Three misconceptions about democracy that Filipinos were led to believe

30 September 2003

Filipinos have been suckered wholesale into believing the following:

1. Democracy is all about elections.
2. Democracy is all about freedom.
3. Democracy is a pre-requisite to prosperity

We simply bought the application off-the-shelf and failed to read the small print.

Elections are not the whole point of a democracy. Elections are expensive and a necessary evil of a democracy. The fact that our elections are, for the most part, a mockery of the concept of democracy, ironically, is therefore no laughing matter. We invest a huge amount of public funds on elections not to mention the cost associated with discontinuities in governance and policy focus, disruptions in the peace, and reduced labour productivity during the uncertain environment whenever elections are in the air among others. These elections are a national security risk as well. Imagine an imminent military threat suddenly emerging in the middle of a Philippine-style election!

In short, the costs of the practice of democracy must be justified! And for this to be done, one must first understand the true place of the freedom (of which elections are just one form of expression) we enjoy under democracy.

Freedom is not the whole point of democracy. Democracy is not for the sake of freedom. Freedom is a priviledge of practitioners of democracy and a by-product of this system. The true essence of democracy lies in responsibility and accountability.

The Electoral Process is just one element of the democratic equation and should be put in the proper perspective of our democratic duty. It is our duty to:

(a) Select the right leaders;
(b) Use the system to hold them accountable; and,
(c) Hold ourselves accountable for the quality of the leaders we choose using the system.

It would be fair to hazard a guess that this whole "love of freedom" sloganeering associated with the practice of "democracy" is the work of a political machine averse to accountability. The point of democracy is not freedom as many of us were foolishly led to believe. The point of democracy is the practice of a system that enables us to hold our leaders to account. One can therefore understand why this, by now, puzzling obssession with "freedom" is prevalent today. Who else but our politicians are the biggest trumpeters of the "freedom" we enjoy under "democracy"?

We are, of course, a free society from the perspective of our freedom to be an unruly lot. It is an artificial freedom at best for a society that wallows in squalor is not truly free. We've taken "freedom" to heart like the dumb adolescent that our country is. We use it as an excuse to elect fools to office only to flick them off the pedestal we helped them climb onto with even more foolish displays of street parliamentarianism. We even use this "freedom" to run a publishing industry that capitalises on the stupidity of the masses; allowing it to scrimp on journalistic talent and integrity. Worse and most sickening of all, we use this "freedom" to define ourselves -- the only true democracy in southeast Asia. What a laugh! Surely the international community are in on this joke on us as well.

Democracy is not necessarily a pre-requisite to prosperity. It is the other way around. Prosperity is a pre-requisite to democracy. If we cannot make an off-the-shelf system of governance (one that took hundreds of years for its successful practitioners to perfect) work for us, then we should consider alternatives.

Economic success and wealth-surplus must exist before a truly working democratic system (and not just a sham that is a cover for oligarchic anarchy) can be put in place. Well before the establishment of the United States of America, the Protestants and Puritans (pilgrims) who first settled there already had the so-called Protestant Ethic (a term coined by Max Weber to refer to the combination of Frugality, Hard Work, Discipline, Prudence, Pragmatism, etc of those people which made them economically succeed and accumulate surplus.) This so called "Protestant Ethic", by the way, is in essence, the same as the Confucian ethic that many Oriental East Asian societies had when they went on in their onslaught towards economic success. (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and today even China). They too possess Frugality, Hard Work, Discipline, Prudence, Pragmatism, and other similar traits. Externally, they look and act differently. But intrinsically, their attitude vis-a-vis economic (wealth accumulation) and societal development followed parallel paths.

Here's the difficult question:

Are Filipinos collectively known to possess these qualities?

The present day Philippine style Democracy is slightly modified carbon copy of the American System. But economic and cultural realities point to the fact that our society has not yet evolved to the point that using an American-derived system would be appropriate. We have a long way to go before we can start mimicking their system. If anything, our social, economic, and cultural evolution is still at a stage that resembles the Middle Ages.

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