Sunday, March 6, 2011

POSTED: Real Democracy by Edwin Bael

This is an extended sharing springing from the comments of my friend Phil Pinpin on my previous piece “Been there, done that. Now what?” appearing in Inquirer.net.1/ Thank you so much, Phil, for your deep and informative comments from the heart. I do believe hope springs eternal in human breasts and, thankfully, it’s still in mine… somehow…

Could it be possible that perhaps our usual way of looking at our national problems is a problem in itself? We seem to focus too much on leadership personalities and play our politics according to that focus. Most of us appear to have forgotten and/or do not really appreciate the central role of the citizen-stockholder of the republic. We, as a people, simply do not fully play that role, as a rule. In our established practice, the role of citizen generally gets funneled into the exercise of suffrage, which is the target of all kinds of game plans (before, during and after elections) solely for capturing political power and invariably disregarding the more crucial matter of accurately reflecting and respecting the people’s preferences. No thanks to our political class and our own acquiescence, we find ourselves in this quagmire.

I submit this all boils down to what we now call “people empowerment” in its true sense, not the appearance. Which brings to mind Rizal’s “Hymn to Talisay”, a poem-song that he had his Dapitan students sing. It was used by prosecutors in the Spanish military tribunal as evidence that Rizal was a “subversive”. Talisay as used by Rizal here interchangeably refers to place, people and tree. In essence, its lyrics talk of: Talisay steadfastly advancing and dominating the elements (Chorus); memories of beaches, high rocks, and valleys (1st para); fearless youth with vigor who can fight when in trouble (2nd para); playful and courageous explorers who can catch even Lucifer (3rd para); Talisaynons being great souls and great team rowers (4th para); learned and skillful in arms, communications and farming (5th para); and hailing Talisay whose memory is charm for struggles and whose name is peace in death (6th para).

Why would subversion be attributed to poetic lyrics about a people’s capabilities, the chorus of which merely celebrates human dreams for development and dominion over elements? That was the question that bugged me. I hypothesize that words like these could only ‘subvert’ those who believed (i.e. the Spanish colonial government in combination with the Catholic Church leaders then and their local “co-workers”) that they were better, knew better and therefore had the ‘right’ to be followed and obeyed by the people. That presumed superior “right to lead and be obeyed” was “subverted” by a hymn that encouraged the youth to have the belief that they are strong, fearless, learned, skillful, and can catch even the devil. The hymn then was no less than words of empowerment to stand up for one’s self and fellows and to determine one’s own destiny! So it became an added justification for Rizal’s death sentence.

But the same “claim to superiority” now, in a roundabout way, seems to be perpetuated by contemporary “leaders” or elites. Here’s my point: in the 1896 of Rizal’s trial and martyrdom, it was deemed subversive and an additional reason for death by firing squad to encourage the people to believe they themselves have the ability to rule their land; now, in the year of our Lord 2011, the same ‘anti-democratic wolf spirit’ that killed Rizal has been recast, reconfigured and clothed as the ‘sheep spirit of suffrage under oligarchy’ which is really sham democracy because our elections are but trappings or window dressings of a system: (a) where the will of the people (in whom sovereignty supposedly resides) gets routinely disregarded, tampered with, not allowed to be freely and fully expressed, or even changed at will through ‘dagdag/bawas’; and (b) where power is “reserved” and “exercised” by the few in control of strategic institutions (politico-military; economic-social-religious-media). Hiding in plain view then, this few not only claim but actually exercise the presumptive “right to lead and be obeyed”. And they are really good at repeating and reiterating into the mass consciousness the idea that there is already empowerment of our people. But the truth is and we know it: our people are empowered only in appearance.

If this short description of the national situation is largely to the point, then my hope would rest on the actualization of Rizal’s Talisaynon dream of having the people firmly believe they themselves rule their nation and have the ability to do so, that is (in my extrapolation), as the stockholders of the republic - keeping elective officials continuously accountable, not just during election periods; guaranteeing the free, full and unfettered expression of their will; assuming responsibility for the consequences of their choices; and having their sovereign decisions respected and followed by their “representatives and employees” whether elected or not..

