A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle



March 3, 2013


This week I took part in a public forum at the Pimentel Center on Local Governance and Leadership, University of Makati, where we were asked to diagnose the present state of Philippine democracy and governance and how it might be in the near future, say the 2020s. Although our time was very limited I suggested that we discuss the subject in the context of our experience in: (1) nation-building and modernization; (2) democratization and re-democratization after experiencing authoritarian rule; and (3) development. In this way we would appreciate the complexity of improving our democracy and governance.


 Modernization. In our prolonged transition from “a traditional society” to “a modern society” many among us find it difficult to shift from “personalism” (personal favors, palusot) vs. “universalism” (the impersonal “rule of law”); from “Filipino time” and lack of urgency, to valuing time as a limited and precious resource (“industrial time”);  from “pwede na” to striving for excellence in what we do. We are slow in internalizing our faith and our laws and in learning from other countries. We are still a slow learning society in a fast changing world, and we are falling behind our more progressive neighbors.


 Over a century of democratization, authoritarianism, and re-democratization. Under Spanish colonization our forebears learned to build the Filipino nation, free themselves from Spanish rule, and set up a de facto democratic republic; only to be re-colonized by America and to fight the Filipino-American War. From 1900 to 1946, we learned to build and operate our democratic institutions as an American colony. But we had to endure over three years of tyranny and destruction under the Japanese occupation before we regained our independence in July 1946. Our 1935 Constitution would remain in effect until 1972.


 Authoritarian rule under Marcos.  In September 1972 President Marcos declared martial law. He justified his self-serving act: (1) to save our Republic from the rebellions of the extreme left—the  Communist rebellion and the MNLF rebellion—and the rebellion of the extreme right, “the oligarchs;” and (2) to build a “New Society”—“Ang Bagong Lipunan.”  In fact Marcos destroyed our democratic institutions. He set up a corrupt and self-serving authoritarian regime, politicized the military and police as his partners in governance, worsened the rebellions, and set back our political, economic and social development. With his political enemies imprisoned or eliminated, Marcos and company remained as the oligarchs in charge.


 Some ill effects of the Marcos dictatorship endure. The Marcos heirs and former allies have long returned to power. Most of our people quickly forgive and forget the transgressions of our leaders, confirming the conventional wisdom that we get the leaders and the government we deserve.   


Our authoritative vision for the Philippines in our 1987 Constitution. Under this Constitution adopted under President Corazon Aquino, the Filipino people shall endeavor “to build a just and humane society” and “establish …a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace…” (Preamble). Then in Section 1, Article II, our Constitution declares: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Many more constitutional provisions define our ideals, principles and design our major institutions in pursuance of our national vision.


What is the state of our nation and democracy 27 years since the EDSA “People Power” Revolt and 26 years under our 1987 Constitution?  This has been a turbulent period of re-democratization and development. With a population of 97 million in the homeland, the Philippines has become the 12th most populous nation in the world, although some 12 million Filipinos have left the country as OFWs since the 1970s. At a high personal cost to their separated families, their remittances do make up a sizeable share of our GNP.


Meanwhile, thanks to the Aquino administration there is more transparency in governance. We are also achieving higher economic growth. But it is not inclusive; it does not create enough jobs for our many unemployed. The urban poor multiply as the rural, jobless poor flock to the cities and many live in the ghettos. Poverty and inequality remain high in the midst of visible wealth and affluent life-styles. This is a worrisome situation. High poverty and human insecurity make citizens dependent on their political patrons who in turn are tempted to misuse public funds and abuse their office to remain in power. Desperation of the poor and corruption of the powerful may lead to more criminality and venality. Governance suffers and costs more, resulting in inadequate public services.


What about our middle class? As we have observed, in the industrialized democratic countries the large numbers in the middle class are seen to be the bedrock of their democracy. They are educated, gainfully employed, well informed, and critical of poor governance. They participate in politics as members of political parties and business or civil society organizations.


