Saturday, August 04, 2007

patriotism: are we up to it

(a few days ago, i deleted this... because quite simply wasn't happy how i'd written it. I'm bringing it back, without any changes, though i'm still not happy with the way it was written.)

I received a very enlightening and interesting email last week via Ms. May Gladys Butoy, One Voice Coordinator. It is the text of Christian Monsod's presentation, dated 14 July 2007, from the Forum of Simbahang Linkod ng Bayan, Ateneo School of Theology. He talked about: the Philippine Political Situation in General, an assessment and implications of the recent May 2007 elections and the steps moving forward to 2010. (Should you be interested to download a copy, i converted the email attachment to pdf format and it can be found: here.)

What really interested me is Mr. Monsod's proposal for a program of action for the 2010 Elections. He proposed:

  • a thorough evaluation of the 2007 elections
  • a program of action on electoral reform
    • raise the quality of appointments to the COMELEC
    • legislative reform via specific features and provisions of the law (according to atty monsod, in order of importance)
      • the automation law
      • the voter registration law which must be separately legislated from the automation law
      • the laws on campaign finance
      • the party-list system
      • the absentee voting law
      • procedural improvements or even just improvements in the IRR of the Comelec
      • anti-dynasty law
      • sectoral representation in the various sanggunians
      • turncoatism legislation
I personally agree with such proposals most especially, the first 6 proposed legislative agendas... but for the last three... even if we as citizens can get our representatives to act, how are we to legislate human nature?

I believe political dynasties and turncoatism are symptoms.

We've already proven that people do vote wisely, especially the poor. So it begs the question... why do political dynasties exist? Perhaps it is because either the people have no other choice and so the people vote for them or they do a good job that the people vote them in and why no one would run against them.

As for turncoatism, there is no penalty to be a turncoat, whether on election day or amongst their peers, not to mention all the plus factor to go with it: you side with who gives you the most benefit personally.

Isn't that why we live in a country where party-of-me-politics, exist? It has been, for more than 20 years--- since before Macros and because by creating a multiparty system, we've disastrously further weakened the need for Politicians to form organizations and ideology and thus having "no need to play with others" and have "no need for a proper system" to get elected. It is a politics, more than in any other country where it is "every man for himself".

We need not look far really, as an example, just look at the Senate, which is a story of "every man for himself". It is more "House of Lords" than a "House of Commons", where every man (or woman) in the Senate is a party all to themselves. It isn't really their fault but by the very nature of our senatorial elections, with a constituency that is national in scope, it is a "mini race for the presidency".

Don't get me wrong, it would be nice to think that every man is created equal in their vision to do what is "good for the common good". Let's face it as much as we'd like to believe that and the "wisdom" of the absolute freedom of the multi-party system, our democracy has only seen the chaos of turncoatism (more so than ever) in an age where parties mean little to politicians and sadly, even more irrelevant to Juan dela Cruz.

It is hard to keep up with the switching sides. Heck, I don't know who belongs to what party or if they still do. Do you?

What do we know for a fact? That at the end of they day, we know that our people will decide. The elections of the past 20 years has been a lesson on how our people do think for themselves, ergo, would vote their mind, more so the poor, as Mr. Monsod pointed out in his presentation.

The question really is--- how are we going to give people a better slate of choices? And would members of congress enact a bill that would be, when one looks at on the surface, is detrimental for them or to be precise, detrimental to the status quo?

Perhaps, it would be better to legislate the structure and definition of political parties, to be "strict" in its definition, like defining specifically and simply what constitutes a political party. Such legislation should require the participation of the general population, say a percentage of population for every region, if the party is to qualify to run for a national race. Each party ought to be required by law to have a Convention that will choose their candidates. This way, there is a "weeding out" processes. Political Parties ought to be inclusive of every strata of society, rather than exclusive.

Likewise, what would constitute as an "independent" should also be properly defined. Like for example, you can't run as an independent, if you remain a registered member of a political party. Also, what rules must an independent follow to participate in an election, which would be determined by his ability to raise funds as a matter of quantifying an ability to mount a campaign.

And no, I'm not talking about sending people to jail when I say that there must be an environment where you can't simply flick a switch and go be part of the party and run as an independent for example, like many of today's candidates are doing. There should be real benefit for playing by the rules and more so a hefty penalty for not doing so. Like greater "burden of proof" of your ability to run as an independent, or some sort of detrimental factor should you switch from one party to another or from independent to party member after the elections. The rules have got to be less ambiguous than they are today. We must, for a lack of a better description (and is probably not appropriate), "professionalize" politics.

In other words: a simple, level playing field where the rules are clear.

By raising the standard of what a political party is, by putting limits--- we also with hope, raise the ability of others to run for public office. In many places, the reason why dynasties rise is that there is no alternative candidate (sometimes they do good, so it can't be all that bad). Still, having strong parties can allow fresh blood into the system, because it brings to the table the ability of those who have no access to resources and organization the ability to mount a campaign.

These "reforms," all go down to human nature. While reform may not be in the best interest of Congress (at least when you look at it without delving deeper), and we who advocate any change are in no position to do so, doesn't it look more and more like a chicken and an egg problem?

Christian Monsod is right there is a great and pressing need for electoral reform. indeed, it is a daunting challenge. We the people really have to do our part. It is the proper way so we can move our democracy forward, by ensuring and improving our electoral processes. In his words:
"patriotism is not the sudden and frenzied outburst of emotion, but the quiet and steady dedication of a lifetime (emphasis is mine). The question is: are we up to it?"
It is the lesson of the past 20 years, indeed the lesson of democracy, in any part of the world, in all of history that the price of democracy is the quiet and steady dedication of the people, and it is a processes that is ever evolving and it ends only when we chose not to participate. I must borrow Mr. Monsod's words again: "It is better to fight, even by their rules, against any attempt by authoritarianism from the right or the left, than leave the field open for them to do as they please." Are you still willing to pay that price?