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A Crucial Point

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WE’RE MOVING toward a crucial point in the country’s democratic experience.  It’s the 2022 presidential election. There’s no doubt that, at this point, with the pandemic on the side of those with autocratic tendencies, our democracy has been eroded.  We haven’t crossed the proverbial Rubicon yet. But we may not be too far from doing it.

So much water has passed under the bridge since 2016. The gradual  weakening of our democratic institutions, the assault on media and freedom of expression, the unrelenting pressure on the judiciary, blatant defiance the Constitution and the rule of law — all combining to bring democracy to its knees.  There have been signs of knees buckling down to the continuing pressure in key branches of government, thanks largely to the executive branch.

One  latest move is a partisan effort by  the lording PNP-Laban  to make President Duterte a vice presidential timber in the next year’s election. Quite ingenious but not quite constitutional. Those who know the Philippine Charter have already warned that this is an indirect way of perverting the Constitutional provision prohibiting a reelection for a president. There should not be any doubt that those pushing for Duterte to run as vice president know and understand the Constitution.  Heresy, it is said, can come only from genuine believers.

It’s likely that this dubious idea, if it comes to a head, will be challenged in the Supreme Court. The  High Court has yet to rule on the Anti-Terror Law being challenged by prominent legal minds in the country for its violations of not only one but several enshrined Constitutional provisions basic to democracy. With many in the SC appointed by the Duterte Administration, there is less and less confidence in how it will rule with more independence. At this point, with Duterte and company having had their pounds of flesh, they may like their chances.  At the very least, the effort can provide a propaganda foil for the main agenda: elect a Duterte-friendly presidential bet.

There’s no point in looking for the House of Representatives and the Senate to make a difference. Both Houses have not amply proven their political stamina to stand up against a strong man than to make oblique commentaries, not direct opposition. Democracy is barely breathing in the legislative departments, and only because the strong man allows it. The country is sorely lacking patriots in places where there should be.

The United States may provide a sneak preview of how democracy is slowly, surely and methodically being eroded at this time. In fact, it strongly resonates where we are at in history.

In his column in the New York Time, veteran journalist Thomas Edsall quoted two American professors on the decline of democracy in the US and other advanced democracies like the Philippines. “The erosion of democracy will be gradual and stealthy, not an abrupt shift to authoritarianism,” it said.

Edsall piece cited two forces that lead to erosion to democracy, namely charismatic populism and partisan degradation.

Anybody carefully watching political events unfolding in the Philippines can only shake their heads in agreement.

There are palpable indications that erosion of democracy in the Philippines is in progress.It is quite evident that this is driven by charismatic populism and partisan degradation.  Partisan degradation is defined as when a party gives up on the idea of majority rule to do away with democratic competition. Can anybody be more popular than Duterte these days, and is there a party more powerful and interested in perpetuating itself than the PDP-Laban?

The coalition 1Sambayan will have to find out who among its nominees can best fit a charismatic populist to counter the Duterte Teflon-like popularity and build the party from the ground up. The fight against elitism was what brought Duterte to power. ( The last word is that Manila Mayor Isko Moreno might fit the bill. A movie about Bonifacio played by Moreno is promising). The last five years or so have demonstrated what it actually has done to the nation, especially the poor.  1Sambayan must come across with its message, and quickly.

In light of the pandemic, official numbers are coming out on the true state of the nation in many aspects, especially economically.  It’s easy to say, the near future is not  painted in rosy terms.  First things first: there is a need for a kind of leadership that will bring this country out of the rut brought, in part, by the assault on our democratic way of life.

And we’re not even factoring in the impact of China’s unbridled incursion in Philippine territories in the South China Sea. Guess who’s not stopping them?

As always, Abraham Lincoln is a source of inspiration. We the people, he said, are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow men who pervert the Constitution.

Former Antonio Trillanes must be a Lincolnian when he said he wanted the Dutertes to run as they wish and let the Filipino voters write them off. Has he overestimated the Filipinos democratic passion?

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