COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
As we start to consider the possible leaders that we will place in public office during the May 2013 Elections let us put to deeper consideration the matter of what we are really voting for. We are not merely voting for a person who is capable and upright in holding an elective position. We are not merely voting for a person who we perceive has the heart and mind for public service. But of greater significance is that we are voting for what that person represents. Is he a bearer of democratic principles and ideals or someone who perpetuates the rule of the oligarchy and a likely promoter of global capital?
We have had elections since democracy was introduced in this country—barely a century now—but our electoral system since the American Colonial Period has been predominantly elitist in orientation. This was understandable in the early to the middle 1900s for at that period in time, only those belonging to the elite and landed class were able to acquire higher education and hold economic power to primarily dominate the electoral process. But even after the Edsa Revolt in 1986 where a greater part of our population have already acquired higher education to be qualified for elective posts, still there was oligarchic control in Philippine elections, and consequently, governance.
But Edsa taught us that the ordinary people can have the power to change the course of our country’s events and that the people must have a stake in governance. From that moment on, the Filipino people have ceased to fully trust the government in directing and influencing their public and private lives, and thus, the crusade for people empowerment raged on. The People Power at the Edsa Revolt has since been translated into pockets of people’s participation in non-government organizations, people’s organizations and social movements, and gradually in the conduct of local governance in the local government units as provided in the Local Government Code of 1991.
It is in this light that the thrust for participative governance should be given weight in voting for our public officials. In a paper addressed before the Annual Conference on Participatory Local Governance, University of the Philippines professor and senior fellow of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) Roland G. Simbulan stated: “As citizens, we are not supposed to just see ourselves as passive constituents, voters or recipients of the leadership of our representatives or of our leaders. We do not just keep government on its toes; we must make government, its institutions and the system work for us. But this can only happen if we equip the people with democratic sentiments, values and capacities.”
For as Professor Simbulan observed: “The State has not been entirely autonomous from non-State actors. Some social actors especially big business and big landlords have long developed and maintained a close relationship with the State. Agendas of big business interests are always often channeled through public officials who in turn have direct or close ties with big business. Public officials tend to represent and articulate business interests in the policy-making process. Thus, participation has long been limited to powerful vested interest groups, such as trade or industry associations which have resources to raise their concerns in the policy process, and usually they fund the political campaigns of politicians.”
Such is our situation today that poverty has become a structural problem brought about by the unequal relations and structures of power. Such is our situation today that gross income inequality continues to persist and worsen, with the rich becoming richer and the poor becoming poorer. Those who have economic power have gained political power through the public officials we have voted during elections. We have long been ruled by the few for we placed in public office people who served the interests of the few. And if political dynasties have grown in our time it is because the economic elites have also become political elites, consolidating economic and political power in a few hands.
We must make elections work for us and help correct the unequal relations and structures of power in governance. We must make elections bring about changes in “policies, practices, ideas and values that perpetuate inequality and intolerance.” And we must make elections bring about greater participation of the people in local and national governance, not only during election time but during policy-making, decision-making, and implementation. Election is a democratic process and must result in a democratic society. It must realize a government by the people, of the people, and for the people. And as such, we must elect leaders who carry these democratic principles and ideals.
February 7, 2013