Why democracy does not work in the Philippines

The 1986 EDSA “People Power” revolution has been credited with bringing democracy back to the Philippines. However, three decades after the historic event, it seems majority of Filipinos still do not understand what democracy is about. The system of government is there in principle but Filipinos do not know how to use it properly. Worse, Filipinos do not realize that democracy involves hard work for the system to work. Recent events prove this.

Hanging by a thread: President BS Aquino
Hanging by a thread: President BS Aquino
The deadly clash between members of the Philippine National Police Special Action Forces (PNP SAF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebel group on the 25th of January has exposed not only President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino’s treacherous agreement with the rebel group, it also exposed the Filipino people’s weakness, specifically their lack of courage to take matters into their own hands.

BS Aquino has been marketing the deal his government has negotiated with the MILF rebel group under the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law as the key to lasting peace in Mindanao. The massacre of 44 SAF troopers has proven that the deal is anything but. As previously mentioned, under the deal, the MILF will get billions of pesos on an annual basis from the national government to assist the group in creating their sub state. Aside from that, all their previous atrocities including the above-mentioned massacre of the fallen troopers will be “pardoned” after the bill is passed. The national government does not even have a say in how the funds given to the MILF will be spent. They could simply spend it all on upgrading their weapons.

Why BS Aquino has crafted a deal that would burden the taxpayers and threaten the country’s sovereignty remains a mystery. Some people have speculated that his quest for a Nobel Peace Prize has been his primary motivation. To be sure, before the tragic event, majority of Filipinos did not realize that BS Aquino negotiated such a terrible deal and, with a rebel group who cannot even convince other Muslim rebel groups to join their cause and lay down their arms. Considering Muslims in Mindanao are still a minority in the region, a lot of people are baffled as to why BS Aquino seems cool about giving away parts of the Philippines that are abundant in natural resources. There are even unconfirmed reports that Malaysia could be using the MILF as a front in its pursuit to colonize Mindanao.

Up until the recent tragic events, majority of Filipinos did not question BS Aquino’s policies. They trusted him too much. That was a bad thing. Filipinos did not realise that in a democracy, they had to be consulted first prior to any deal being made. Filipinos did not know that they should have a say in how public funds will be spent. Likewise, Filipinos were ignorant of the fact that they can participate in policy deliberations through their representatives in Congress prior to any bill being passed. More importantly, Filipinos were not aware that the Philippine government should not even be dealing with a rebel group particularly one that has committed atrocities against the public.

Democracy involves using critical thinking to evaluate candidates for leadership and holding them accountable once in office.
Democracy involves using critical thinking to evaluate candidates for leadership and holding them accountable once in office.
I suppose Filipinos are not used to participating in crafting of policies because they see their President as a father figure. They are accustomed to showing deference to their “leader”. Yes, questioning the President’s decisions is still frowned upon in Philippine society. This is probably a legacy from years of being ruled by a strongman. It does not help that the incumbent President is the son of a revered political couple and so-called “democracy icons”. The mind conditioning is made worse by the constant reminder of the Aquino “legacy” and the family’s “sacrifices”, none of which resulted in any significant improvement to the country and its people.

Sadly, Filipinos have been made to believe they owe the Aquinos for the freedom they enjoy today. Never mind that that notion isn’t even true. It was the people who marched down the streets of EDSA to rally against former President Ferdinand Marcos. Cory, Ninoy or Noynoy weren’t even present during the three-day revolt. However, the propaganda to keep Filipinos beholden to the Aquino name makes some people uncomfortable about criticizing BS Aquino despite his irrational behavior and the lack of progress in the country today. Ironically, freedom of speech has not given Filipinos a strong enough voice to air their grievances. As Voltaire once said, “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.

To be fair, after news broke out about the massacre of 44 SAF troopers in the hands of MILF rebel forces, public outrage was slow but eventually erupted. BS Aquino’s dishonesty about his role in the lead up to the tragedy and insensitivity towards the grieving families of the fallen have contributed to the feelings of anger of the public who sympathize with them. The President’s two speeches addressing the nation and subsequent meetings with grieving families could not make up for his diplomatic faux pas – being absent for the arrival of the bodies at Villamor Air Base to pay his respect.

