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.
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.
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.
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?
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