Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oligarchic Democracy

Paradoxically, since the ouster of the Spanish colonial regime, Philippine democracy has been merely a legitimizing mechanism for oligarchic rule.

For purposes of analytic clarity, democracy literally means “rule by the people”, or rule with the consent of the governed. Oligarchy literally means “rule by the few”. Oligarchy can be in the form of aristocracy, which is “rule of the best and the brightest”, or plutocracy, which is “rule by the rich”.

In Philippine context, consent through elections means that a consensus has been reached as regards which among competing elites shall be conferred the legitimate power to plunder the nation within a limited number of years.

This conundrum can be traced back to the Spanish colonial regime where the purpose of governance was clearly to systematically plunder the Philippine colony in order to secure economic development for the Crown. Spanish mercantilism was designed to maximize the Crown’s extraction from its colonies at considerable cost to economic development of the empire.

Independence did not free the Philippines from the colonial culture of plunder in governance. It only spurred the competition among elites for power vacated by the Spanish colonial regime. Perhaps this was the rationale why Jose Rizal did not advocate for independence. Instead, consistent with the liberal ideals, he fought for human rights through democratic reforms by demanding representation and accountability.

Our democracy is an elected oligarchy. Our formal democratic institutions do not guarantee democracy. Our congresses have been perpetual repetitions of the tragedy of Tejeros convention of 1897 where elites maneuver each other out of power, which cost the lives of Andres Bonifacio, Antonio Luna and the noble ends of the Katipunan. Even our “people power", as a mechanism of accountability, is now suspect. After it has not delivered on its promises, it is reduced into an apparatus of disgruntled elites to claim lost power.

In the wake of the scandals that haunt the Arroyo administration, as a people, we are forced to reexamine our beliefs regarding the legitimate ends of democratic governance.

Democracy is essentially an affirmation of the sovereignty of the people as a collective of dignified human beings with rights. That is, the people are not things or mere means to an end. Ideally, a democratic government is an agency established to guarantee that the people have all the freedoms possible and the capacities to live the life that they have reasons to value. By representation, democracy demands that the people have the power to decide which among competing policies best serve their interests and to hold accountable those who misrepresent them.

Until this colonial culture of plunder in governance is effectively dismantled, willful corruption through our democratic decision-making procedures cannot be averted. Elites will continue to violate human rights by creating opportunities to convert public goods into private gain.

Unless we reorient our culture of governance by grounding it on the democratic imperative to respect, protect and provide for human rights, we shamefully dignify the doubts that bothered Jose Rizal more than a century ago.


Diego A. Odchimar III is a graduate student of the National College of Public Administration and Governance in UP Diliman.

He teaches Rizal Course and Philippine Government and the Constitution in UST Manila.

NOTE: This is a handout from a professor back in college. All credit goes to the original author. Posting this to promote redundancy. Go, technology!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:24 AM

    Good Afternoon

    Awesome blog, great write up, thank you!