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Democracy and Politics in the Changeless Land

Democracy and Politics in the Changeless Land

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Published by Mikki Eugenio
Democracy and Politics in the Changeless Land Article Review of "The Changeless Land" by David Timberman The Philippines is known to be leading and different among its Asian counterparts - after all, it had the first uprising against a dictator before the 1900s, was colonized by 3 nations, had experimented with republicanism for more than 100 years and toppled a dictatorship in 1986. However, while the country takes pride in its democratic achievement, there is no doubt that the country has a lo
Democracy and Politics in the Changeless Land Article Review of "The Changeless Land" by David Timberman The Philippines is known to be leading and different among its Asian counterparts - after all, it had the first uprising against a dictator before the 1900s, was colonized by 3 nations, had experimented with republicanism for more than 100 years and toppled a dictatorship in 1986. However, while the country takes pride in its democratic achievement, there is no doubt that the country has a lo

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Democracy and Politics in the Changeless Land Article Review of "The Changeless Land" by David Timberman The Philippines

is known to be leading and different among its Asian counterparts - after all, it had the first uprising against a dictator before the 1900s, was colonized by 3 nations, had experimented with republicanism for more than 100 years and toppled a dictatorship in 1986. However, while the country takes pride in its democratic achievement, there is no doubt that the country has a lot of work to do in making democracy felt and work for social progress. David Timberman, author of the infamous book "A Changeless Land", hit all points in his simple but thourough description of the Philippines, which may explain the problems the country face with democracy. While it was written 2 decades ago, the conditions and challenges he met is still relevant today, and this paper will have an additional focus on updating the facts he cited. A Background of the Country Timberman emurated the aspects in which the Philippines is diverse and complex. Being an archipelago consisting of more than 7,000 islands, it is expected that the country will have a mix of geographical and lingustic differences. Some areas are mountanous, some isolated islands, others fertile while others deserted. More than 175 languages are spoken through-out the land (Ethnologue), and the designation of English and Filipino as national languages made things more complex. An addition to this complexity is the string of cultural influences Filipinos experienced through history. Filipinos are an ethnic mix of tribal groups coupled with Malay and Chinese influences, superimposed with Spanish, American and other ethnicities as Filipinos entered inter-racial marriages. While Filipino society accepts this fact, they still value certain ethnic groups or mestizos, such as the Spanish-Filipinos and the Tsinoy, who dominate Philippine business and politics till this day. Religion also adds to the scheme of things in the country. While 80% of the country adheres to Roman Catholicism (SEASite), sizeable minorities exist, such as the Muslims in Mindanao, the Protestants and indigenous churches such as the Iglesia Ni Cristo. But due to the size and historical role of the Catholic church, it is oftentimes

significant in shaping political and social decisions. Lastly, there is a considerable difference in Philippine rural and urban life. 66% of Filipinos live in urban areas (Indexmundi), mostly located in the capital, Metro Manila. Cities often host a bulk of the country's infrastructure, schools, industries and government centers which often leads to the assumption that cities can provide a better life for rural migrants. The provinces, on the other hand, are often to be portrayed as idyllic and pristine, producing the country's supply of food. (Constantino, 1968) Provinces often tend to be conservative and traditional while city-dwellers are more individualistic and Western-educated due to better access to media and education. Timberman, including other scholars, argues that the Philippines has an ambiguous history. Ever since calls for independence flourished, Filipinos have tried their best to search for institutions and things that are truly "Filipino", which has been called as a search for a "usable past". (Dionisio, 2004). It can be blamed for the lack of records on the Philippines' pre-colonial era. What was just known is that the country was dominated by a multitude of small communities, often independent from one another. These kingdoms lack written religious and cultural traditions, and that only a few "pure" Filipino traditions and customs survived hundeds of years of colonial influence. Spanish conquest, even if generally unopposed, failed to implant penetrating impact to the Filipinos. Being the kingdom's farthest colony, government gave little interest in strengthening its rule, and most functions were subcontracted to the friars of the Catholic church. In effect, many Spanish institutions were failed to be transplanted, including the Spanish language, denied to the indios except for some mixed-race ones. But in the course of events, Spain lost its glamor as a major world power, and it has started to be plagued by independence movements in its colonies. The Philippines was no exception, building its own nationalist movement by the 1870s. While it has been lauded as Asia's first liberation movement, it has failed to its goals and expectations due to a mix of factors: ideological and regional differences, personal rivalries and interests. While the Filipinos made a "declaration of independence" in 1898, the light at the end of the tunnel suddenly went out when Spain "sold" its colony to the Americans through the Treaty of Paris.