In the Philippines our middle classes are not much larger than our lower income classes. While some middle class members are active in civil society, they do not join political parties that are regarded as loose, opportunistic, and unaccountable alliances of politicians without serious political platforms for governance and reform. Except for their votes our numerous poor citizens are not empowered to participate effectively in politics and governance.


“Good Governance.” This concept and ideal of Filipino democracy has emerged after over 13 years of authoritarian rule under President Ferdinand Marcos. Blending Filipino and international ideals, we understand “good governance” as manifesting these features:


 (1) people’s participation in free and fair elections and in policy and decision-making made possible by an open and accessible government in a free society with vigilant, competent and responsible media;


(2) responsiveness of the government to the needs and demands of the people who are informed, empowered and enabled to express their will to their political leaders and civil servants;


 3) transparency and accountability of public servants in response to the citizens’ will and their right to know (“the truth” in governance) as the sovereign in a democracy; (4) honesty and fidelity of public servants and the certain punishment of those who are abusive and corrupt;


 5) efficiency and a sense of urgency in the exercise of power and authority to make the best use of scarce resources, including time especially; (6) effectiveness in providing the needed public services, solving problems, and achieving goals, all for the common good;


(7) the protection and enhancement of human rights and the fulfillment of social justice; (8) achieving ecological integrity and sustainable development; and


(9) realizing “Pamathalaan,” the indigenous Filipino vision of governance:  “dedicated to the enhancement of man’s true spiritual and material worth”…”through leadership by example, reasonable management, unity (pagkakaisa) between the governors and governed, and social harmony based on love (pagmamahalan) and compassion (pagdadamayan). (Pablo S. Trillana III. The Loves of Rizal, 2000. p. 179.)


Many Filipinos assume and therefore lament that as a people and nation we have no vision, common purpose or goals. It is true that our leaders rarely point out to the people our national vision, purpose, or goals embodied in the Constitution. And our students are not learning about the Constitution as they should. For these reasons, among others, we cannot fault many among our people for assuming that they do not exist at all.




March 10, 2013


Last Sunday we dealt with our subject from various viewpoints: (1) our ongoing modernization as a nation; (2) democratization under American colonial rule; (3) authoritarian rule during the Japanese occupation; (3) re-democratization after independence in 1946; (4) authoritarian rule under the Marcos dictatorship; and (5) re-democratization after the EDSA Revolt and under the 1987 Constitution. We highlighted our constitutional vision of building “a just and humane society” and our ideals for democracy. We also elaborated our concept of “good governance.”


Our strengths as a people and an aspiring democracy. Despite our many problems and weaknesses as a developing nation and an aspiring democracy, that we shall highlight below, as a whole Filipinos are hopeful and resilient. Having suffered long under the Marcos dictatorship, we value our freedom and democracy. And we do hope to develop our country.


We have outstanding national and local political leaders among our more numerous politicians who tend to be self-seeking and corrupt. Our vibrant civil society organizations and our free and outspoken media interact with political leaders and government officials who  respond to them as accountable public servants in a democracy.  To bind us as a nation we can recall a shared history, our heroes of the past and the present, and our common challenges and struggle. Filipinos are supposedly “happy” compared to other nations. And “It’s more fun the Philippines.”


But we are still a weak nation. Despite more than a century of nation-building and democratization, our political leaders have failed to unite, empower, and inspire our diverse peoples as a nation. Too many of our leaders do not transcend their personal and family interests when called upon to lead, to enforce and obey the laws, to support change and reforms, and to sacrifice in order to promote our common good and national interest.


As a people, we tend to emphasize our rights and privileges and minimize our duties and responsibilities. Our “social capital” in terms of social and political trust in each other is low. The poverty, joblessness, and insecurity of many our citizens make them vulnerable and dependent on their political patrons who offer them patronage, financial assistance, and protection, in exchange for their votes, allegiance, and loyalty.


We sense our predicament when we observe the national unity, determination, sense of urgency, and progress of the Japanese, Chinese, South Koreans, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Vietnamese, and the Thais.  


