Philippine political culture

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Tonight’s episode of The Explainer, since we’re approaching Edsa anniversary season, will be looking at Ferdinand E. Marcos in retrospect. There are a few quotations I used in the script that I think can serve as food for thought for today.

The first comes from the great writer and thinker Leon Ma. Guerrero, who supported Martial Law, and Marcos’ solution of a “revolution from the center,” at least in its early years. His description of the political system leading up to martial law remains the most widely-accepted framework for criticizing democracy in our country:

The experience of the Filipinos had been of parties that were not parties but unprincipled coalitions of the rich, the powerful, and the unscrupulous; of elections that were essentially meaningless exercises in fraud, terrorism, bribery and demagoguery; of politicians who represented no one but themselves. The people’s capacity for self-government had been trapped in a political mechanism they had not learned to work or control, and their capacity for indignation and generosity, sacrifice and service to the country, left to wither and decay.

The solution adopted by Marcos and endorsed by Guerrero was first enunciated by President Jose P. Laurel to describe his philosophy of government in 1943:

The whole history of government shows that public affairs would be better administered and the welfare of the people better subserved in the hands of a moral and intellectual aristocracy. The people cannot be governors and governed at the same time… On the other hand, a good and efficient government, a benevolent government, may exist and continue indefinitely to function with admirable harmony, when men of superior moral and intellectual endowments are in control of the state.

The problem of course, is that who will ensure that the aristocracy will be of the mind and not a replacement oligarchy as greedy and stupid as what came before? And an unchallenged reformer can become a plunderer, too. This observation comes from an unnamed source, who served President Marcos, as quoted by James Hamilton-Patterson in his biography of Marcos:

I sometimes think he became bored… he was very greedy. Yet it wasn’t ordinary greed… I think he became bored a year or two after martial law because he didn’t really have that much daily governing to do… I quite favor the idea that crony capitalism as they call began… when some of those cronies began to work out cunning schemes with him he was seduced by the intellectual challenge of it… He really wanted to know what he could get away with. It’s a Filipino trait, this constant testing to see how far we can go. He loved all that.

And finally, a judgment from an American observer, the late American diplomat and historian Lew Gleeck, whose book on Marcos, “President Marcos and the Philippine Political Culture” (Lewis E. Gleeck).  I used as the general framework for the show. This is Gleeck’s summary of the limitations of the Philippine political culture:

The Philippine political culture is… personalistic but violent, religious but superstitious, corrupt but tolerant, hierarchical but distributionist, solicitous of form but not of content, legalistic, but careless of equity, media-obsessed and nationalistically vociferous with respect to rights but negligent to obligations.

I think, painful as it sounds, that summary says it all.

I’ve been catching up with the blogs over the past few days. Mongster’s Nest is the designated congressman-to-be if his party list succeeds (I believe the immediate objective is 100,000 votes). Read a recent speech he delivered that tries to debunk the notion that young people are politically unengaged. The Warrior Lawyer points out why he thinks Manny Pacquiao will lose. Bunker Chronicles comments on the overprinting of ballots. Speaking of ballots, Iloilo City Boy delves into vote-padding and shaving. A must-read, not least because of other points he raises: the linguistic nuances of candidates’ nicknames, for example..

When it comes to the national elections, Unlawyer makes this observation from the point of view of an entrepreneur:

The administration’s candidates may be feeling cocky with the slew of recent positive economic news, in the form of an appreciating peso and lower interest rates, but the business community isn’t about to forget that it came solely as the result of higher taxes and not out of any real gains in productivity.

The opposition is not in a better position either. It may be banking on discontent with the present government, especially the legitimacy of President Gloria Macapagal Arroryo’s 2004 elections, but milking anti-GMA sentiments can only take them so far.

Until that time comes to pass, when both camps are ready with their plans for the next six years, most businessmen will sit and wait it out until they pass judgment and choose whom to vote for.

blurry brain has some recommended readings (as well as a reiteration of his twofold solution to the crisis of leadership: genuine trade liberalization and improved education.

