omnibus omnia

Of intellectuals and Philippine politics

In Blogging, Christianity, Church, Constitution, Culture, Debate, Democracy, History, Law, Opinion, Philippines, Pinoy, Politics, Society, Thoughts on November 6, 2007 at 06:03

…to reform Philippine politics, we need to propose measures that realistically answer its problems in light of actual circumstances… 

Since I’ve no time as yet to write very much, I’ll just share a comment I made on the site of Manuel Luis Quezon III (here).  It was written in response to (and in substantial concurrence with) Bencard, whose very incisive comment began thus:

…i’ve been reading all those prescriptions for good governance that you have reiterated here since the early days of gma administration and long before. it’s fast becoming hackneyed, a monotonous mantra for the theorists and academics. but where did they get us? practically nowhere…

Bencard explained further that, in fairness to President Arroyo, the problem with Philippine politics is systemic in nature, and that its origins far predate the beginning of her term.  The upshot of it is that Machiavellianism and its allied hunger for money are necessary to advance in politics, and that nothing less than a complete overhaul of Philippine society would cure the country’s ills.   

Reading his comment, I must say I disagreed (and, given my natural cynicism, ironically so) with the pessimistic radicalism of Bencard’s assessment; for money-dealing and manipulation in politics are by no means uniquely Filipino phenomena; and affirming the need for social transformation is not enough without a model that could serve as a viable objective, considering how the French Directorate and the Soviet nomenklatura demonstrated that even revolution can hardly cure governmental corruption. Moreover, one can hardly fault intellectuals for proposing intellectual solutions to social problems, however unheard these proposals may be, provided they do not propose solving a injustice with a graver one.

On the other hand, I quite heartily agreed with the substance of Bencard’s comment, which was that, in order to reform Philippine politics, we need to view it and its context from an a posteriori perspective, and to propose measures that can realistically answer its problems in light of actual circumstances.  My own comment (herein corrected for spelling) therefore said:     

…I think the problem with most “academic prescriptions” [for reforming Philippine politics] is that they espouse either of 3 ideals: liberal democracy, Christian democracy (syndicalism/functionalism + liberal democracy), or social democracy (syndicalism/socialism + liberal democracy).  However, Philippine society is mostly a “patrimonial democracy”, which blurs the line between public and private funds and emphasizes duties within socio-economic relations like patronage instead of abstract/formal principles like public ethics.

So “pure” liberal democracy fails [in the Philippines] for the same reason it declined in late 19th century Europe–the middle class can’t outvote the impoverished majority with their bread-and-butter priorities, which patrimonialism answers in immediate if short-term ways. Also, Christian and social democracy can’t take patrimonialism’s place because their institutional representatives (the Church, the Left, and the unions) are excluded/discouraged by law from political action and thus can’t fully enact the programs that allowed Adenauer, for instance, to build a “social market economy” in postwar Germany.  [I should have added here that when members of the Left do take to partisan politics, they’re often rewarded with being “disappeared”, possibly by agents of the military.]

In the US, it wasn’t liberal politics but the rise in median incomes and New Deal welfarism that finally reduced patrimonialism in the urban political machines; and in Continental Europe, it was this and the rise of the Socialist and Catholic parties. Until these ideological groups are allowed access, or the government ceases to be the main financial base of the country (and a prime source for “rent-seekers”), or the middle class increases in number, patrimonialism will probably stay on…

C’est tout. To Bencard, thanks for the stimulus, and please email me your URL so I can link to your site.  I’ll to try to write additional notes on this subject on this as soon as I may, though I hope an old post (here) would do adequate service as a preliminary treatment.  Dominus tecum

  1. the lack of institutional support for the unpoverished gave them no choice but to look for their padrinos. but then again, even the rich and well-connected look for padrinos to protect certain interests.

    i can’t help but look to the other countries who, like us, were under Spanish rule centuries ago. the similarities in how it is governed are strikingly familiar. i guess the problem is somehow cultural. i’ll try to come up with a piece on this.

  2. […] Scriptorium discusses on why prescriptions to our country’s problems have so far gotten nowhere: …I think […]

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