Despite the public uproar, calls for BS Aquino to step down have been met with some opposition from those who are afraid of Vice President Jejomar Binay taking over his post. This has put Filipinos between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they know BS Aquino has betrayed the people’s trust but on the other hand, they do not like the prospect of having someone they know they cannot trust to replace him either. This dilemma is quite unique only to Filipinos because the Vice President is from another political party — the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). Had Binay belonged to the same political party as BS Aquino, members of Liberal Party would not have engaged in negative propaganda against Binay and Filipinos would hardly worry about the succession. In any case, the fear of Binay is mostly justified because BS Aquino set a precedent for acting with impunity.

Lurking in the shadows: Vice President Jejomar Binay
Lurking in the shadows:
Vice President Jejomar Binay
The Filipino people’s problem with BS Aquino’s replacement has certainly exposed another flaw in the country’s system of government. Likewise, it has exposed the lengths to which the incumbent will go to, including subject his opponents to political persecution, just to ensure his political party remains in power in the next election. If Filipinos want to lessen the political bickering, the candidates for the Vice Presidency and Presidency should be voted for as one team rather than separately like the way it is done in the United States. Better yet, the Presidential system should be replaced with a parliamentary system of government under which the leader of the ruling party could be replaced anytime. Unfortunately, both solutions will require amending the Constitution and are not things that can be done overnight.

In the absence of a perfect system of government, Filipinos will have to rely on vigilance and hard work to keep their public servants honest. If they want the next President of the Philippines to develop a conscience and prioritize the country’s interests over his own, they have to hold BS Aquino accountable for the indiscretions he committed during his term. Holding him accountable includes asking him to step down for lying to the public about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the 44 SAF troopers. They have to ask him to step down even when they know Binay will take over. This will prove to the next in line that he too can be asked to step down if he does not shape up.

Democracy is hard work. It means Filipinos have to be involved in nation building and be more critical about how the country is being run by their public servants. Most of all, it means using their critical analysis in voting for the right person to avoid another disastrous President like BS Aquino. The real question is: are Filipinos up to the challenge?


Post Author: Ilda

In life, things are not always what they seem.

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118 Comments on "Why democracy does not work in the Philippines"

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To quote another disgruntled Expat, “Democarcy is bullshit if people are easily led by the media.” Democracy, for all its glory only work when people are educated and capable of sound judgement. Considering the typical Filipino who makes decisions out of emotion and not logic, this will fall flat on its face. Considering that Noynoy got voted in because the masa really felt bad for him when he lost his mom and because he’s “the son of the heroes” (I wish I was making this up.) If one wants to change the Philippines, they must not only change the government’s… Read more »
I believe that the Filipinos are in a terrible bind. I used to think that a federal/parliamentary system of government will work well for the Philippines, and I still do, but I now think that no matter what system of government we have, it won’t work if the people are not interested in how the government and the country are run. I observed that so many Filipinos don’t really want to be vigilant of the government’s actions; to them, that’s work, and work is tiring. They just want to vote for whoever they think will run the country well (many… Read more »
How could you implement democracy in the Philippines when the average voter has average or below-average IQ, not to mention that they are uninformed about issues and have no concept, whatsoever, of what democracy means and what influences they have as citizens? It is common knowledge that politicians take advantage of dull minds, buying votes through give-away t-shirts or other trinkets that easily entice the impoverished. It would take massive effort to inform citizens and raise awareness of what democracy means. But if media is powerful enough to bombard its massive viewers with brain-numbing programs, why not use the same… Read more »
In all the time that I have posted on this blog and in other blogs, I made it a point not to condemn Filipinos in wholesale fashion. I do that because I’m not perfect and I don’t possess any magic bullet to cure what ails the county. I’m not even sure of my recommendation every time an opportunity to give one arises. I know talking down, insulting and criticizing is the easiest thing to do. It is so easy that everybody can do it with flair even. I don’t take it against those who resort to such style of commentary.… Read more »
Eduardo Mendoza

Let us recite with feeling and sincerity the original version of Panatang Makabayan, with emphasis on last three phrases:Tutuparin ko ang mga tungkulin ng isang mamamayang makabayan at masunurin sa batas
Paglilingkuran ko ang aking bayan nang walang pag-iimbot at ng buong katapatan
Sisikapin kong maging isang tunay na Pilipino sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa. Wishful thinking ba ito, or panata????

