It is time

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

A democratic government is for the benefit of the many, not of the few. It can only survive if its citizens protect this essential maxim. In the last few months, different studies have come out to alarm thinking Filipinos. The Philippine democratic republic is seriously in peril. Different studies have been made to awaken Filipinos.

A 2014 study by Julio Teehankee, college dean at La Salle University, shows 178 family dynasties rule 73 of the 80 provinces.

According to Bobby Tuazon, director of policy studies at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, 21 of 24 seats in the Senate fall under the control of political families. In the House of Representatives, 80% of 229 seats are dominated by dynasties.

A 2014 study by Ronald Mendoza, director of the AIM Policy Center, shows 75% of members of Congress and 80% of governors and mayors belong to political dynasties.

According to Forbes list of billionaires, the 40 richest in the Philippines have combined assets of $34 billion.

A 2012 study by the World Bank shows 25.2% of Filipinos living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day. The figure of the CIA for the same year is higher, 26.5%.

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These figures come from reliable academic groups, not from political opponents. Responsible institutions have not responded adequately to its dangers. Some of these institutions have chosen to ignore the creeping catastrophe, thinking the problem will go away. That is wishful thinking.

The few are determined to use their wealth to keep in power and the status quo through the present system of government of money and celebrity popularity.

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The wealthy and powerful few will use every means to make sure they stay in control of the resources of the country. They treat the present presidential unitary government as their principal weapons and the way to ensure that the status quo remains. Government is now about who has the big money. No wonder the same few families are in full control of the country’s political life.

Take the recent elections of 2010 and 2013. It is worth noting that although there have been cheating in past elections, this time it is about wholesale cheating through Smartmatic-PCOS machines. To win in an election in the Philippines today means only to have lots of money that can buy victory in the polls through these machines in the guise of quick results through automation. The use of celebrity popularity is a factor but this only shields the more pernicious use of money.

Our elections are now in the hands of foreign election operators because of money and a compliant COMELEC in complete defiance of the Constitution.

The result is a Congress that no longer represents the people in their constituencies. They are in Congress to represent their families. To be elected in office becomes the open sesame for a dynasty, a family business that can keep the family wealthy and powerful from generation to generation. 

We see these dynasts display their ostentatious wealth with impunity. Never mind if the other sectors of society have been marginalized. You see it every day on the streets. On one side are those who drive Porches and Mercedes Benzes while thousands line up in the streets for a ride to get home on rickety buses with only breaking down LRT and MRT for mass public transport.

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A strong middle class is the best guarantee for democratic societies in other parts of the world. Wide gaps between rich and poor are diligently avoided by providing public conveniences and social services. Government is tasked to create a level playing field for a strong and stable middle class.  When this task is not worked on, the inevitable result is a dissatisfied middle class that will rise and become the hotbed for revolution.

Is it any wonder that the Philippines has the longest running insurgency in the world? The inequality, poverty and the diminishing middle class fuel this insurgency.

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We are in a vicious cycle when the high cost of putting down an insurgency further drains the country’s limited financial resources. It is not the military that can solve social and economic problems. Yet we keep sending our soldiers to kill fellow Filipinos and be killed in defense of a corrupt political system on behalf of an unconscionable few in a war that cannot be won.

That is why our military has often been looked at as violators of human rights by other countries. The military in the Philippines is seen as the defender of a rotten political system for the wealthy and power elite. As defenders of this few they are no better than a mercenary force.

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The role of the military according to our Constitution is to protect the people and the State.

The military owes its allegiance only to the country and its people.

 Here is the provision in the Constitution in Article 2, Section 3.

“Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory. “

Many sectors of thinking Filipinos advocate a constitutional change to halt this growing divide between the rich and poor. Since the will of the people is sovereign, it has the right to change the Constitution. Some interpret the State as being the government in power no matter how abusive. This is patently absurd. Why should the military defend a rotten body politic?

The marginalization of most sectors of our society means the best, brightest and most productive have been shut out of the democratic process. This alienation can lead to the politics of despair and a revolutionary situation.

All citizens, including the military, have the duty to safeguard our democratic process by removing the causes that threaten or impede its development and consolidation. If the major obstacle is the current corrupt political system then it needs to be changed. We can transit peacefully to a new form of government through constitutional reform. This is the best way to safeguard our democracy.

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If nothing is done to halt the disintegration of state there will be consequences.

That is the challenge to the most organized groups in the country – the church and the military – to face it squarely and honestly. It is time.

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Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers and friends.

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