ARE We Still a Democracy” was an essay I did not bother to read because it presumed we were once a democracy. The more fundamental question is “Were we ever a democracy?”
For the answer, we have to go back to the essential features of representative democracy. (Direct democracy works only in small organizations like cooperatives.)
One, universal suffrage. Our constitution guarantees this. However, as the other features would show, obstructions litter the road to the free exercise of this right.
Two, proportionate representation. This we never had and for lacking it we were never a representative democracy. Ever since the ilustrados led by Emilio Aguinaldo took over the proletarian revolution of Andres Bonifacio, our political parties have simply represented factions of one and the same vested interest group.
The Americans introduced democracy but gave the privilege to represent Filipinos in the colonial government exclusively to local land and business lords. Thus when we were given independence, political power seamlessly flowed into the hands of this traditional elite who had a bias for their and the former colonizers’ aligned economic interests.
In addition to suffrage we also have the right to be voted into office. But in reality only the elite have so far been able to avail themselves of this right.
Luis Taruc, head of a Central Luzon farmers group that advocated for land reform and fought the Japanese, won a seat in Congress of the newly independent Philippines. But such was the determination of the elite to keep political power within their enclave that they managed to unseat Congressman Taruc even as they allowed former Japanese collaborators from among them into the halls of Congress. One can only wonder how the latter won those seats.
Three, free elections. Vested interest groups crafted the laws governing elections and designed them for easy and unrestricted violation notwithstanding paper-tiger Comelec’s posturings against violators. Guns and goons might have receded into disuse for the most part but gold remains an effective means for the elite to buy their way into office.
Hence elections were free only to a rich minority but hardly to the poor majority. The coming elections will be a farce as usual. Candidates of and for the elite should be in jail for flagrant violation of election laws. Instead these law-breakers, thieves, and liars will be elected to continue to mock democracy.
Four, rule of the majority, the core of democracy. But to win in our elections, one only needs to get more votes than rivals. Thus unopposed candidates win with just one vote. Where’s rule of the majority in that system?
No, we were never a democracy. But what do you think, were we ever?