  

It is about time that Filipinos recognize ourselves not as constituents but as citizens.  It is only as such, following Aristotle, that politics becomes a meaningful and liberative practice.