While sporadic resistance to the Americans were showed at the beginning, Filipinos were easily wooed by the colonizers' cooperative nature. With its principle of "benevolent assimilation", the Americans moved to pacify the country with the cooperation of the Filipino elite, taking control of the government. The colonizers have no choice but to yield power to them, mostly gained their prestige through wealth based on land and commerce, nationalistic but at the same time conservative. But as war damaged the country and the Americans hastily bestowed independence for the country, most Filipinos felt the damage among its relationship with the colonizers and the Filipino elite who backed them up. Still, the "special relationship" of the country with the United States lasts until this day, with Filipinos thinking more Western than their Asian neigbors in terms of cultural and social taste. Most Filipinos identify themselves with anything "Stateside", and a considerable portion of them lives or works in the US. Filipino Political Culture In its more than 300 years of colonization, the Filipinos developed a culture that, as Imelda Marcos summarized, "neither here or there." What is certain, however, is that Philippine culture is a maze of diverse and important norms and values that shape political and economic affairs. Timberman tried to enumerate the major characteristics that shape politics in the country. What is most enduring about Filipinos is its value on kinship. (McCoy, 1994) Family plays a central role in everyday life, including political and social decisions. Families are expected to provide the needs of its members, and in the political arena, support for political and economic alliances. Most of the country's business are owned by families, and certain local and national posts are often occupied by "political dynasties". As these families obtain their wealth mostly through real estate and land tenancy, there is a tendency for landed families to held influential positions in political life. And due to obligation to family members, politicians often resort to nepotism and favoritism in government as well as in business. Filipinos also value reciprocity and developed a culture of patron-client relations. The notion of utang na loob made Filipinos tied to people who gave them favors, no matter how impersonal it is. In the political arena, especially in rural areas, voters tend

to feel a sense of gratitude to the haciendero and to the politicians who gave the community certain projects, which makes them feel loyal to their leaders. In this, a sort of patron-client affair exists, though the terms are unclear. Political families made their bases dependent on their tenant following, or in the cities, through transactions or services to their constituents. Another observable tenet of Philippine culture is the concept of pakikisama. For Filipinos, it is emphasized that smooth inter-personal relations are important through being polite, respectful and accomodating. In Philippine politics, pakikisama has been blamed in creating a culture of "showbiz" politics, with its reliance on rituals and hyperbole. It also created a tendency for leaders to avoid making tough decisions, and in some cases, vague or misunderstood thinking. Finally, it has been argued that Philippine politics has a "culture of poverty". Long-term planning do not exist as people tend to think of short-term goals and benefits, mainly for their family or group rather than the interests of the nation. And as the country suffers from high poverty levels, disasters (storms, eartquakes) and insurgencies (the MNLF, MILF and the NPA), Filipinos were accustomed to being pragmatic, even at the cost of doing crime, breaking the law, or selling their votes. As a result of these cultural anomalies, there is a tendency for Philippine politics to be more personalistic than having a focus on issues and policy. There is a tendency for Filipinos to look for a "messiah" that can solve the country's problems instead of focusing on structural change. (David, 2000) Skepticism about government, law and justice exists, as highlighted by corruption scandals and mass rallies held against the government. An argument also exists that while the country is democratic, it has failed in developing it in a practical form that can address the country's social problems. Pre-Martial Law After the Americans gave the Filipinos independence in 1946, the country faced enormous challenges in rebuilding itself and establishing an effective government. Faced with the damages of the war and a demoralized people, the elite took over the challenge of proving itself worthy of governing the Filipino people. In theory, the Philippines has no difference with the US in its form of government. It has a constitutional democracy, with power centered upon the president, a legislature

composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, and a Supreme Court. Political power is distributed through a competitive electoral system in which 2 parties, the Nacionalistas and the Liberals, clash for the seats. But in reality, Philippine democracy is dominated by elites through 2 parties which do not possess different ideological viewpoints and is more characterized as a fluid coalition of key politicians. Families with enormous investment in land and industry often control political and economic power. Even if elections are held, majority of the population still has little or no influence in the political process. Add to that the Philippines possessing a unitary form of government in which state supremacy and government control is emphasized. Any study of Philippine politics must start with highlighting the Filipino elite who dominate the country's affairs. While being attacked as feudal and oligarchic, the group still held on to power until this day. Different families emerged through-out Philippine history, and some argue that the country's history can be seen as a competition of these families for political power. Some of the elites trace their roots to the ilustrados of the Spanish period. Accumulating wealth through land ownwership, and later on commerce, these allowed the elites to dominate politics and economy since independence. They have financed politicians, political parties, and even the government in exchange for economic concessions. Mass media is controlled by the elite, and the military and the Catholic church supports them. Local politics is often dominated by a clash of one or two political clans, and in the national level, elites from political coalitions to compete for the presidency and the congress, two powerful institutions that allowed them access to needed resources, such as "pork-barrel" funds. But as the 60s and early 70s came, forces of change began to emerge in the country. Improving economic and social conditions created a more youthful and engaging population, demanding itself social services and later on, political reform. While the numbers show that the economy is growing, there is growing concern for the worsening inequality, population growth and the pressure for industrialization. The Catholic church, emerging from Vatican II, heeded the call for a "preferential treatment for the poor", including increased participation in social issues.

