In today’s issue of BusinessWorld, which keeps its op-ed pages secreted away, free from the prying eyes of the online reading public, there’s a spirited reaction by a certain Ken Fuller to my column, You get what you wish for.
I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing his piece, first of all:
In his bad-tempered Inquirer column of July 12 (“You get what you wish for”), Manuel L. Quezon III seems, like his grandfather almost 70 years ago, to be toying with the concept of a “partyless democracy.” Mr. Quezon writes, “I have never been for party government, because strong parties make for a weak citizenry.”
Possibly, this view is born of a cynicism contracted by too close a contact with the mainstream parties. The role of parties, he laments, is to get power and then hold it, and dispense patronage. Well, yes, one can see what he means.
But Mr. Quezon has an aversion to all parties, regardless of ideology or country. The British Labour Party, the Christian Democratic parties of Europe, the US Republican Party, various communist parties – all are dismissed due to disgraced leaders and because they “end up invoking the police power against the people….”
It emerges that Mr. Quezon has a curious idea of what constitutes a party. Alan Peter Cayetano should not, he says, be criticized for joining the
emerging Villar coalition, as the latter is “party chief” and so Cayetano “must go in the direction his party leader points to.” So is that what a party is? An organization, if that is not too strong a word, in which lesser mortals merely follow the instructions
of the leader?
Mr. Quezon says that Jose de Venecia took his cha-cha initiative as a party leader, supported by loyal party members, only to meet public opposition, “because the public is not the party.” Yes, but it is also an indisputable fact that only an infinitesimal proportion of the public is in the party - any party. Party membership in the Philippines appears to be largely confined to those who hold, or aspire to hold, office.
Here, surely, is a major reason why parties (or their leading lights) behave in the manner that Mr. Quezon finds so offensive. Unless there is a strong membership base with no interest in holding office but a firm commitment to the party program (of which, more later), leaders motivated by self-interest will be able to act with impunity.
Mr. Quezon argues that the Philippines has real parties, that they do fight over the issues, and that the “only people who don’t believe issues are
represented by the candidates and voted upon by the public are people who hate elections and don”t want the public to choose our officials.” One suspects that he has specific individuals in mind when he casts this slur, but he retains a tantalizing silence regarding their identity. It seems perfectly clear, though, that one or more of them have recently upset him.
Do mainstream parties really fight on the issues? According to Mr. Quezon, after 1946 the defining issue at elections was graft and corruption, and today “it’s poverty and social justice. Every election has been fought on one of these issues.” This is disputable.
Yes, corruption was certainly a major issue in 1953, when the Americans had plans for Ramon Magsaysay (who, of course, had switched parties), and in 1961, when there were objections to Carlos Garcia’s “Filipino First” pronouncements. As long as corruption is around, it is available to be used as
an “issue” by the party or personality aspiring to power. If parties had seriously fought on this issue for the past half-century, though, would it not have
been tamed by now? Anyway, was this the major issue facing the Filipino people throughout these years? This, too, is disputable.
Were the recent elections really fought on the issues of poverty and social justice? Of course, all politicians will take a stand against poverty, but which mainstream party put forward a legislative agenda (as opposed to empty slogans) dedicated to its dramatic reduction? Which mainstream party nailed its colors to the mast on the issue of social justice (another slogan of Mr. Quezon’s grandfather)?
Hasn’t the main issue facing the people in the last half-century, and the root cause of so many other problems, poverty and insurgencies included, been the inability of the Philippines to take control of its own economy, to reorient it toward the satisfaction of the needs of its people, and to follow the path blazed by the “tigers”?
Mr. Quezon may argue that the tigers achieved their goals by authoritarian means (in fact, he mentions Lee Kuan Yew as a negative role model). He would, of course, be correct, but there is another way – and it involves parties.
Genuine national development, as opposed to the quack formula dispensed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, would be, if it were also to be democratic, a process demanding the participation of millions. For this, a party or movement dedicated to this end would be required, first of all to formulate a program.
