Philippine democracy can only work when mediocre thinking is eradicated

The famous mega-rich investor Warren Buffet once said: “Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.” That’s short for saying that everyone has an agenda and the last thing one should be doing is seeking advise from someone who happens to have the “perfect product” for you.

As we begin the six-month homestretch to the presidential elections, the question of what it is exactly Filipinos expect of their leaders is becoming more relevant. Indeed, it is a question that has always been relevant. Unfortunately, Filipinos have long exhibited a lack of a will to confront that important question. The results have, not surprisingly, been quite predictable. Filipinos are subject to political leadership surrounded by a ruling class that is a direct result of this self-imposed myopia.


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Will Filipinos continue that tradition of lazy democratic participation in these elections this year? It is easy to see that they will. The current sorry crop of presidential candidates make this sad reality quite evident. In terms of holding their politicians to the task of addressing their specific concerns and challenges in the coming six years, Filipino voters have all but handed these characters a blank check.

Rather than make what we want clear to our politicians, we have given them license to tell us what is good for us. On the back of that, Philippine politics had become a showcase of just how creative Filipino politicians and their election winning machines have become at seductively packaging “what Filipinos want”. And like the good consumers and mall rats that they are, Filipino voters have lapped it all up with glee.

Right there in that whole approach to regarding election candidates is the whole reason why the Philippines continues to fail in its efforts to prosper within the framework of ‘democracy’. Democracy is premised on the notion that people know what is good for them and, following that assumption, that the will of the majority will necessarily be good for the whole.

Unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked that way in supposedly “democratic” Philippine politics. Beyond the so-called individual achievements of a tiny handful of exceptional compatriots, the average Filipino cannot even begin to describe exactly what it is about her country that makes it one worthy of her “pride”. Indeed, that motherhood statement of Filipino nationalism, the call to be “proud” to be Filipino, is itself no more than a product of the feel good but hollow rhetoric of traditional Philippine elections. It is now long past its use-by date — invalidated by its inability to get past the confronting question:

Pride in what exactly?

So because Filipinos have, at their grassroots, failed to crystallise a notion of what it means to be “Filipino” and what their nation, the “Philippines”, stands for as a collective, so too has their ability, as voters, to pick excellent leaders suffered astounding failure.

It is quite astounding that we, as a people, yet again find ourselves just half a year shy of the next presidential elections and, again, ready to wholeheartedly embrace that same mediocrity that has long characterised everything about The Pinoy Way.

Democracy in the Philippines has been successful with one thing: revealing the true character of the Filipino. A nation ruled by mediocre political leaders who are elected by popular vote can only be described as mediocre at its core.

Democracy works only when the people understand the limitations of democracy. When people think only of the freedoms of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises.

The above was spoken by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on the occasion of his being conferred an Honorary Professor Title by the University of Santo Tomas in 2012.

11 Replies to “Philippine democracy can only work when mediocre thinking is eradicated”

    1. To d_forsaken:
      I never quite appreciated Kris Kristofferson’s..”Freedom’s just another way of saying ..nothing left to lose”, (The Ballad of Bobby McGee). Your comment has just made it clear.

  1. The word mediocre implies that one’s position is somewhat ‘fair-to-middling’..somewhere between good and bad. There must be another word to describe the place where we are at, exactly…’the bottom of the barrel’.

  2. To my mind, this “Pride in what exactly?” and our inherent lamentable inability to form an agreed National Collective happens due to the Filipinos’ failure to recognize, to accept and to embrace a rallying National Ideology!

    (Having gone through some years of foreign subjugation, conquest and occupation, the Philippines had somehow lost its original and indigenous culture. In the words of the late Mr. Marcos, he states that: “It became necessary for the Philippines, therefore, in order to re-establish its identity for the Filipinos – especially the Filipino who was educated in the Western ways – to re-trace his roots, and re-tracing his roots, of course, he discovered that he was Asian.”)

    I am reminded of his book which I used to own, “An Ideology for Filipinos”. It was a heavy-read for me during that time, being young, but I tried as much as I can to understand the man (being such a very hated man back then) and to comprehend his writings – about what he has to say regarding his prescriptions for this country!