Istambay sa Mindanao presents briefings on the national economy and poverty and security in Mindanao.
Vincula remarks on recent ironies in our national politics.

Ang Kape ni Latex points to a new government regulation that puts tutors in a precarious position -one solved only through the usual government-sanctioned method: extortion through fees. A Nagueño in the Blogosphere reacts to my Monday column by pointing out another necessary reform. Apparently congressman in the Visayas have taken it upon themselves to dictate teacher appointments:

let me propose another specific prohibition for consideration under that proposed law: putting an end to the silent practice allowing congressmen to practically appoint public school teachers to new permanent items that are being funded annually in the national budget…

…this anomaly, where division superintendents defer to a list emanating from powerful congressmen in appointing teachers, came up during the annual Synergeia retreat I attended. The Iloilo mayors were particularly vocal about this demoralizing practice, complaining that unqualified applicants – backed by the congressman – usually end up getting the available items, to the consternation of more experienced and better suited ones.

Geronimo Cristobal Jr. looks at traditions at the PMA, while Sensibilities looks at a new glossy magazine for those interested in SWAT team stuff.

Another Hundred Years Hence looks at press releases on the revived Pasig River ferry. I’d first heard about this project two Christmases ago; this was at the height of the political crisis and the person who told me about it, used the project as an example of how the bureaucracy was slowly chugging along, despite the higher-ups being distracted. The plan, from what I’ve heard, is pretty nifty: for example, the boats are designed to slice through the water lilies that regularly choke the Pasig and which used to foul up the propellers of the old ferries.

And Punzi loves what I love, too: Napoleones.

Overseas, History Unfolding thinks gerrymandering by American congressmen hasn’t worked out in their favor as originally assumed. The Philippine version of gerrymandering, of course, is the creation of new provinces.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

6 thoughts on “Philippine political culture

  1. I bet Jose P. Laurel would have hated the concept of wikipedia. Anyway, he does not have the benefit of history since World War 2 to learn from. He can still be forgiven the naivete of leaving government in the hands of experts and technocrats. We no longer have such an excuse.

  2. so, welcome to Earth, you naive “martians” who are. or pretending to be clueless as to why there is evil in this world. Not much comment on this topic of yours, huh, mlq3, except from your “in-house” rat pacer (and of course, this one “internet brigadier”).

  3. Bencard, for some reason, my bringing up the word ‘internet brigadier’ has been eating at you. I wonder why…

  4. i conform with Jose P.Laurel (and Marcos).

    aristocracy is probably more effective and i believe to be the natural order.

    look on the animal kingdom. peaceful coexistence only happens when one rules the group (say, alpha dog for a pack, queen bee for a swarm, queen for the army of ants etc etc)

    and look at how the oldest (the most sustainable) organizations on Earth were managed – Church, the Muslims, military, chinese business, monarchs and even the Apostles, etc etc. are they in “democratic form”?

    i however believe in the democratic dynamics specifically in “grabbing solutions through collective effort (or we say teamwork) effort” but, i think, the majority (or the followers) had gone “democrazy” and exceeded their role/contribution in nation-building, likely leveling up with the leaders who are intellectually superior than the majority.

    even in little classroom teams, when everybody gets his/her ideas imposed and be adopted, the team project often ends up with an average or failing grade.

  5. are we really democratic?or we’re still in the process of establishing democracy?
    It’s quite clear,indeed, that Philippines is neither democratic nor undemocratic by substance and in form,but rather, Philippines is still struggling for democratization.

    This country has never been ideal for those who had been deprived of their rights..because admittedly,we are dominated by elite families who have gone thru a lot of years in manipulating us,even in the electoral process…Those landlords or landowners who are presumed to have the capacity and ofcourse,the RESOURCES to run for an office are just playing safe!
    they took power in order to sustain,retain and expand their interests,unfortunately..that is the reality!

    now, are we democratic? or it’s just a defense mechanism for those who are in power?

    reflect,then ask yourselves!


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