Many Muslims resent their poverty, exclusion and underdevelopment, and the political and cultural dominance of the Christians; thus the perennial Moro struggle for political, economic, and cultural autonomy, and the Moro rebellions since the early 1970s. Indigenous Filipinos (the lumads) also feel discriminated and excluded in our national development. The Maoist Communist rebellion dates back to 1968, succeeding the earlier Soviet-oriented Communism that began in the 1930s.


In a nation of ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity, and social inequality, there are varying degrees of resentment towards a highly centralized and Manila-centric governance expressed in the pejorative term “Imperial Manila.” This fuels the legitimate demand for far greater regional and local autonomy and federalism.


Given the advantages of our having a global lingua franca and a national language, there is a reaction to the dominance of English and Filipino—the supposedly evolving national language which is largely Tagalog—in our language policy and official communication. Such centralized structures, and language policies and practices are prejudicial to the people in the outlying provinces, and especially the poor, whose languages are not used in official communication. The predominant use of English and legalese in court trials is at the expense of many people who do not understand the language. As a consequence, many Filipinos are being alienated from their own languages, cultures, and institutions.


We have a “Soft State.” The political reality in our oligarchic society is marked by the dominance of the rich and powerful, and by widespread poverty, landlessness, homelessness, insecurity, injustice, and a weakened “rule of law.” In Gunnar Myrdal’s Asian Drama, he describes “Soft States” as having the following characteristics that seem to apply to the Philippines to some degree (Asian Drama, 1969. pp. 66, and 277).


(1)“Soft States are dominated by powerful interests that exploit the power of the State or government to serve their own interests rather than the interests of their citizens. (2) “Policies decided on are often not enforced, if they are enacted at all, and in that the authorities, even when framing policies are reluctant to place obligations on people. (3) “Governments require extraordinarily little of their citizens [and] even those obligations that do exist are enforced inadequately, if at all….. (4) “There is an unwillingness among the rulers to impose obligations on the governed and a corresponding unwillingness on their part to obey rules laid down by democratic procedures.


Who are the exploiters of our “SoftState?” I would include (1) “rent-seeking” oligarchs or rich and powerful politicians and their families who exploit the State to serve their selfish interests; (2) “warlords” who use violence to gain and protect their power and political position; (3) politicians who use force, fraud, or buy votes to win elections and stay in power; (4) “rent-seeking” businessmen; (5) “rent-seeking” public administrators; (5) gambling lords, drug lords, and smuggling lords; (6) tax evaders; (7) rebels who collect “revolutionary taxes”; (8) terrorists; (9) and even poor “informal settlers,” maybe for sheer survival as migrants in the big cities, and “squatter syndicates,” who occupy private or public land and use their votes to buy the protection of politicians.


Our weak nation and “SoftState” are clearly related to our leaders who use their  power and authority more to serve their private and political interests, rather than to promote the common good. Entrenched in their power bases, they lack the spirit of nationalism and the sense of urgency and accountability to the citizens who are the constitutional source of the nation-state’s sovereignty. On the whole our political leaders have failed to lead us towards our vision, ideals and goals through “good governance” as defined earlier.


As Prof. Francisco Nemenzo sees it: “We need a State that is strong to implement fundamental reforms, to break elite resistance, and to withstand imperialist pressure.” (“Beyond the Classroom: UP’s Responsibility in Helping Rebuild a Damaged Nation,” U.P. Centennial Lecture, February 15, 2008.) I would say that without a strong, democratic State we cannot have “the rule of law” and “good governance” as we have defined it.


The Republic of the Philippines has some features of “a failing State.” A “failing State” is one in which: (1) the government does not have effective control of its territory; (2) it is not perceived as legitimate by a significant portion of its population (erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions); (3) it does not provide domestic security or basic services to its citizens (inability to provide reasonable public services); (4) it lacks a monopoly on the use of force [there are rebels and warlords who control their territories]; (5) it may experience active violence or simply be vulnerable to violence; (6) it has a high perception of corruption.” (“Failing States and Failed States,” Foreign Policy, January 7, 2006.)