    Excerpts from Marcos’ 1983 book, An Ideology for Filipinos:

    “Internalization of the democratic revolution starts at the base of the nation – with the common people – inspiring and compelling those in the upper ranks to do likewise, so that a symbiotic relationship, as it were, occurs among the various levels of society, making the task of nation-building truly a national concern….”

    “The egalitarian ideal …urges those persons who occupy positions of power and responsibility – in government or the private sector – to treat equally every individual in the society. In short, the egalitarian ideal provides the moral basis for public and private transactions.”

    “Needless to say, the egalitarian ideal has a related presupposition about the nature of man. It assumes that each human being (disallowing individuals with natural or congenital dis­ abilities) has the same potential as another to develop himself, and thus to achieve the full measure of his humanity. What prevents a man from achieving his full potential is precisely an institutional arrangement that denies him, but not others, those opportunities that would
    enable him to realize himself.”

    “Obviously, the egalitarian ideal cannot stand by itself. It needs additional support, for the principle of equality can be met even without bothering with certain other values that are among the basic entitlements of every human being. For instance, we can all be equal in degradation and poverty: but such equality is meaningless. This is why the commitment to an egalitarian polity should rest upon the broader ideal of humanism….”

    “To serve the ends of man – that is the ultimate justification of all social institutions.”

    “The Western philosophical tradition locates man’s uniqueness in his rationality: It defines man as a rational animal. The idea of man does not necessarily lead to the philosophy of humanism, for the concept of rationality could be construed mechanistically: as a movement of thought that follows a set of inflexible principles. The Cartesian conception of reason is mechanistic in this sense. For it regards thinking as something that can be pursued only in one way: beginning with clear and distinct notions, the mind moves forward, step by step, following only the dictates of logic. What Cartesianism overlooks is that element of creativity so essential to the concept of human rationality. The recognition of man’s creativity, or that impulse to create new forms and new modes of coping with the demands of reality, has tremendous implications – not only for a philosophy of man but also for social policy and thus for ideology.”

  3. Another stumbling block for democracy in the Philippines is the people believing in inequality as a natural part of life. As Benign0 said, the Filipino is culturally hobbled by a compulsion to assert class dominance over each other. A fully working democracy understands the need to break down class dominance mindsets.

    1. To ChinoF:
      It’s just that we have not, (yet), graduated from being a feudal/parochial society.. a society where there are clear ‘class’ demarcation lines.. where individuals are defined by lineage and property exclusively.. where there is a need for somebody, or some group, to look down on. The notion of meritocracy and individual-worth.. where one is identified neither by his family-name, his bank account, nor his connections.. but by what he has achieved.. by the good things he has done, is very slow in coming. What makes this transition difficult is the politicians’ own desire for a ‘status quo’. They have to keep the people poorly informed, (ignorant might have been a better word), in order for them to freely go about their merry plundering ways without the people being any wiser.

      1. Vagoneto Rieles,

        We Failipinos have never graduated from our primitive and tribal nature of destroying our land and one another. Today, we just carry out the destruction with a little more finesse and sophistication. Afterall, we “world class” Failipinos now consider ourselves civilized people.


  4. We are not a Democracy. We are ruled by a government system of Feudal Oligarchy.

    Just look at the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates. They are rich; some has many agricultural lands, with tenants.

    We have never been a Democracy. The Feudal Oligarchs are elected over and over again; because they have money. Some have many lands. Some have many foreign/local bank accounts, stolen from the government funds, like: DAP, PDAF, Pork Barrels, etc…

  5. Question is the Philippines a democracy or a republic country? Look up the definition of both words first and answer the question. The problem is the same in most places including the USA. Leaders will work hard or a little, if you require it. This country is driven by the people more than America. Example, Pemberton is in a prison here in the Philippines, why? The people united behind one goal.

  6. Philippine democracy can only work when the Filipino people’s aristocratic and self-serving mindset and way of life have been eradicated.

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