Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mad against dynasties

We have been unbelievably seduced by democracy’s self-fulfilling prophecy that it will always prevail in the end. That during times of crisis, the electoral process will measure up to our expectations and deliver the kind of men and women who will lead us to democracy’s promised land. This has always been the public perception manufactured by government and those in power every election year. For so long we have counted on democracy to check the excesses of our political process, and it seems the long years of exposure have made us numb, almost like zombies who would do and think(?) whatever is told them.
Why vote when it counts for nothing? Or to the seasoned cynic, why vote when your vote will not be counted? Maybe it will, but not for your chosen candidate but added to the votes in favour of another. This is the Filipino state-of-the-art counting of votes: “dagdag-bawas” or add-substract. Whatever new election technology the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has, there’s always a counter technology to subvert it, a product of Filipino ingenuity.
Article 2, Section 26 of the Philippine Constitution provides: The State shall guarantee
equal access to public service and prohibit political dynasty as may be defined by law.
Click link to view Dynasties in
Democracies: The Political Side of Inequality.
We have been for so long focused on the wrong problem. It’s not counting the votes that matters but the kind of people to choose from. But in the final analysis, the deficiency could also be our fault for why after all do we keep voting for the same families and their relatives? Or why are we easily persuaded by the glamour and fame from acting or boxing in the ring that it can translate to serious political responsibility? Or why do we thumb down our noses on people who honestly care for the poor, those whose sterling record in serving the people is an exemplar for the kind we must elect in office?
Wealth and power determine the outcome of the electoral process. Political dynasties have accumulated wealth and power over a long period of time. Elections are important, not so much for the masses, but mostly for these families to keep their stranglehold on political power. As a result, our democracy is flawed, not a truly representative democracy.
If the government is really serious in reforming the electoral process so that democracy works and becomes more truly representative, the solution is not in simply automating election results but in retrofitting our mindset with radical ideas of reform and change. We can be experts in counting beans or even the stars in the sky, but we need to see the beans as being nutritious supplements or the stars lighting the darkness above us. Even before we can ensure that counting votes is quick and accurate, the people must be ensured that the candidates are not only qualified but will serve the public with integrity and honesty. No election apparatus can give this assurance; thus, any improvements in the electoral process must come from the people’s elected representatives to enact the necessary and relevant legislation.
But here’s the catch. The real problem looms even bigger because our representatives in Congress will naturally refuse to make laws that run counter to their interests. After their election, victorious candidates tend to suffer from loss of memory, forgetting the people who elected them and the promises they made. Such is the nature of the human condition. That is why we need to be forever vigilant even if we have to launch a kind of fugitive democracy, or what is sometimes referred to as democracy without politics.
We can’t just sit still and do nothing. One obvious way to prompt our elected representatives is being irritating. Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, likens this to a lump of foreign matter that enters a complacent system and induces a kind of internal instability. Kingwell analogizes it to the abrasive grain of sand that slips inside an oyster’s shell and in attempting to stabilize itself, the oyster creates something new and beautiful.
In my previous blog I wrote about democracy without elections and this is possible if the people can just be irritating enough to compel their representatives to implement the democratic provisions of the Constitution that allow the people to directly enact laws by initiative and referendum. Rule of or by the people is ingrained in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Section 1, Article II states that “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Under Section 2, Article XVII, amendments to the Constitution may be directly proposed by the people through initiative, and under Section 32, Article VI, the people can also directly propose and enact laws or approve or reject any act or law through a system of initiative and referendum. In 1989, Congress passed Republic Act No. 6735, “The Initiative and Referendum Act,” the enabling legislation to the aforementioned constitutional provisions.
Interestingly in 1997, the Philippine Supreme Court on three occasions examined and rejected RA 6735, but only insofar as the law was supposed to implement the system of initiative on amendments to the Constitution. In its decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress downgraded the importance or paramountcy of the system of initiative as envisioned in the Constitution and merely paid lip service to it. The original decision declared RA 6735 incomplete or inadequate in spelling out the essential terms and conditions for implementing the system of initiative on constitutional amendments.
The Supreme Court would revisit the same law in 2006 after the Comelec junked a proposed initiative by the Sigaw ng Bayan Movement to amend the Constitution which would change the government into a parliamentary system. Comelec dismissed the petition of Sigaw ng Bayan and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines to verify signatures they have gathered in support of their petition. Malacanang was rumored to have backed the petition and even government funds were allegedly used in procuring the supporting signatures.
Again, the Supreme Court voted to uphold its previous ruling in 1997, this time arguing that the proposed changes being sought by the petitioners would constitute a major constitutional overhaul. According to the Supreme Court, the “people’s initiative” as envisaged in the Philippine Constitution can only be used for lesser amendments. The high court also took notice of the alleged deceptive signatures gathered to support the petition and ruled that it cannot therefore allow such constitutionally infirm initiative to desecrate the Constitution.
Arguably, the Supreme Court’s decision was obviously politically motivated, but the onus should really rest on the proponents of the initiative to show they have satisfied the constitutional requirements and that the proposed parliamentary system was not motivated by selfish interests. The stakes were high in 1997 and 2006 because both the initiatives were intended to amend or revise the Constitution. Instead of stoking the divisions that were breaking the country apart as to whether to proceed with the revision of the Constitution, the Supreme Court decided to thread its grounds very lightly by preserving the status quo.
Apparently, the provisions of RA 6735 regarding the system of initiative and referendum for the people to directly enact legislative proposals were saved and not invalidated by the Supreme Court decision. This is now the new battleground, and it has already started with proposed initiatives by civil society organizations for the people to enact a law prohibiting political dynasties in accordance with the Philippine Constitution. Members of the multi-sectoral Movement Against Dynasties (MAD) have started gathering signatures for their campaign. The Kapatiran Party has filed a petition with the Comelec to hold an initiative for the people to enact a national legislation against political dynasties. AnDayaMo (Anti-Dynasty Movement) has also filed a petition with the Comelec to disqualify certain candidates who are members of known political clans. Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) threw its support to the growing anti-dynasty movement through a pastoral letter read in all their parishes entreating all Filipino Catholics to support the people's initiative to enact a law against political dynasties.
At present, two anti-political dynasty bills are sitting in Congress, one in the Senate authored by Miriam Defensor Santiago and another in the House of Representative authored by Teodoro “Teddy” Casiño. Both bills, which are identical and cover only locally elected officials, are in limbo and unlikely to see the light of day as members of Congress are not expected to pass legislation that endangers their own selfish interests.
Since more that 75 percent of its members are from political dynasties, Congress
passing a law to implement the constitutional prohibition against political dynasties
is next to impossible. Click link to view and sign petition, End Political Dynasties

More than half of the 33 senatorial candidates on the official ballot in the coming May 2013 elections are scions of notable families who have long dominated the landscape of Philippine politics. One Filipino senator, who is not linked to any political dynasty, has called the Philippines the “world capital of political dynasties,” with 178 active dynasties. They are the “equivalent of Mafia crime families,” she added, who have carved a monopoly of political power over a long period time, some for more than 30 years.
Enough. No more. Tama na! This must be the people’s rallying cry. The genuine rage against the entrenched elite and families dynasties is real. It’s like the Occupy movement that infuriated Wall Street financiers in the United States during the fall of 2012, but much better because here the people have a clear purpose of what they want to achieve. They have leadership and organization. This is the clear first step on the road to democratic recovery, and it is historically correct since it is the mass movements that are generally responsible for fundamental changes in society, not a small group of politicians elected because of their social class, wealth and power.

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