But if media is powerful enough to bombard its massive viewers with brain-numbing programs, why not use the same medium to bring education and knowledge that would empower and equip citizens to vote intelligently and discriminately? —- Miles Teg in Heretics of Dune answered that superbly. He said, “One of the most dangerous things in the universe is an ignorant people with real grievances *the rebels and the masa*. That is nowhere near as dangerous, however, as an informed and intelligent society with grievances. The damage that vengeful intelligence can wreak, you cannot even imagine.” That said, if you empower… Read more »

I wont be silence

Ingo Vogelmann

Well written, Ilda.

Amir Al Bahr
Ilda, This deference you spoke of, as you already know, is not something Filipinos show only towards the Aquinos in particular. While you mentioned that this may be probably a result of being under a strongman for quite some time, there may be something more underneath it all. At a fundamental level, Filipinos are afraid of speaking out for fear of sticking out. It has been drilled into their society since time immemorial: the need to fit in, the silly notion of pakikisama, the forced fit to a group consensus. Filipinos are so easy to sway into groupthink; all it… Read more »
@ Ilda, I thought you’d finally written a good article, UNTIL you cited Aquino not meeting the soldiers coffins at Vallamoor AFB.Look ,how many coffins do you think George Bush or Barrack Obamma have met coming back from battle? NONE, Because it is not their job ! and it isn’t Aquino’s either.I agree the guy is a bumbling idiot and he may just be selling Mindanao to Malaysia behind the Filipino people’s back’s.I would not put anything past a Filipino politician.BUT, its starting to look like you just cant get over your dislike of everything the guy does that gets… Read more »

To answer the question asked at the end of the article: No, I serioulsy doubt it. For reasons to numerous to get into right now,but NO, definitely:NO.

neil tristan yabut

actually, democracy works very well in the philippines.

in any national population (dunno, except possibly singapore and hong kong), you cannot expect the majority to be smart. this can’t be any truer in the philippines.

hence, come election time, the stupid majority number enough to bring their stupid choice to power.

magtaka kayo kung sa dinami-rami ng bobo’t tanga sa pilipinas, ay makaboto ng mga pinunong epektibo at hindi kurakot. if only (as boy abunda calls it) collective prayer actually works.

004Hayden Toro
Democracy is For the people; Of the people; and By the people. Philippine Democracy which is Feudal Oligarchy is: Fool the people; Buy the people; and OFF the people. The timidity of Filipinos to participate in the deliberations of Public Policies; and the Decisions of their Political Leaders…led to this kind of government, full of Abuse; backdoor deals with enemies; and outright thievery of National Funds. “Eternal Vigilance is the Price of Liberty”…it was stated by a noble statesman. We have this kinds of leaders and governments, because , we are not vigilant. The country owes nothing to the Aquinos…they… Read more »

I think Duterte can make some changes for the better for the Philippines if he can win the Election. Sadly, i dont think he can win.


The greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly, hidden in the shadows. Remember that.


Why nothing works.

Dick S. O'Rosary
You should start calling the President, Benigno “Simian” Aquino the Turd. “Had Binay belonged to the same political party as BS Aquino, members of Liberal Party would not have engaged in negative propaganda against Binay and Filipinos would hardly worry about the succession. In any case, the fear of Binay is mostly justified because BS Aquino set a precedent for acting with impunity.” I remember back then, there were a lot of Noytards pushing for a “Noy-Bi” tandem. I think there was even a faction in the Liberal Party devoted to this purpose, driving a wedge between Aquino and his… Read more »
richie b
Hi all, I’m USA born of Filipino decent where both my parents are Filipinos who immigrated to the USA (Hawaii). I Just came back from the Philippines on month long trip and discovered this blog site. So, its my first time blogging so bare with me. After 10 trips to the Philippines for the past the past 26 years I think the Democracy or democratic process the people of the country is looking for is still a long way off. On the surface, this is what I see: A) There’s two recognizable classes in the Philippine society: 1. The very… Read more »

I just prefer polite conversation. As for being “outraged at the people who’re pilfering our resources,” believe me, I am & have been for the longest time.


In the end, the only workable solution is to migrate.