Philippine politics has also showed enormous changes. With the emergence of a bigger middle class, the elite has faced challenges in its economic and political power.The government started to have its influence felt on all major aspects of economic development. But as more people were exposed to new ideas, there is a declining respect for tradtional politics, much more pressure from the student movement and the left, with its revolutionary zeal and the promise for revolution. Ferdinand Marcos's rose to power were characterized by a mounting pressure to keep society afloat. His prediction that the country was "moving towards sweeping change" was true, but to the worse of things. A controversial re-election created a political backlash that sparked protests and increasing militancy among students and other progressives. A bomb wreck havoc at the Liberal Party's rally at Plaza Miranda, with Marcos giving the blame to the communists while his opponents point the finger back at him. A constitutional assembly made for writing a new constitution felt the pressure from Marcos for him to be allowed to run again, and the CPP/NPA started to prepare for a communist uprising. But by September 21, 1972, Marcos shook the scheme of things by declaring Martial Law. Thousands of political opponents were detained, businesses were taken over by the military, the congress was padlocked, and the president assumed unlimited power for his pursuit of a "New Society." Hyphotheses Regarding Martial Law Leading scholars have their own interpretations on the impostion of Martial Law. One school of though asserted that real democracy never existed in the country due to the dominace of a US-backed elite in poltical and economic life. Martial Law, as seen by people subscribing to this school, was a reaction by the state against the threat of divisiveness among the elite and a popular opposition. Another view emphasized that democracy in the Philippines was never viable by that time due to social and cultural conditions, such as emphasis on kinship ties. Some also argue that liberal democracy was a "luxury" that a developing country like the Philippines cannot afford; suggesting a pattern of government popular in similar countries at the time, such as South Korea. Others feel that the elite was to blame for "giving up" on democracy, while a few believe that democracy was working fine until

Marcos twisted the order in order to seize power. And as how Timberman suggested in the article, a combination of these hyphotheses can be used to describe the conditions that led to martial law. While social and cultural barriers exist, the design of the government itself was to blame for the ineffectiveness of policy creation and implementation. And while political power was dominated by the elite, people still adhered and believed in the system. To Timberman, it was not a failure of democracy, but a failure of people to commit themselves in it. After Martial Law After the so-called EDSA Revolution in 1986, the dominance of Ferdinand Marcos and his so-called "cronies" began to tumble, as Corazon Aquino, wife of slain opposition leader Benigno Aquino Sr., led the popular uprising. Marcos fled with his family in the US while Aquino and her so-called "Yellow Army" took charge of reorganizing government. What is most striking between the Marcos and Aquino eras was the restoration of democracy in the country. However, the democracy Aquino had enshrined were established facing a lot of challenges that plagued until this day. There was high hopes and expectations that the "revolution" that was made in February 1986 will result in lifelong changes in the country's political system. Demands for participatory democracy, peace and economic growth put more pressure to the administration. Aquino made sweeping changes by ousting all government officials loyal to Marcos and convening a commission to create a new constitution. Unlike preceding ones, the 1987 Constitution was a mix of progressive and conservative elements, some say a reaction to the mishaps that happened during the Marcos administration. It restored the presidential / unitary form of government and limited the president's use of emergency powers. A bill of rights, land reform provisions, the family and other socially relevant issues were tackled by the constitution but most was left to the Congress to decide upon. However, as new institutions were established by the constitution, Timberman argues that traditional politicians made their comeback in the political scene. As democracy restored elections and competition in the national and local levels, traditional political families returned for a clash for political power. While a number of political