March 17, 2013


Filipino Democracy is an Oligarchy. It is the rule of very rich families, many of whom are known as “political dynasties.” Many, but not all, political or family dynasties are known to abuse their power and authority to protect their political dominance amid widespread poverty, landlessness, homelessness, unemployment, and injustice. Consequently, a large proportion of our insecure citizens continue to be dependents on their wealthy and powerful political patrons in our patron-client democracy. They are un-empowered citizens of a democratizing polity.   


Realizing this, the 1987 Constitution provides: “The State shall guarantee equal opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be provided by law. Twenty-six years after the adoption of the Constitution, Congress has not passed a law to implement the constitutional guarantee. If the framers of the Constitution had been serious and discerning, they would have defined what they meant by “political dynasties.” They should not have left it to the legislators to do so.


Many legislators belong to “political dynasties,” commonly understood as “political families” whose members occupy various elected positions in their communities, or in Congress. They enjoy a virtual monopoly of political power vis-à-vis their rivals where wealth is very unevenly shared and our oligarchy has too much control of our resources. “Despite wide-ranging reforms since 1981, big chunks of the market remain effective oligopolies or cartels,” according to a paper of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies.


According to Louie Montemayor, political scientist at De LaSalle University, “little has been done at the top to impact on the dominance of the elite. “There’s some sense to the argument that we’ve never had a real democracy because only a few have controlled economic power. The country dances to the tune of the tiny elite.”


As the economist Cielito Habito explained: “the growth in the aggregate wealth of our 40 richest families in 2011, which Forbes Asia reported to have risen by $13 billion in 2010-2011—was equivalent (in value) to 76.5 percent of the growth in our total GDP at the time, which official data show to have risen nominally then by P732 billion, or around $17 billion. I found that this ratio was only 33.7 percent in Thailand, 5.6 percent in Malaysia, and 2.8 percent in Japan—suggesting that our income inequality is much worse than in our neighbors. Relative to rise in total incomes, the wealth gain of our billionaires that year dwarfed those in our neighbors…, suggesting much more skewed distribution in our country. xxx The clear imperative is to pursue more inclusive growth. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 11, 2013)


How are we, Filipinos, to achieve “inclusive growth”? Dr. Habito explains: “In a democratic society, then, pursuing inclusive growth is not about redistributing wealth and income to equalize it; rather, it’s about providing genuinely equal opportunities for all. xxx This entails ensuring quality education and health services for all; correcting historically lopsided access to land and natural assets; equitable access to credit by small and large borrowers alike; a justice system that is blind to people’s social and economic status; and a competition policy that levels the playing field for big and small enterprises so that the latter can thrive along with the former. In other words, it calls for correcting our social, political and institutional flaws, in all their obvious and subtle forms, that perpetuate unequal access to economic and political power.”


Analysts say it is helpful that the government is spending more than P40 billion on its conditional transfer program to the poorest people, in exchange for their children going to school and getting proper health care. The analysts say that “the most direct path out of poverty is  improving workers’ skills, using higher tax revenues to boost spending on infrastructure, and rebuilding the country’s manufacturing sector.” So they endorse the cash transfer program and K plus 12 educational reform of President Aquino.


We have an “Unconsolidated Democracy.” From the end of World War II in 1945 and our independence in 1946 through the 1960s, when our population was around 50 million, we made progress as a democratic and developing nation. But our youth, especially, should be reminded that in September 1972 President Ferdinand Marcos, the only Filipino president to be reelected since independence, became a dictator and molded the 1973 Constitution to serve his perverse personal agenda. 


By destroying our fledgling democratic institutions, he was able to extend his powers as an authoritarian president from the maximum of eight years to over 20 years, until he was overthrown by the people at the EDSA Revolt in February 1986. Meanwhile, he had plundered the government and the economy, enriched his family and cronies, reversed our economic development, corrupted politics and society, and politicized the military as his partner in power. Our democratization suffered a traumatic reversal.


But through patriotic resistance by many militants and committed leaders, by Ninoy Aquino’s long imprisonment and martyrdom, by Corazon Aquino’s heroic challenge to Marcos in the 1986 “snap elections,” by the militancy of the underground press, and by the spontaneous, spirited  “people power” revolt at EDSA, we finally ended the Marcos regime and “restored our democracy” in February 1986 and under the 1987 Constitution.