It has been joked that “in a democracy people vote first, then obey; in a dictatorship the process and expense of voting is done away and people just obey”. The kind of democracy referred to in this wisecrack is not what we want. We want a democracy where those who aspire to be entrusted with the people’s mandate and thus “obeyed” are held continuously accountable to the people who set the vision, mission, goals and measures of success that those “leaders” must adhere to.

When some pretenders (whether strongman, elite or any “mas-magaling-ako” claimant) act upon the belief that our people must be “saved” from their choices, these “know-it-alls” in effect, are: (a) imposing on the people their own values and choices, and therefore are nothing but modern day colonialists; and (b) depriving the people of the necessary experiences and the strengthening exertions relating to: jointly deciding on what’s best for themselves; working together based on consensus; bearing full responsibility for their decisions; navigating themselves to arrive at desired common ends; and eventually getting the nation to fly and soar “like an eagle”. It is supportive of democracy to operate based on the assumption that our people have the discernment and intelligence to know and work on what they (as nation and individuals) really need and want. It would be counter-productive to entertain and employ the idea that our people cannot really think for themselves and therefore must be told what to do.

Those graced with a little more light and wisdom may want to be policy proponents to the people - the ultimate policy makers. Needless to state, but worth repeating: Members of Congress are merely mandated to make laws reflecting the people’s will; the Executive, just given the trust to faithfully implement the people’s will; and the Judiciary, only delegated to clarify the people’s will as guided by the fundamental covenant, the Constitution. The bottom line is to focus on upholding the sovereignty residing in our people and ensuring they are truly respected, prepared, and presented with decision situations where, as Sovereign, they make up their minds with the best data available: (a) free from the usual leverage, manipulation, black operations, machination, misdirection or misinformation (and worse, from coercion, intimidation, threats, violence, killing or destruction) all designed to promote and protect vested interests; and at the same time, (b) free to consider all options in accordance with the cornerstone “free market of ideas” principle of democracy.

Rizal wrote: “In order that one may be responsible, it is necessary that he is master of his actions…”2/ Well, then, let’s ensure we are the masters of our actions to include, especially, being masters of those we elect, appoint and patronize.

Why don’t we try having real democracy for once?

We have not had one, really, where: (a) the bulk of our citizens stand as informed stockholders of the Republic, who each say “the buck stops with me, not with Malacanang, Congress, Supreme Court, AFP, Makati Business Club, PCCI or any where else, when it comes to the nation’s direction and destiny”; and then (b) make the public servants [through public opinion, voting power, etc.] and the business moguls [through public opinion, buying power, etc.] be truly accountable to them, with the end in view of securing the greatest good of the greatest number.

With true democracy, new and strong rays -not just glimmers- of hope shall shine forth and radiate from our archipelago. So, I submit.

Or is this just another speck of wishful thinking, this time about accomplishing the supposedly impossible, i.e., true democracy? Nonetheless, let’s have it percolate. Who knows, from the informed and free choice of the true sovereign (we the people), a critical mass of support builds up and we can confirm to the world it is, indeed, realizable.

There’s really nothing to lose, except the pretenders. And there is the probable gain of realizing Rizal’s vision of Filipinos being Talisaynons: great souls, great team rowers, fearless, learned, skillful in all the needful competencies and so able to do what we set out to do that if necessary catch even the devil himself alive or dead.3/
* Edwin D. Bael is a Knight Commander of the Order of the Knights of Rizal. He was Consul General of the Philippines in Los Angeles, California (2000-2002) and is now the Managing Principal of Bael Consulting, LLC, based in Phoenix, Arizona.
1/(http://globalnation.inquirer.net/viewpoints/viewpoints/view/20110225-322172/Been-there-Done- that-Now-what)
2/ “The Truth for All”, La Solidaridad, 31 May 1889, p.82.
3/ To read the Spanish text and English translation of Rizal’s “Hymn to Talisay”, please visit http://rizalsignificance.blogspot.com/.