The great test of Philippine democratic institutions
It is clear that President Rodrigo Duterte has little respect for the rights of individual Filipino citizens. He doesn’t care about the Constitutional promise of safety or the fairness of presumed innocence. He doesn’t care if they die.
Furthermore, other individuals, even members of important democratic institutions like the Supreme Court and Senate, are regularly diminished and threatened by President Duterte even when they speak with the utmost consideration.
Individuals are helpless in the face of the blunt, single minded intimidation and force levied by the President.
President Duterte will have his way with the laws and people of the land until the institutions of the Philippines AS INSTITUTIONS perform their roles as mandated by the Constitution. Until they live up to the ideal that democracy is a form of government that allows the people to direct their nation’s destiny, rather than a single man imposing his will upon the nation.
Or until they give in to the President and bring the promise of Philippine democracy to an end.
It seems to me that these are the important institutions of Philippine democracy as it pertains to keeping government officials within the bounds of the Constitution:
- The Executive Branch
- The Vice President
- The Senate
- The House of Representatives
- The Supreme Court, and subordinate courts
- The Ombudsman
- The Fourth Estate: the popular press
- The universities, as represented by top officials, groups of professors, or groups of students
- The people, as represented by advocacies such as human rights, or by political parties, or by churches
Some clarifications are in order:
I have left social media off the list because social media are infested and controlled by game-players. There is no organization or set of ethics or laws that permit ideas to incubate and become official. Social media are essentially a method of communicating that can be used by the established institutions. But it is not an institution in its own right.
The position of Vice President within Philippine law is to a large extent independent of the President. The Vice President has cabinet authority only on the invitation of the President, or if the President is incapacitated. But the individual in it is an institution because she is Constitutionally appointed and given the same charter as the President, to fulfill her oath and execute the mandate of the Constitution, which is above the President.
I have frequently criticized The Inquirer’s journalistic methods. Today I would like to commend the publisher and editors of The Inquirer for recently living up to the highest principle of journalistic integrity: maintaining a voice that will not be cowed to favor any individual or cause other than an honest and forthright portrayal of what is happening. This raises Philippine journalism to its rightful, honorable place.
The two bodies within the Legislature are listed separately because I think that the House of Representatives has largely been compromised and become an instrument of the Executive Branch. It no longer has integrity as a body of conscience and laws. The defining moment of this transfer of authority was the designation of a minority leader who is a part of the majority rather than a true minority leader, in principle and voice. This step essentially deprived the minority of any voice other than as individuals. It denied the PRINCIPLE of democracy, that checks and balances are required to ensure all are represented.
All are not represented in the House.
International groups and other states have no authority over Philippine affairs. President Duterte ignores and plays ruthless with them, as illustrated by his insults to the American ambassador. Interestingly enough, this reflects the President’s style of attacking institutions by labeling people within them. He is rather a super troll in that regard, using personal insults as his form of argument. The purpose of the argument is to diminish the critic, intimidate other individuals, and thereby suppress the institution to which the critics belong.
So when the President attacks the Ambassador, he is weakening the alliance with the US, a vital relationship protecting Philippine sovereignty and security. When he attacks the Chief Justice, he is weakening the Supreme Court, a vital institution guarding justice. When he attacks Senator De Lima or insults Vice President Robredo, he is weakening their institutions, and weakening democracy.
It then falls to the institutions themselves, as whole bodies, to determine if they will allow themselves to be so weakened. That largely depends on whether the institution’s leadership and members have cast their allegiance to the President or the Constitution.
Institutional obligations in the Philippines, unfortunately, like political parties, are often aligned along personal lines rather than lines of principle. That is the main reason the Philippines is a poor and under-performing nation. The huge flaw in the culture of impunity and favor is that no one is responsible for anything around here.
So a democracy built on favors over principle does not take very good care of its people and is not very productive. Those of us who see the promise of democracy to lift people up and care for them better than other forms of government, especially poorly principled totalitarian rule, wish the leaders of Philippine institutions would summon up some backbone, inspire their membership, and do their jobs as expressed in the Constitution.
This blog, The Society of Honor by Joe America, is largely the work of an individual, with the participation of other individuals. It does not have institutional protection. Regretably, the tenor of the articles and discussions is leading down the path of an anti-Duterte blog.
When he was elected, I said I would support the President and confine criticism to issues. That has become difficult because issues invariably lead back to the President himself, and his character. The readout time and time again is critical because our values differ. His are autocratic while most contributors to the blog have values based on well-being of community. Community values are ethics and laws and respect for diversity and individual expression and civility. The Philippines has elected a President who, by all indications, does not even believe in free speech.
So democratic principles are for sure under test. As are the institutions of democracy.
This blog cannot be sustained as an “anti” blog. I am not an institution, and not a citizen. I have a place in the dialogue only if the President welcomes it. I believe he does not want critical voices to persist. Nor do I care to exorcise my dismay and angers by holding a regular rant in the public space.
So the blog will be suspended, or put into hibernation, until such time that the Philippines has a government that respects the rights of individuals to express themselves openly.
Non-political articles may be published here from time to time. You know, prayers, pokemon stories, restaurant reviews and other messages that will not cause the Administration to worry about developing a conscience or respect for democratic principles. The comment threads will remain open, and moderated. Political commentary is discouraged.
I will do an appropriate expression of gratitude to a lot of people as a separate article. There are so many to thank.
To the members of the institutions of the Philippines, I say this:
We, as individuals, are in your hands. We trust that you will stand up for the nation, its Constitution, the humanistic values of democracy and freedom, and their purpose, to protect the security, safety and well-being of every individual Filipino, and such guests as Filipinos may invite to share that famous Filipino hospitality and good will.