Collapse of Philippine Democracy Part 2: Docile Subjects

Nestor Ravilas

Ruby Paredes on her book “Colonial Democracy” says that the problem with our democracy is that our democratic institutions were established under colonial power. She is saying, in effect, the problem is either what was bequeathed to us by our American overlord is a distorted form of democracy, or we have not fully understood something that was actually imposed to us. Or both defects might have been embedded within Philippine democracy without us recognizing it. In that case, what we have learned and has immensely left an impact to our culture and psyche is the docility and subservience to colonial master than the emancipating “people is the sovereign” principle of democracy.

The transfer of sovereign authority from sacred kings to the people is the greatest contribution of the era called enlightenment. Although the honor to be the first to rise against the despotic office of sacred kingship was claimed by another era, enlightenment was accorded, on the other hand, with the pride as having the lasting effect and wider impact in politics and in society in general. The Axial Age, period between 800-300 BCE, recognizes the Hebrews and the Greeks as the first that problematized divine kingship and tried to get rid of the system. Although lodged through different strategies, both the intention of the Hebrews and of the Greeks was to castrate the kings of their powers by submitting and subjecting them under agreed rules called, laws. Unfortunately, they miserably failed as the fascination with divine kingship perpetuated in the subsequent generations, discontent and dissent against the divine right of kings to rule, nonetheless, was registered in history. This becomes the impetus that puts the doctrine of divine kingship and any form of despotic rules in perpetual jeopardy.

In short, constitutional democracy is to transfer sovereignty to the people. It was to circumvent the abuse of power of despotic ruler harrowingly evinced in modern time in the famous words of King Louis XIV that says, “It is legal because I wished it!” And at the same time to disclose the pretension of a royalist’s argument like of Thomas Hobbes that we have to welcome despotic and sovereign ruler in exchange of social protection. Democracy, rather, is adherence on set of laws called constitution ratified by the people that protects them from possible abuses and unjust treatment of those who are in power, and promote and support at the same time the well-being of the people now called citizens. The same society the Hebrew Republic and the Athenean Democracy wished to achieved but failed because of the ridiculous fascination of people to despotic and sovereign ruler.

Constitutional democracy might have not grown naturally in Philippine soil. Worst, it was introduced under the rubric of colonial power. Docility left a lasting impact than the doctrine of human rights and human empowerment. Looking at it on different angle, we are, at least, fortunate to inherit such gem which history has sacrificed so much to supplant sacred kingship and despotic regimes. Instead of working on a “deformed” version of democracy and re-calibrated it to create a better one, we revert to our fascination with strong, sovereign, sacred leaders who reign above any law and social contract. The constitution that was written to support and protect the people now being used in the service of the sovereign. We passionately implement it when the perpetrators are mere citizens especially the weak and the marginalized, and ghastly excused those in power when they themselves infringed it.

The laws that supposedly established to protect us from those capable of inflicting harm are now given up to utilize by these people to violate us. We willingly allowed these people to mock the very protection we have and strip us off of any insulation to keep us and our family safe from the powerful and mighty. We might have been thinking that they will not go after us, until the day of reckoning when you see them ramming in our very door. Only then that you will wish that you should have stood up with the constitution that constrained the sovereign.