Thinking Pinoy: Mr. Heydarian, it's "Oligarchy Fatigue"

April 14, 2016

Mr. Heydarian, it's "Oligarchy Fatigue"



A well-known political analyst calls for the preservation of democracy as Filipinos face the prospect of an autocratic post-Aquino government. But what, exactly, is the status quo? Because a democracy that’s just on paper is no better than a diploma from Recto U.

In “The End of Philippine Democracy?”, De La Salle university professor and foreign policy analyst Richard Heydarian called for “a gradual, systematic reform towards substantive democracy” as the Philippines suffers from the “Strongman Syndrome” characterized by Duterte and Marcos Jr.’s meteoric rise in popularity [Heydarian 2016].

Heydarian made several assumptions that led him to that conclusion, with the most poignant being the claim that the Philippine Cacique Democracy [Anderson 1988] is still a democracy.

BRIEF: A cacique democracy (Casiquismo) is a political system determined by the power of local bosses (caciques), who successfully influence the electoral process in their favor. It has been used most notably to refer to late 19th century Spain and early 20th century and twentieth century Mexico [Varela Ortega 2001].
Gradual, systematic reform toward a substantive democracy rests on the assumptions that the current version of Philippine democracy is sufficiently democratic. That is, before Heydarian jumped into conclusions, he should have first shown that a cacique democracy is a democracy to begin with.

And that's what we're going to talk about.

What is Democracy?


Let’s first have a working definition of what constitutes a democratic government.

A democracy consists of four basic elements [Diamond 2004]:
  • A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections. 
  • The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.
  • Protection of the human rights of all citizens.
  • A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

All these four elements should be present in a substantive democracy. Meanwhile, the presence of some and the absence of the others imply a partial democracy. Needless to say, the absence of any implies that there is no democracy at all.

Now, it’s time to ask the question: Do Filipinos have a democracy?

The Philippines being a cacique democracy is a universal consensus – even Heydarian agrees to that. However, the terms “casique” and “Casiquismo” are hardly sufficient to describe the Philippine situation.

The term “oligarchic democracy” or simply, “Oligarchy”, best describes Philippines politics, as “competition for political office has revolved around contestation for the spoils of state power between rival families and factions within this ruling class” and that “the majority of Filipinos (are) susceptible to clientelist, coercive, and monetary inducements and pressures during elections [Hedman 2010]”.


While some scholars argue that the two can co-exist [Winters 2011], their definitions of democracies are inconsistent with the four elements mentioned above. Now, it's time to examine the Philippines and see if it possesess the four elements that constitute democracy.

As a side note, it’s also interesting to note that Heydarian even cited Aristotle to emphasize one of his points, when it’s Aristotle himself who said that democracy and oligarchy cannot co-exist [Aristotle 350 BCE].

1st Element: Free and Fair Elections

Filipinos have never experienced a truly free and fair elections because of at least two things:
  1. The lack of economic freedom, as shown by the failure of trickle-down economics, the failure of land reform, and the failure of the government to provide basic infrastructure, all of which Heydarian clearly admit, and
  2. The lack of intellectual freedom, as shown by an outdated and underfunded education system [DEPED 2015], exacerbated by chronic lack of legislative and executive support for the freedom of information law [Abueva 2015].
Even this 2016 Elections is mired in controversy, as people question its integrity after the COMELEC decided to disable security functions of vote-counting machines. Even a recent Supreme Court directive to re-institute one of these security features only managed to elicit desultory compliance.

And this:



And let's not even discuss the fact that one of the candidates are closely related to the survey firms [TP: Businessworld Survey].

I can go on and on but let's just be honest here: the only chance for a non-establishment candidate to win an election is by overwhelming majority, as the entire electoral process is rigged to favor the oligarchy or the candidates that it supports.

2nd and 3rd Elements: Participatory Governance and Protection of Human Rights


Participatory governance, as exemplified by the Robredos of Naga City [Angeles 2007], is an extreme rarity in Philippine Politics.The dominance of political dynasties, their propensity to make government decisions with vested interests in mind, and their ability to manipulate the electoral process, make participatory governance tremendously difficult, if not virtually impossible.


The recent Kidapawan massacre is a testament to this fact. In late March 2016, thousands of starving farmers protested against the government, an attempt at participating in decision-making over the use of the provincial calamity fund. In response, the government, in response, sent dispersal units and fired live ammunition on these hapless peasants, killing several and injuring dozens in the process [TP: Mar Roxas Speechwriter]. The aftermath includes the arbitrary detention of pregnant women and the elderly [de Santos 2016].

