Live democracy by example to make it work

The Freeman

"The Philippines is democratic and republican state. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them."

- Article II, Section 1, 1987 Philippine Constitution

We as a people profess to certain principles and policies. That's a given.

What is not is that these principles and policies won't matter until we talk about them at the dinner table, in the office pantry, in the coffee shop.

Over the weekend, I have been invited to a rally at the Plaza Independencia against the government's plan to bury the remains of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Since last week, my Facebook feed is also filling up with apprehensions about the threat of martial law being declared amid the war against drugs (despite the non-existence of a state of invasion or rebellion where public safety so requires it).

The president has since toned down the rhetoric after he apologized to Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, with the latter graciously accepting the apology. But if like me, you are worried about how the nation's mood is unfolding, try to look beyond the eloquent exclamations of expert critics and human rights watchers. Talk to your family about it, your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues at work.

In my case, doing so caught me briefly in some sort of an ambivalent spell. The opinions in my personal circle of friends, colleagues and family about the Marcos burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani are split. I can also count many among them who do not mind the use of extra-ordinary measures by the president to fix long-festering problems.

A solid education on the principles of human rights and constitutional republicanism should help when you consider reacting to these present issues. But it is the personal conversations you have that strike a more powerful note. It prompts you to pause before you speak; to reflect about, if not hedge around the issue for a while.

One of the early influences that shaped my views about democracy and republicanism - that is, the rule of law and the right of individuals - was how my teachers at the University of the Philippines High School in Cebu treated us students. Our teachers did not only teach us about these principles, they concretized these in their actions. Their even-handed treatment to all us their students, regardless of class, background or status in life-and their strong commitment to meritocracy-formed our belief that institutions indeed can and should work for the welfare of everybody.

Now, what I am saying is that democracy and republicanism remain as abstract concepts until we live them every day by example and less by slogans and mass actions. The latter may be resorted to on occasions but it is in our everyday engagement with people and institutions that we breathe life into these ideas - "give every person his due, observe honesty and good faith."

Thirty years after ousting a thieving dictator, that pretender to the savior's throne, we still face the same fears of another threat to the constitutional principles and policies we have professed to - at least on paper.

Even worse, many people may think that extra-ordinary measures like martial law might work with the right leader this time.

On this, constitutional expert and legal historian Pacifico Agabin's take on Philippine authoritarianism in his book "Mestizo: The Story of the Philippine Legal System" is worth reflecting on.

He says, "While a number of analysts have identified factors that contributed to the failure of the martial law regime, the primary problem had been the legal culture of the Philippines."

A culture that thrives on personal loyalty and political connections.


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