May 2009


In response to this article, published by a foreigner in the Daily Tribune. He basically says that all the civil society groups mobilizing voters around election day (especially those involved in EDSA Dos) are self-righteous and their demands to be part of decision-making are useless.

Civil society/pressure groups/lobby groups are supposed to be part of the decision-making process. The reason behind and the role for a vibrant civil society in a functioning democracy is to aggregate interests and engage policy makers – thus becoming part of the decision making process. Unfortunately, in the Philippines civil society is most often in opposition to government figures. In other, working, democracies, elected officials actually rely on civil society to help formulate policy.

It is of utmost importance that we remember that democracy is not about getting your candidate elected, and then once elected that official has the mandate to do what they want. Democracy is an ongoing process and once elected an official is still supposed to involve multiple actors in decision making. Government officials don’t just earn the mandate of the people every time an election happens roll around – they’re supposed to earn it every day.

Personally, I think that what went wrong in 01 was not the groups that ousted Erap were too ideologically diverse. In a country of 90 million that is as complex as ours, the only way to get anything done is to appeal to a diverse group. Rather, I think the mistake was that the coalition broke up after regime change without following through on what came next. The trend of democratic backsliding across the world – not the least of such examples is our own country – really proves that regime change means nothing without some sort of managed transition. In other words, you take one corrupt, maniacal figure out of power without following through on some fundamental reform agenda and he or she will simply be replaced by another corrupt, manaical figure, and your country will likely be worse for it.

Yes, 01 was wrought with mistakes, but I think the approach of “after their candidate wins we won’t be left out in the streets” is the right one to take. Sure, people will have their personal agendas, but realistically, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. We don’t have to always lie to ourselves about being stuck to some lofty moral agenda. The idea of plural democracy is a bunch of different actors advocating for their own self-interests, and that results in something better for everyone (or at least a hell of a lot better than a controlled oligarchic state like what we’ve got now.) And so the challenge is yes, mobilize the electorate, but use that mobilization to prove that the Filipino electorate are energized and paying attention, and will hold candidates to reform post-election.

Furthermore, having disparate, personal agendas doesn’t mean such groups can’t work together post-election. They don’t have to agree on policy, nor should they. But, they can agree on some basic structural reforms that will benefit the vast majority of the country. We can’t count on vested interests to determine who wins the game, but we can count on a variety of different vested interests to determine the rules of the game. (Rawls, anyone?) For example, increased congressional control over the budget, increased transparency in appointments processes, regular reporting of government expenditures, a ban on re-appointments in upper levels of government, more independence for the office of the ombudsman, etc. At this point in our democratic development we need to focus on the basics of institution building to level the playing field. Far from the usual populist antics we are used to, these less-than-sexy political reforms can be advocated for by groups that run the gamut of the ideological spectrum, while still allowing them to remain “pure.”

One last thing – lets not forget that the Tribune is controlled by Erap. So take this editorial for what you will.

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In the reform movement, we often have a cynical view of people in government. They’re all bad and corrupt. They just want to collect their paychecks and bribes without rocking the broken system. It’s just us versus them, black and white, all the time.

More and more, however, we’re seeing shades of grey. We’re seeing people inside government who want to do something good. These are the people we must strategically ally with, if nothing more (but hopefully more) to support them when they stand up to the corrupted system by simply trying to do their jobs properly.

Yes, as far as legal arguments and the technicality of court orders, it’s hard to comment on this favorably. However, what is evident is a man wholly frustrated with a corrupt administration + lackeys and their exploitation of the judicial system to further their personal vendettas and greed. I’m sure the administration will react to this court order with responses of “It’s unprofessional” and “Opining doesn’t fall under the prerogative of a judge” and “A sitting president can’t be forced to testify” and other regurgitations of the legal maneuvering they have so successfully used to avoid the reasonable execution of justice. But, if they can so brazenly prostitute our legal system to, among other aims, intimidate, threaten and silence opposition, why shouldn’t a judge use the public pulpit he has to respond.

It’s hard to pick a favorite section of this document: alluding to Mike Arroyo’s health problems as punishment for evil, suggesting that Mike Defensor could suffer a similar fate (and appealing to his family on that front), the very suggestion of Alfredo Lim, Ping Lacson and Antonio Trillianes arresting the fugitive Arroyos (though I think the kind judge meant it as a warning, I thoroughly appreciate and savor the image).

But, I think for practical purposes there is a key point we should keep in mind. This judge will not hesitate to call and if necessary compel the Arroyos to stand as witnesses. Though they can do their legal (and medical – thank you to the honorable St. Luke’s doctors) acrobatics to say that a sitting president cannot be compelled to testify, May 2010 is 12 short months away. Yet another reason to count down.

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