Exacerbating matters is an entire week’s worth of deafening Presidential Silence, a tacit consent for the red-baiting government’s brutality [TP: NPA]. The Kidapawan massacre is not just an affront to participatory governance: it’s a blatant attack on fundamental right to life, liberty, and security.



This is not an isolated case. the 1987 Mendiola Massacre [Dychiu 2010], the Lianga Massacre [Karapatan 2015], the Pangantucan massacre [Corrales 2015] and the Hacienda Luisita Massacre [Tupaz 2015], are just a few of the many ghastly instances of the government’s wanton disregard for human rights and resistance to participatory governance.

Ironically, three of these massacres were committed under Cojuangco-Aquino administrations (Corazon and Benigno III), while last one – Hacienda Luisita – was commited right on Cojuangco land.

That is, Filipino Politics lacks the second element and third elements of a democracy. Participatory governance and protection of human rights are but a myth for a disconcertingly vast majority of Filipinos.
 SIDEBAR: The Liberal Party’s Bottom-up Budgeting (BuB) Program, an effort to spread this laudable cause [Dalangin-Fernandez 2016], is oblivious to this reality. Instead of a thrust towards more inclusive governance, the fact of the matter is that BuB will serve as a legitimized de facto pork barrel fund for local caciques.


4th Element: Equal Protection


We can stipulate that equal protection never existed during the colonial times. The Philippines had its first shot at equal protection after the 1946 liberation. However, President Manuel Roxas’ Bell Trade Act of 1946 [Shalom 1980]. Roxas died barely two years into office and successor Quirino continued his policies.

Magsaysay attempted a more pro-Filipino stance through aggressive agrarian reform policies [Antonio 1961], but he was killed in a plane crash midway through his term. Garcia, followed a similar stance through the “Filipino First” policy, but his gains were reversed after his election loss to USA-backed Quirino.

Then it culminated in the bloody and corrupt dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.

The 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution was an effort to topple a dictatorship that favored a few select presidential cronies such as Danding Cojuangco. EDSA, for the common man, is an attempt put the blindfold back over Lady Justice’s eyes. The common man hoped that after the EDSA revolution, justice will be meted out objectively, without fear or favor, regardless of money, wealth, fame, power, or identity.

But we were wrong.

While a petty thief will go straight to a dank, acrid, foul-smelling jail cell, members of the oligarchy get away with far more heinous crimes.

Through Mar Roxas’ recommendations, plunderer Joseph Estrada was pardoned and is now openly supporting Grace Poe. Marcos henchman Juan Ponce Enrile has never been out of “public service”. Bongbong Marcos, the president’s son, is even the frontrunner in the VP race. Danding Cojuangco continuously manipulates the Supreme Court and has been actively shaping the national political landscape since forever. There is no end in sight, and I even felt no need to cite sources for this paragraph because all of these are common knowledge.

And just this week, accused plunderer Janet Lim-Napoles was even granted bail [Cayabyab 2016].

Equal protection is just a delusion that helps academics sleep at night.

Democracy Fatigue and Strongman Syndrome


Let us recap the four elements of the democracy and whether they exist in the current setting.
  • Do Filipinos experience fair elections? No.
  • Do Filipinos engage in participatory governance? No.
  • Do Filipinos benefit from the protection of Human Rights? No.
  • Do Filipinos enjoy Equal protection under the law? No.
So what, exactly, was the democracy Heydarian was referring to?

Mr. Heydarian, “a gradual, systematic reform towards substantive democracy” happens only when we have a democracy to work on, but reality dictates that we don’t even have a single one of its pillars.

Suggesting that Filipinos are experiencing democracy fatigue is just like saying they’re tired of intergalactic travel.

Why? Because we have yet to experience either. Because there has never been a democracy that the common Filipino could be weary of.

Repurposing the words of the late comedic genius Joan Rivers [Rivers 2014]:

Democracy is like herpes: you either have it or you don’t.

For many common Filipinos – and that includes your truly – the vote for Duterte is not due to some newfangled motive.

As you may well know, three of the four presidential bets enjoy Cojuangco support:


Sans Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte, what is the 2016 elections but another oligarchic family affair?


Mister Heydarian, never use a cannon to kill a fly.

Filipinos are not tired of democracy. Instead, we are tired of the oligarchy: the exact thing we have, the exact thing we are fighting against.

And we shall win.
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