Is it not possible to see how this might be achieved with the widest possible democracy? To envision a party based on a combination of individual membership (presumably organized geographically) and organizational affiliation (labor unions, sectoral organizations, business groups
committed to nationalist industrialization, etc.)? To conceive of this party’s democratically elected leadership formulating the program of national development and then submitting it in draft form to the members and affiliates for amendment, followed by a process in which, with every constituency and affiliate fully represented, the suggested amendments were debated and the final document adopted?
Is it not possible to envisage the members and affiliates of such a party, as elections approached, democratically selecting the candidates most committed to the program of national development, so that in every electoral district the real candidate would be the program, not the personality representing it?
A partyless government (a “partyless democracy” is surely an oxymoron), not a party government, would “make for a weak citizenry.” A citizenry can be empowered by strong parties, but only if a sizeable proportion of it is in such parties.
By the same token, no party will be strong - or disciplined - without an active, engaged mass membership.
I first revisited the idea of “partyless democracy” a decade or more ago, in a column by that title in Today Newspaper. I did so, in turn, in response to a reexamination of the idea by Rolando Gripaldo back in the 1990s. Gripaldo was just the latest in a line of scholars who periodically revisit the idea; in New Concepts of Democracy in Southern Asia by Marguerite J. Fisher ( The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4.,Dec., 1962), she places the idea of Partyless Democracy between Mahatma Gandhi’s “Shriman Narayan Agarwal,” Ayub Kan’s “basic democracies” and Sukarno’s criticisms of Western democracy.
As far as what Partyless Democracy means, there’s this extended discussion of the whole concept:
As early as 1940 President Manuel Quezon of the Philippines challenged his countrymen to discard one of the “fetishes” of democracy, “the discarded theory that democracy cannot exist without political parties.”41 In a speech delivered by Quezon to the students of the University of the Philippines on July 16, 1940, there was recurring stress on unity, cooperation, and strong national leadership, and denunciation of partisan strife and obstructionism as inimical to true democracy and the economic and social development of the Philippines. Quezon declared:
In the very nature of things the struggle for power between contending political parties creates partisan spirit, and partisan spirit is incompatible with good government. . . . Ir is party politics that causes inefficiency in government; it is party opposition that causes delay in the execution of needed reforms; it is party spirit that weakens the government and makes it incapable of facing difficult situations. . . . This concept of the need of a majority and minority party is as wrong as saying that, in order that a home may be governed well, it is necessary that there should be a division, that there should be fighting all the time in the family; A nation is like a family, multiplied a thousandfold, and just as it is impossible for a family to be happy or to make progress when there is division among its members . . . so it is impossible for a nation to grow strong and accomplish great ends if the people are always divided, if they are taught to believe that patriotism means division?*
Impressed by Manuel Quezon’s plea for a different system of democracy, Dr. Ricardo Pascual, head of the Department of Philosophy at the University of the Philippines, devoted his time to an amplification of the theories presented by President Quezon. In a book entitled Partyless Democracy, Dr. Pascual advanced a thesis holding that the “next stage in the development of democratic concepts and ideas is inevitably the ‘partyless democracy.’ “43 Dr. Pascual begins his argument with a warning that democracy is on trial, not only in the Philippines but in the other new nations of Asia. Much is expected of democracy in the creation of a better way of life for millions of Asian peoples. But the failure to bridge this “wide gap between promise and accomplishment is the source of disgust and reckless swerving to the opposite extreme in the form of reaction.”” Before popular disillusionment becomes too deep, warns Dr. Pascual, the processes of democratic government must be made more efficient. In this matter the Filipinos must “do their own thinking” and should not blindly copy the great democracies of the West.
