In recent days we’ve been seeing a few new “movements” and “advocacies” emerging (or being repackaged) as dominant topics amongst the chattering classes. Many of these involve one or another form of implementing some sort of “governance” around the way the Philippines’ wondrous cacophony of activity and voices that is its “democracy” work their way through.
I broadly categorise the nature of governance these “movements” aim to put in place into the following buckets:
(1) Control over the manner with which candidates for office pitch their qualifications to the voting public;
(2) Control over the timing with which said candidates undertake said pitches; and,
(3) Control over where these pitches occur.
The last item I feel is the most relevant to me. Where politicians and public officials display their “messages” to their constituency matters. When they do so on public facilities — like government vehicles and public (tax-funded) buildings and structures — they violate the public in their role as trustees to those assets. That part I’m pretty clear about.
As to Items 1 and 2, I’m a bit less fussed. I always thought the whole point of democracy is to put in place a self-correcting mechanism on a grand macro scale. After all, if the notion of that so-called “people’s will” is what underpins all this grandness, then why not allow said will to sort it all out?
There is such a thing as over-governance. Modern-day A-List philosopher makes it one of the pillars of his thesis in his most recent book, Anti-Fragile. Systems that are governed rigidly and centrally from the top are inherently fragile. Their stability generally degrades slowly over a given period then fails catastrophically in an epic collapse. That’s what happened to Soviet and Eastern European communism. They declined over the cold war then suddenly collapsed in the 1980s.
Democracy is necessarily messy both figuratively and literally. But its bottom-up nature is what is supposed to be the key feature from which its strength comes. Presumably it will sort itself out as “the people” get savvier in the way they wield this “power” all the demagogues are insisting is in their hands. But if Philippine democracy remains a mess, well now, wouldn’t that be an eye-opener of a revelation about the character of the people who presume to practice it?
The interesting thing about “movements” to limit campaign theatrics is that their loudest voices come from people who make theatrics their biggest mode of delivery for their “activist” rhetoric. Ironic, isn’t it? You wonder then whether “movement” leaders who favour theatrics over careful articulation of well-thought-out conceptual frameworks are really the sort of people one could expect a resonable debate on the issues to flow from.
Last I heard, “democracy” really is a form of government to allow the larger society to shape their government and, by transitivity, their society. That brings to question the wisdom in limiting the volume, colour, and timing of the wondrous variety of information that engulfs the senses during any of the Philippines’ renowned fiesta elections.
Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz put it quite succinctly a while back…
Simply attacking the practice of epal only addresses a symptom of a far bigger social dysfunction in this country, and a relatively minor part of the methodology by which that dysfunction is institutionally perpetuated in the electoral system. From top to bottom, this entire society is driven by personality and patronage; take away the politicianâ€™s signs and they will find another way, because that is the preference and expectation of the vast, dull mass of the Filipino voting public. And frankly, â€œWhat have you done for me lately?â€ is not such an unreasonable question for a voter to pose to a prospective candidate or re-electionist.
For us who like screaming “Power to the People!” with raised fists, isn’t it about time that we give them a bit more credit with regard to their prerogative to sort out the available information for themselves? I thought that was what “Freedom of Information” was all about…
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