However, under President Cory Aquino and her successors, the old oligarchy and traditional politicians, including those who had collaborated with Marcos, quickly recovered their power. Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. is a senator, Mrs. Imelda Marcos is again a representative, and Ms. Imee Marcos is governor of Ilocos Norte.


And, despite its laudable vision of  “a just and humane society” and a democracy and its ideals of public office and good governance, under this Constitution we have not been able to reform and transform our weakened and ineffective political institutions.


To this day, 27 years after the EDSA “People Power” Revolt in February 1986, we have not “consolidated” our democracy. “Democracy is consolidated when…a particular system of institutions becomes the only game in town, and when no-one can imagine acting outside the democratic institutions” (A. Przeworski,Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America. 1991. p. 26).


In contrast, we have played various undemocratic “political games.” Rebel soldiers sought to remove President Aquino in at least seven disruptive coup attempts that fortunately failed. In the course of his impeachment trial President Joseph Estrada was removed in an extra-constitutional “people power revolt” with the resignation of Cabinet members and the withdrawal of his support by the military and the national police. President Gloria Arroyo became the target of intended “people power” revolts, coup attempts, an aborted rebellion, and proposed “snap elections.”


To date the killers and torturers of the Marcos regime have not been brought to justice, and have been practically ignored by succeeding post-EDSA regimes. But at last Congress has passed a law to indemnify the victims of human rights violations under Marcos. Despite public outcry, various human rights are still violated with apparent impunity. Corruption and betrayal of public office are still rampant. Our indigenous peoples bear the brunt of non-inclusive development.


As we have observed, rebels, warlords and private armies exist in their own territories. The military and the police under civilian rule do not have the monopoly of the use of armed force expected in a democracy. The judiciary continues to be too slow in doing its work and is often unable to dispense justice especially to the poor. The trial of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre of 58 men and women, including journalists, by the ruling Ampatuan clan is now on its 4thyear.


Lately, in Sabah, Malaysia more than 30 Filipino members of the Royal Army of the Sultan of Sulu were killed in encounters with Malaysian military and police who also suffered casualties. The crisis has yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, hundreds of Filipino residents in Sabah have evacuated to Sulu and Tawi Tawi, with more to follow, creating a socio-economic crisis.


On the other hand, elections have been generally free, fair, peaceful, and credible since 1987. Following his ouster as president in 2001, Joseph Estrada was charged with plunder and detained in his suburban rest house. After a seven-year trial he was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Only to be pardoned about a month afterward by President Gloria M. Arroyo. After 40 days of impeachment trial by the Senate, Chief Justice Renato Corona was removed from office after he was found guilty of betrayal of the public trust for failing to report and pay his true income. Former President Arroyo was charged with electoral sabotage and placed under hospital and then house arrest. In October 2012, after years of conflict the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front finally signed a framework base agreement for establishing a Bangsamoro political entity to replace the failed Autonomous  Region of Muslim Mindanao.


But overall our democracy continues to be at risk. We should therefore take to heart the warning that we must deepen and strengthen democracy, or we risk its failure if widening poverty and unbearable social inequality should cause serious civil unrest that will trigger a military rebellion and another authoritarian rule.


“Emerging democracies must demonstrate that they can solve their governance problems and meet their citizens’ expectations for freedom, justice, a better life, and a fairer society. If democracies do not more effectively contain crime and corruption, generate economic growth, relieve economic inequality, and secure freedom and the rule of law, people will eventually lose faith and turn to authoritarian alternatives. Struggling democracies must be consolidated so that all levels of society become enduringly committed to democracy as the best form of government and to their country’s constitutional norms and constraints.” (Larry Diamond, “The Democratic Rollback: The Resurgence of the Predatory State.” Foreign Affairs, March-April 2008.)



Jose V. Abueva is the president of Kalayaan College & director of its Institute for a Nonkilling Philippines. He is professor emeritus of Political Science & Public Administration at the University of the Philippines. Comments are welcome at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Visit his blogsite here.