Dr. Pascual then proceeds to challenge the Western thesis that political parties are necessary to a liberal political regime. His point of view will encounter strong resistance, he warns, because it runs contrary to the classical line of thought on denlocracy. He examines various Western arguments for the necessity of the party system and rejects them as inappropriate for the needs and conditions of Filipino society. A scheme of democracy must be constructed, he asserts, in which:
The opinion of the genuine public, that is, the genuine public opinion, is a compromise opinion of the different elements of a Democracy, not a triumphant opinion of the majority at the vanquishment of the minority. The scheme of Democracy which will carry out this ideal will be one which is not different from the type of organic unity, harmony, and process of a living organism. Biologists tell us that a living organism is the example of composite organization, of mutual participation, of synthetic harmony, of unity in diversity to speak in paradox. But this kind of ideal Democracy .. .is really impractical in the politics of the party system.
Partyless democracy, maintains Dr. Pascual, would be an “organic social polity.” In general, the various qualities of a partyless democracy will depend upon the “peculiar necessities of the country in which it is intended to be practiced; but all of them will do away with division, dissension, schism, competition, narrow vested interest, partisan~hip.”~In~ the Western party system, on the other hand, “political parties are still in conflict, in competition, in struggle with one another in much the same way that in the pre-party era the indviduals were in conflict, in competition, in struggle with one another.
. . . When will Democracy learn to substitute cooperation, organization and mutual help for competition, group struggle, and selfish e~ploitation?”~~
Furthermore, contends Dr. Pascual, the greatest need of the Philippines as well as other Asian nations is social justice. “The promotion of the social interest requires cooperation, not division, mutual cooperative mass action, not individual, competitive intrigues, the mustering of all forces toward the production of the social good, not the pitting of individuals against their fellow men. In this sense the partyless system . .. is the means for consummating the ideal of social justice.”
But how will partyless denlocracy work in practice? What structural design and organizational pattern will it assume? Dr. Pascual advocates a legislature based upon functional or occupational representation. First of all, the representatives in the Congress must
. . . come from groups of people but let these groups be determined not by geographical division but by occupations or professions. . . . Let not any geographical division interfere in this occupational grouping. This means that the delegates, let us say, of the farmers, are delegates of all the farmers in the Philippines. In this way we shall practice unity among the members of the group of farmers and not simply dream about it. This practice shall hold with all occupational groups. Each group shall be bound by the common interest inherent among the members of such group.’* The different groups are to be represented in Congress in proportion to their actual members in the nation, but with a stated maximum number of representatives.
Whereas proportional representation should be followed in the lower house of Congress, in the Senate each occupational group should have an equal representation. Because the welfare of each occupation is mutually dependent upon the welfare of every other occupation, maintains Dr. Pascual, there would be less reason for competition. The representatives of each group will be elected at large, and only by members of their own group. Thus farmers would not be competing against fishermen because “their candidates are not competing for the same votes.”50 In this system there will be “greater unity amoag people pursuing the same trade or occupation. …The feeling of self-sufficiency within a group which will contribute to the seclusion and aloofness of that group, and hence to the creation of sectionalism, will not be found in each of the occupational groups .. . since each occupation is not independent of others in the scheme of social life.”
Furthermore, the division of the electorate into occupational groups, according to Dr. Pascual, would encourage and accelerate long-range programs of social legislation, one of the greatest needs of Asian societies. National planning, too, would be facilitated. Under the new system “each occupational group would naturally endeavor to make lasting plans regarding its future.”
The author’s arguments on behalf of functional representation are reminiscent of those advanced by various European writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But they assume new significance in that they are aimed in Dr. Pascual’s book at the solution of problems felt to be characteristic of the new Asian nations.
For a more recent exploration of the concept, see Philippine Politics and Partyless Democracy by Bartman I. Gacrama of the University of LaSalette. Also, as I pointed out in 2005, there’s this article, Civil society and political parties, which asks similar questions in India.
As far as what Fuller has to say, the background for the views I’ve explored can be found in three essays I wrote for the PCIJ: Elections are like Water, and An Abnormal Return to Reality. Also, An Assessment, originally written for Katipunan Magazine.