parties thrived, it was still characterized as a fluid faction of political figures. However, there are significant changes that was introduced during the postMartial Law era. Judical independence and human rights were assured, as well as a plan to limit the military's influence in politics. There was some commitment to sustain economic growth and libreralize the economy, however, it was challenged by the dominance of the elite in the halls of Congress. The Left, Catholic Church and other civil society groups maintained its influence, starting from EDSA, to the writing of the Constitution to the election of new local and national leaders. Land reform was started in 1989. The government made its effort to combat corruption and establish a professional and effective bureaucracy that can deliver much-needed social services. As we look at the events that happened after the Aquino administration, it can be argued that things are still the same as before, while there is a certain level of progress. Certain events such as EDSA II and the controversies haunting the Arroyo administration showed how the government is having a hard time getting the people's trust. Political parties remain the same, centered on individuals and their charisma to win the vote. But post-Martial Law can be highlighted as a time where more nongovernment and people's organizations participate, and the heightened role of the media in influencing politics. Prospects for Democracy in the Philippines David Timberman's book about democracy in the Philippines show us a mixed appraisal on how things are going on in our country. By highlighting the country's conditions and how the country developed its political and system through time, he points out that there are a lot of changes while certain aspects remain the same. While Timberman points out that democracy here in the country is not inherently unstable or unviable, for the most part, it still has considerable appeal to Filipinos. While a repeat of EDSA happened in 2001 and scandals almost toppled the Arroyo administration, the country still possess political maturity to play with the rules, materialized by a generally orderly election 2 years ago which saw the rise of Benigno Simeon "Noynoy" Aquino to office. Military intervention (while sometimes attempted) and communism was seen as unfeasible, if not alien. But what could be the greatest challenge to Philippine democracy is establishing

legitimacy. From the Ramos - Santiago duel in the 1992 elections, to the plunder case of Joseph Estrada, to the "Hello Garci" controversy, Philippine politics has failed to establish a sense of trust in people, proven by statistics and opinion polls. Effectiveness of government power will always be undermined by a perception that the government does little, if not none, in solving the country's perennial problems. There is also the pressing need to close the gap among the rich and the poor, and to significantly cut poverty in the country. About a quarter of the population is classified below the poverty line (World Bank, 2010), and while the present government launches programs such as Conditional Cash Transfer to mitigate the problem, these has been proven to have little impact. Unemployment and underemployment is still a major concern, so as inflation and daily wages. As the population inceases, so as the government's pressing issues, such as environmental management, crime and education. There is also a need to look more closely in our political institutions and how it can be reformed to adapt to present situations. What is clear for now is the need to empower local government, increase people's participation in policy-making, and establishing peace in the countryside. In sync with institutional reform are a call for reform in the political process, emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability in government affairs and decisions. Also a part of the needed reform is a turn from personalistic to issues-based politics and widening the doors for people's participation in key decisions in political and social life. Timberman ended his book by emphasizing the need for the elite and the people to unite in making sure that democracy will work in the country. There is a tendency for Filipinos to look for a "messiah" that will solve the country's problems without looking inward to the need for civic awareness and participation. The key in building a prosperous, free and democratic Philippines does not lie in one man or a group of people but in a society committed in working for the common good. The only way to make change felt in the "Changeless Land" is for people work hand in hand, not just changing the system but changing themselves from within. Works Cited

Constantino, Renato. (1968). "The Miseducation of the Filipino." David, Randolf. (2000). "Why We Elect Bad Leaders." In Randolf David, Nation, Self and Citizenship: An Invitation to Philippine Sociology. Manila: Anvil Publishing. 147-149. ____________. (1997). "Our Love for Democracy." In Randolf David, Nation, Self and Citizenship: An Invitation to Philippine Sociology. Manila: Anvil Publishing. 158-160. Dolan, Ronald. (1991). Religion in the Philippines. Available: http://countrystudies.us/philippines/45.htm. Last accessed 4 May 2012. Dionisio, Josephine. (2004). "The Project of Nationhood." In Randolf David, Nation, Self and Citizenship: An Invitation to Philippine Sociology. Manila: Anvil Publishing. 3-20. Languages of Philippines. Available: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=PH. Last accessed 4 May 2012. McCoy, Alfred. (1994). "An Anarchy of Families: The Historiography of State and Family in the Philippines." In Alfred McCoy, An Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 1-32. Religious Groups in the Philippines. Available: http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Modules/Modules/PhilippineReligions/ religious_groups.htm. Last accessed 4 May 2012. Timberman, David (1991). A Changeless Land: Continuity and Change in Philippine Politics. Singapore: Institute of South East Asian Studies. 1-123, 374-400. Philippines: Urban Population. Available: http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/philippines/urban-population. Last accessed 4 May 2012. World Bank. (2010). Data: Philippines. Available: http://data.worldbank.org/country/philippines. Last accessed 4 May 2012.

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