Sunday, January 25, 2009

Philippine Political System: An example of an Elite Democracy

Democracy in the Philippines is not a product of internal class struggles, but instead, it is said to be a set of political practices imposed by the outside colonial power, the Unites States.

In the "Democracy" that the Philippines got from the Americans, the electoral process we have now in our system is one of the "political practice" that's imposed to us. Since then, we have instituted a system of electoral competition, which served as a mechanism for the transfer of power among the elites while it gave the illusion of democratic freedom and choice among the masses.

"Elite democracy drives its strength from the fact that no matter how cynically the Filipino citizenry might view the electoral process, most Filipinos see no alternative to the ballot as a legitimate means of succession" (Bello and Gersnman, 1990)

In form, the "Philippine political system was a mirror image of the American in terms of presidential leadership, separation of powers and two-party system" (Curato, 2009), but in substance, "it's a marriage between feudal paternalism and Chicago-syle 'machine politics'" (Bello and Gersnman, 1990)

Martial Law came, and temporarily interrupted the pre-existing modes of elite rule and succession by establishing a dictatorship. If we looked back, we only see how bad that point in time was and the imposition of martial rule. But during that time, Martial Law was allowed by the Filipino people, meaning they consented to it, at first, probably because they saw the need to give the president such powers with what was happening that time.

There came a point that a lot of people were fed up and didn't like what was happening, so it all resulted to the EDSA Revolution that the Philippines was known for all over the world.

But see, EDSA Revolution terminated a dictatorship but it never gave us a clean break. "There were discontinuities as well as continuities: some old faces in new roles, some new faces in an unchanged bureaucracy. Movement leaders became bureaucrats overnight, isolated from one another by intimidating chores of running a government from day to day. They could not initiate meaningful changes within their own departments and offices because they discovered, to their dismay, that the very things they wanted to change fulfilled certain functions. And the alternatives were not available." (David, 2001)

End-all it just displaced the elites Marcos put into place, and those who were elites back then got their power and place back in the "grand scheme of things". A classic instance of the way elite democracy defuses and derails mass dissent was provided by the debate over land reform.

Despite the massive clamor for land reform, 90% of the House of Representatives during Cory's time were big landlords. While the House didn't officially oppose land reform, "it adopted a land reform bill that stipulates enough loopholes, evasions and contradictions that its implementation was castrated." (Bello and Gershman, 1990)

And at present, the Elections we have is one way for the elites to legitimize their power, to get voted at large by the masses, whose choice is both an illusion of "democratic power" and a manufactured one, because of predetermined set of candidates by the elite (also).

This relatively peaceful competition of power by the elite still exists up to the present, and I think will still continue unless the masses get educated, and clamor for genuine change in the system, or with our kind of democracy.


Editorial Cartoon from NYU and Bertell Ollman

Some text and quotes are from Neeks Curato's Lecture 7: Political System, 2009

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