Democracy in the Philippines
DEMOCRACY generally evolves from the limited to the universal. Among Western democracies, the development of democracy took centuries. In former colonies like ours, what took centuries in the West has taken decades. In the case of the Philippines, democracy has developed at a faster rate than our neighbors, particularly if you measure democracy in terms of suffrage, the ability to vote. Under the Spaniards, we had elections in terms comparable to the American colonies and Europe in the 18th century. Landed individuals who possessed social prominence voted. Our First Republic envisioned a limited franchise for a national parliament on the Spanish model, which means if our Republic had survived, we would have had democracy on the oligarchic model as practiced in Britain throught the 18th and up to the late 19th century, and in the early years of the American Republic.
The Americans attempted to boil down in a few decades what took them over a century to develop. First, voting limited to those with property and education, and then a gradual extension of suffrage to all taxpayers with a certain level of education. When the Philippines became autonomous in 1935, the extension of suffrage was extended to women by 1937 -almost a decade ahead of France! And property and tax qualifications were dropped. Democracy, as measured by elections was dramatically extended in the 1950s when the great number of local officials subject to presidential appointment became elected officials, which is why Arsenio Lacson became the first elected, and not appointed, Mayor of Manila. By the present constitution, even literacy requirements for suffrage were dropped, making our democracy, in theory, anyway, universal. The breathtaking pace of the development of our democracy can be measured in the lifetimes of Filipinos who are old enough to remember when women couldn’t vote, when property and literacy qualifications existed, and when many mayors and local officials weren’t elected but appointed instead by Malacanang.
However, faster, as Filipinos increasingly complain, as they envy the economic development of our neighbors, isn’t necessarily better. I always used to think it was an aberration limited to conservative mestizos in the upper class wen they would grumble that the problem with Quezon was that he wanted independence too soon; but I have heard thoroughly un-mestizo intellectuals from the Ateneo de Manila also assert that the problem with out democracy is that we achieved independence too soon. Then again, there is the far more prevalent belief among intellectuals from other schools, that the development of democracy in the Philippines was warped by the American attempt to impose their particular brand of democracy.
As the Chinese might put it, can there be a “democracy with Philippine characteristics”? A democracy that is genuine and not, for example, the “constitutional authoritarianism” of the Marcos years? I would answer the question by suggesting that an answer lies in the examination of three things. First, the clash between what the Americans purported to be doing and what they actually did. Second, the clash between what the Americans claimed to be attempting and the reaction of the Filipino leadership to those efforts. And third, the requirements of democracy and the inability of Philippine society to meet those requirements.
The Americans ended up proving incapable -and unwilling- to prevent the emergence of a system quite comparable to what Malaysia has today: a one-party state, itself composed of factions, under a strong leader, which maintained power through patronage. A French historian remarked to me recently that at the height of its power, the Nacionalista Party government of the Philippines in 1941 was by no means a democracy in the Western sense. And that American officials in the Philippines knew it, and warned Washington. But Washington then, as now, put its strategic and larger political interests ahead of fostering democracy, and as long as the local leadership got along with Washington, it didn’t care what sort of government was in place. This was at a time when America was winding down its colonial experiment, and it had its attention on other things. America then had another chance to intervene in favor of the democracy it claimed to espouse, by mounting a purge after World War II. But again, wanting to maintain influence without the mess of direct responsibility, it only made a half-hearted effort to intervene in the collaboration issue. The result was the first serious division between the political factions that reasserted their political dominance, and the Western-oriented younger generation that began to see the dichotomy between American rhetoric and practice. Even the 1935 Constitution was American-approved and influenced, but the Americans failed to see, or declined to comment on, the Filipino characteristics of that constitution, with its vastly powerful presidency (and the constitition would further be amended in 1941 to reflect Filipino political considerations; it would again be amended in 1947 to reflect American interests, which further alienated Filipinos from the Americans).
