35 years of democracy has not freed Filipinos from entrenched oligarchic feudal rule

Richard Javad Heydarian has a fondness for historical context in relation to present-day situations. In his Inquirer piece “Why do we love dictators?” he laments how, “across the postcolonial world, where the pandemic has been most devastating, it seems many people can’t still shake off their collective fascination with despots, even the most tragically disastrous and visibly incompetent ones.” This is after a showcase over more than the first half of his column of his faculties for unpacking and cherry-picking salient insights off the history of Napoleonic France and stitching these together into a “context” for the above point he makes.

And yet after all that, the basic question remains unanswered; What has democracy achieved for the greater good?

The public always vaccilates between conservative and liberal values — at least in Western countries. This is what the colonial masters have been trying to force down the collective throats of their colonies. I wonder why Javad doesn’t write about Singapore and Lee’s model for city-state building. Many will not admit that China’s bureaucracy was modeled by Deng Xiaoping from Singapore as the two were known to meet clandestinely during the time Deng was implementing his one country, two systems strategy.

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China’s growth has been phenomenal considering its turbulent modern-day history transitioning from a feudal system to that of a republic. Peace only came to China after Mao Zedong. It’s experiment with communism as an economic model failed. It retained the political structure but with a civil service patterned after Singapore. It was the British who improved on China’s original civil service bureaucracy which is how the term “mandarins” came about.

Most former British colonies thrived after being granted independence with the bureaucracy in place. The exceptions are those in Africa and the Indian subcontinent which have been wracked by religious zealotry. The Philippines’ dysfunction is both psychological and political. Both are intertwined. The psychological is the lack of national identity. The political is the structure which was never the hallmark of Spain as a colonizer. The Americans didn’t bother changing the political structure because co-opting the ruling class was key in their pacification campaign.

If you think about it carefully, we’re still stuck with plantation-style politics. This time it’s not haciendas but whole provinces ruled by feudal political lords. The skewed version of liberal democracy in the Philippines is simply being allied with the greatest democracy in the world which is the US. Other than that, it’s like the colonizers never left.

The truth is we have been the serfs of the political and business lords since 1945. The elite have colonized the majority. This is where the appeal of President Rodrigo Duterte lies because he’s tapped into this dynamic. Former President Ferdinand Marcos used a different strategy which was to paralyze his oligarch enemies. Duterte is widely-perceived to be keeping them in check. He doesn’t need martial law to get what he wants done. He has the powers of the Presidency to get what he believes is for the benefit of the greater majority. Think of the renegotiated contracts with the water concessionaires. The oligarchs are fighting back using their media companies to no avail.

The Opposition is not independent enough to stand up for the people even if they are taking monies from their patrons. The South China Sea dispute has laid bare the behind-the-scenes happenings for the public to see. Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario aren’t patriots. They’re paid hacks. The same is true with Javad who clothes his arguments with historical precedents even if they are inapplicable. He is just promoting himself as a public intellectual but his message will not register with the average Filipino. This is what the Opposition and their patrons don’t get. And probably never will.

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