Democracy in the Philippines 2023


Nine days from today, everyone will again commemorate the first EDSA revolution. Whatever lens you use in interpreting that event in 1986, one fact remains—that event undoubtedly changed several generations of Filipinos to a point where now a fraction (26%) of us sometimes believes in authoritarianism as the best governance model. Only sixty percent of Filipinos are “staunch democrats” thirty-seven years after February 26, 1986. My question is—how do we interpret democracy? Are we really a “flawed democracy,” as Westerners describe us in their Economist Intelligence indices?

A flawed democracy mimics a society where fundamental rights are respected, especially the exercise of certain freedoms given by the ballot, yet, weak in governance, political culture, and participation. Yes, we are less effective in government than other Western societies because of significant differences in demographics (we have a much bigger population), geographical characteristics, and lack of technological know-how. And yes, our political culture may seem inferior to other societies primarily due to the absence of any historical or ideological base. Colonialism hindered our political development as a nation. And a hundred years of so-called independence will never be able to cure this anomaly in our political culture.

These flaws, which the West heap upon us, are the same scars they created and left behind. We have a scarred political culture because the colonial power, Spain, which ruled us for 300 years, had the very same flawed political culture. Spain also underwent significant shifts in political beliefs in its history as a nation that also impacted us as their colony. The administration of the Spanish colonies suffered a great deal of domestic turmoil as a backlash to the political shifts happening at the core of the Spanish monarchical empire.

When the United States of America invaded us, that was when America was also developing itself as a so-called liberal democratic state after years of civil strife. We became an experiment, a political laboratory, so to speak, of this governance model, so much so that hundreds of thousands of us died defending our distinct ideological worldview.

Observe, my dear Filipinos—our post-war period was when we were looking for a suitable governance model. From 1949 up to 1986, we Filipinos fought and died behind the ideological trenches of Socialism, liberal democracy, and pseudo-authoritarianism. Fifty years hence and despite the deaths of the ideological leaders who rallied and fractured our society into ideological camps, we remain torn between choosing a liberal democratic society or a more sinister mafia-style governance model popularized by former president Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Between the two, sixty percent of us would indeed fight for liberal democracy, yet a fraction will remain convinced of the Duterte-style governance’s efficiency in fighting crime.

I see hope in our leaders at the local government level. Significant changes are happening in our communities. People are getting more involved in participating in their own small means of nation-building. Expect these incremental yet micro steps to accumulate over time and again transform into a movement similar to the one we had in 1986.

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