The second thread lies in the reaction of the Filipino leadership to what the Americans set out to do. The reaction was generational, and can be observed in the four generations intimately involved: the first being the generation already intellectually mature when the Americans arrived; the second and third being the generations that grew to political and intellectual maturity at the beginning and middle of the American period, and thus were still influenced by the revolutionary generation; and fourth, those who reached maturity during the tail end of actual American rule, and who observed their elders during the Japanese Occupation. In broad strokes, the first generation mastered American rhetoric but set about adapting the actual practice of that democracy in the unitary and authoritarian manner advocated by Mabini, who laid out the blueprint for the restoration of independence. This was a generation whose inclinations would be very familiar to Mahathir of Malaysia, with its concept of “partyless democracy” and distrust of foreign commercial interests: this generation can be exemplified by Quezon and Osmena. The second generation also mastered American idioms but displayed a more critical attitude towards the Americans and democracy, and can be exemplified by Laurel and Recto. The third generation represented the full flowering of American efforts, and can be exemplified by Magsaysay. The fourth generation saw the generation of Magsaysay in conflict with the generation of Laurel and Recto (particularly in the collaboration issue), suffered from the cynicism and desperation of the war, and most clearly, perhaps, saw the limitations of the system because of the way it broke down during World War II. This generation was exemplified by Macapagal, Marcos, and Manglapus. Macapagal and Manglapus preferred parliamentary democracy; Marcos, of whom I am convinced was a student of Laurel’s political philosophy and yearned for the partyless democracy of prewar Philippines, created a parliamentary-fascist hodgepodge because his preeminent concern was wealth and power.
In a sense, the experience of the First Republic points to the division in thinking about how our governments should be: a strong, unitary state as advocated by Mabini, who was primarily concerned with nation-building, and a strong, locally-based parliament at the expense of the presidency as was desired by the landed and wealthy, primarily concerned with the protection of local turf. The strong presidential system worked from 1935 to Magsaysay from a combination of the charisma enjoyed by some leaders (Quezon, Roxas, Magsaysay), and built-in advantages such as bloc voting that fostered the development of a two-party system. With the elimination of bloc-voting, presidents after Magsaysay began to find the party system becoming irrelevant. Combined with the increasing number of popularly-elected local officials no longer directly beholden to Malacanang, the presidency began to founder on the shocks to the system caused by a return to increasing local influence in politics. By the time Marcos came along, the system was clearly out of whack, but the attempt to change it was nipped in the bud by martial law.
But what of the people, those upon whom democracy depends? An American writer once denounced Cory Aquino as believing in “plebiscatory democracy,” something he felt Aquino had in common with Quezon. As far as the American writer was concerned, this was not, by any means, American-style democracy. Besides the economic benefits of elections, which the public likes, and which makes them demand regular elections, the view that Filipinos view elections as plebiscites is a valid one. Before 1935, elections were all local, and yet particular local elections became viewed as referendums on the national leadership. National elections began in 1935, and each presidential election became either a referendum on the incumbent, or a one-issue election; senatorial elections became mid-term referendums on the administration, too.
At the same time, as democracy spread, the ability of the electorate to discern issues from personalities declined, because of the declining level of education. The rot in the Philippine educational system can be traced back to the late 1950s and early 1960s; it sped up in the 1970s. Its fullest effects began to be felt in the late 1980s, and we are feeling it strongly now. The corrosive combination of the removal of bloc voting and the resulting decline of political parties in the 1950s, the diffusion of power to local kingpins that also began in the 1950s (the warlords), the ensuing inability of a presidency strong in theory but deprived of its traditional means for exercising that strength in actual practice, and the erosion of popular confidence in the ability of the system to work because of all these, has brought our democracy to the universal but essentially meaningless exercise it has become today. The power of media is now eroding the power of local warlords and dynasties on a national level, which is why they are demanding an end to national elections.