Then, as now

    NOW ANY society in which most of the people are poor is always in danger of having its political authority corrupted and dominated by the rich minority.

    In the Philippines, the real power lay back of the shifting factions, in the hands of a few rich families strong enough to bend Government to their will. This oligarchy intervened in government to preserve the political privileges of its wealth, and to protect its right of property.

    This intervention of wealth in politics unavoidably produced corruption. And when this practice seeped through the whole of society itself, the result was moral degeneration. So the Philippine political culture equated freedom with self-aggrandizement, and the politics of participation, so essential in a democracy, with the pursuit of privilege.

    Oligarchic “values” permeated society all the more easily because the rich controlled the press and radio-TV. The press particularly became the weapon of a special class rather than a public forum. The newspapers would noisily and endlessly comment on the side issues of our society, but not on the basic ones: for example, the question of private property.

    The oligarchic propaganda was that somehow, with the election of “good men” – good men who please the oligarchs – mass poverty would come to an end. The search for “better men in politics” and not institutional change; a “higher political morality,” and not the restructuring of society – this was the oligarch’s ready answer to the question of change. Revolution from the Center, 1978

    * * *

    MORE OFTEN the politician neither legislates nor administers so much as he intervenes and mediates. He achieves a personalized relationship with his constituents as individual persons, more anxious about doing things for each of them rather than for all of them. A bridge, a school, or a rural development project, although important, is not enough. Has he been approachable? Has he managed to place a son in a Manila office? Where was he when a fire broke out or a typhoon came? How personally generous has he been with the needs of certain influential leaders? If he fails in these personalist tests, he fails as a politician.

    Are the people to blame for this state of affairs? Hardly, for conditions are such that the majority depend on the government. But are the politicians, who are simply responding to the situation as they see it? I would say Yes. Within the undeniably practical limits of political survival, politicians can and should try out some innovations that will transform the political culture from being populist, personalist and individualist to being more nationalist, institutional and socialist, in the strict meaning of being more conscious about the needs of society and the national community…

    One reason for the pervasiveness of corruption is that in being part of the system, everyone it touches seems to benefit…The corrupt politician who is at the same time accessible to his constituents has more chances of staying in power than an honest one “who has not done anything.” He probably takes his legislative or executive work more seriously, concentrating on collective goals to the detriment of political “fence mending,” but he is more often judged by the populist, personalist and individualist standards of the political culture.

    A true politician should be able to lead his constituency in a precarious present toward an uncertain future, but he dare not initiate or innovate unless he can be sure it will not cost his position.

    It is easy to condemn him for lack of moral courage, but what good is a businessman without a business, a politician without policy? “I must see where my people are going so that I may lead them,” an Athenian politician was supposed to have said. There are certain conditions, however, in which this attitude cannot be a useful principle of democratic leadership. Today’s Revolution: Democracy, 1971

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    CONTINUING RELEVANCE of things written over a generation ago – from media monopoly to patronage politics – reflecting the constancy and consistency in the praxis of Philippine politics. Aye, in the rut the nation has consigned itself, getting deeper at each change of administration.

    Can’t blame some succumbing to nostalgic sentimentalism: “Marcos, now more than ever!”



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