What the Philippines can learn from the late Shinzo Abe

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the campaign period in Nara Prefecture sent shockwaves all over the world. In broad daylight while publicly expressing his support for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), he was shot from behind using a handmade gun. He was rushed to the nearest prefectural hospital but was declared dead roughly five hours after the incident. Japanese mainstream and social media were filled with news regarding the shooting of a former prime minister, stunning the world with gun-related violence in one of the most peaceful countries on the planet. Needless to say, Japan is a country in mourning. Japanese citizens are paying their deepest respects to Japan’s longest serving head of government after the Meiji Restoration.

As the longest serving prime minister in Japanese history, Shinzo Abe’s long political career yields many lessons to learn from. Hailing from a political dynasty that goes back way before Imperial Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, the late prime minister was colloquially labelled as a “thoroughbred”, referring to his political family pedigree. His grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi was a former prime minister and his father, Shintaro Abe was the foreign affairs minister of then prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in the 1980’s. His brand of leadership is an oxymoron, which can be described with contradictory adjectives. With his visits to a Japanese war memorial in Yasukuni Shrine and for formalizing the Quad and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP), he was both a nationalist and a globalist. For actively opening up Japan to trade, labor, and tourism while being prudent in exercising state powers, he can be called as a liberal and as a conservative. Japanese politics expert Tobias Harris has succinctly found the exact word to describe the late prime minister: an iconoclast.

However, his long term in office was not without its fair share of controversies. The highly publicized “Moritomo Gakuen” scandal, which implicated his wife Akie Abe, suddenly caused the drop in then Prime Minister Abe’s approval ratings. Also, the annual ceremony called “Sakura wo Miru Kai” sponsored by the prime minister’s office was flagged for its financial and budgetary irregularities. Finally, the faulty execution of Japan’s early Covid-19 policy, most specially with the “Abenomask”, generally generated negative reactions in the Japanese public. These unresolved national-level issues paired with his worsening gastrointestinal disease eventually led to his resignation. His untimely demise had unfortunately created more questions than answers in modern-day Japanese politics and society.

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As the party leader of LDP, the late prime minister was highly supportive of changing or amending the provisions of the 1947 Japanese constitution. This American-backed pacifist constitution established a unitary parliamentary system of government. The most controversial portion of the current Japanese constitution is Article 9, which states that Japan will renounce war as a sovereign right. This was included in the aforementioned constitution, specially with Imperial Japan’s bellicose actions that led to the Second World War. However, geopolitical dynamics of the Pacific are changing drastically and threats to security of the Japanese islands are present. As the only country devastated by two nuclear attacks, having Russia, North Korea, and China at one’s doorstep will make any country feel uneasy. With these imminent threats imposed by these nuclear-armed nation-states, Shinzo Abe advocated for changing this restrictive constitution to address these national insecurities.

Similar with the late prime minister, Filipinos should welcome and take the necessary steps in changing the provisions of the 1987 constitution. Even though the contexts in amending the 1947 Japanese constitution and the 1987 Philippine constitution are completely different, the constitution sets the tone as to what kind of institutions are to be created. This constitution should be amended in accordance to the needs, challenges, and future threats that a country might face. As what US President Thomas Jefferson also advocated, the highest law of the land should be rewritten roughly every two decades. This highlights that constitutions are not meant to last forever in its original form, but must evolve together with the state and society.

Right after his death was publicly confirmed by the prefectural hospital, messages of condolence from various heads of states and governments poured into Japan. Japanese nationals from all walks of life offered flowers, beverages, and prayers to the late prime minister. His official residence in Tokyo, the LDP office near the Japanese Diet, his headquarters as the Representative of Yamaguchi Prefecture’s 4th District, and even the exact location of his assassination in Nara were filled with offerings from ordinary individuals. This explains how Japan respects public office and their officials beyond politics, which is a remarkable reflection of what mature liberal democracies are ought to become.

In a similar manner, all Filipinos must respect public office, whether one is an elected politician, a bureaucrat, or an ordinary Juan dela Cruz. Burning effigies of public figures, throwing of unnecessary insults and tirades, and instigating civil disorder that is being promoted by these activist groups will not create an atmosphere of political accountability. These provocative actions risk escalation that lean towards violence. Filipinos must be politically mature in decision-making, and let their votes serve as society’s true voice as the basis for political mandate. This “live and let live” attitude is a central tenet for any functioning democracy.

Aside from prayers and messages offered to the late head of government, the current Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida quickly denounced Shinzo Abe’s assassination during the campaign trail. This act of terror is an attack on democracy, as what the current prime minister has mentioned in his public speech. He also called for ordinary citizens to practice their right to suffrage and resist such threats to protect and defend the peoples’ freedoms and democracy itself. Eventually, the sitting prime minister’s political party, the LDP was awarded with resounding victory, together with its junior coalition partner Komeito, even though such electoral victory tasted bittersweet in their perspective.

The Philippines too has its own share of experiences regarding election-related violence, where guns are banned and alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited during elections. These realities paired with a long history about guns, goons, and gold associated with Philippine politics created Filipinos who have lost trust not only in the government, but with democracy. Philippine democracy has always been flawed, but it does not necessarily mean that the country must turn towards autocracy, despite these temptations. Genuine democracy demands greater participation of all sectors of the society resulting to plurality and inclusivity, and Filipinos must entrust themselves in creating a democracy that functions well and will serve the interests of the country. An inclusive democracy begins with people who are capable of defending their freedoms and is paired with a system that preserves such.

Beyond Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s demise, Japan will definitely move forward. The Japanese people learn from the past, but they never let their past alone define who they are as a nation. This noble civilization, both blessed and cursed with its geography and its entailing weaknesses and limitations, has made Japan a resilient country. Fortunately, resiliency is something that we Filipinos know the most.

2 Replies to “What the Philippines can learn from the late Shinzo Abe”

  1. Thomas Jefferson’s suggestion for the constitution to be rewritten after a certain period of time is interesting, didn’t know he said that. But for us, and some other people, constitutions are so sacred as if they’re God. People forget that this stuff is manmade.

  2. I truly respect late former PM Abe. What we can learn is we should have high standards in selecting leaders, we need to demand more competent and honorable officials or else Philippines will always be a backward third world country as it is now.

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