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“T wo decades after the People Power movement toppled the

Marcos dictatorship, the Philippines finds itself in a de-

mocratic recession. Widespread corruption, marred elec-
tions, extrajudicial killings, and low public support for political in-
stitutions all threaten one of Southeast Asia’s few democracies.
What accounts for this democratic deficit? While structural, institu-
tional, and societal forces are all to blame, equally significant has
been a misguided focus on “good governance” over democracy, re-
sulting in the public’s alienation from the political process. To pre-
vent the current democratic downturn from becoming a descent into
authoritarianism, the Philippines must enact a se-
ries of wide-ranging reforms. At a minimum, it
must ensure credible elections, find peaceful
means to resolve its violent conflicts, and expand

political participation to all sectors of society.

—Jose Luis Gascon, July 17, 2007

Democratic Recession in the
Philippines: What Went Wrong?
By Chito Gascon
Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow

17 July 2007
National Endowment for Democracy

Please note that the views expressed in this presentation represent the
opinions and analysis of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of the
National Endowment for Democracy
Presentation Outline
Basic Facts and Context of the Situation
Consideration of Some Key Flashpoints
Assessment and Analysis
Prospects and Recommendations

The objective of the presentation is to describe current democratic recession in

the Philippines— from the standpoint of a democracy activist — in order to explain
some possible reasons for this occurrence, and to encourage constructive
dialogue that can lead to the articulation of some workable solutions..
“When you have complex problems in a
complex country, you are going to have
complex answers to them; you are
going to have complex points of view”
- Brian Joseph*
Director for South & Southeast Asia
National Endowment for Democracy

*remarks made on 28 June 2007 on the occasion of his first trip to the Philippines on a NED Assessment Visit
First, a Quick History Lesson:
‘There are certain great principles of government which have
been made the basis of our governmental system, which we
deem essential to the rule of law and the maintenance of
individual freedom . . . and that these principles and
these rules of government must be established and
maintained in their islands for the sake of their liberty
and happiness, however much they may conflict with the
customs or laws of procedure with which they are familiar’
-President William McKinley to the
Philippine Commission headed by
William Howard Taft on 7 April 1900

‘to fit the people themselves to maintain a

stable and well-ordered government affording
equality of right and opportunity to all citizens’
-William Howard Taft defining the US avowed policy
during his address on the occasion of the
1907 inauguration of the Philippine Assembly
“…our very first exercise in nation building.”
- Observation made by writer, editor, and historical researcher
Kevin Baker in an essay appearing in American Heritage
Magazine 54 #4

‘Prior to American colonial rule, it is important to note, the

Philippines had no significant experience with national-level
democratic institutions or national-level political parties…
Although it is indeed true that the Philippines is the Asian
country with the most enduring experience with democratic
institutions, one must also conclude that its democracy got off
to a decidedly inauspicious start’
- Conclusions made jointly by Joel Rocamora, PhD
and Paul Hutchcroft, PhD in an academic article
Basic Political Facts (pre-1996)
85M+ people in 7,100 islands in Southeast Asia
350 years of Spanish rule
American rule during the 1st half of the 20th century
Prior to & immediately after WWII a political system
was adopted essentially patterned after the US
Widespread poverty, inequality, and injustice
Internal armed conflicts
Authoritarian rule (1972-1986)
1986: democratic breakthrough, bumpy transition
1986-1996: political reforms under Aquino;
economic reforms under Ramos
Complex in its Contrasts
The good news is the Economy, YET it also highlights some of
the interesting dynamics of the situation:

Economic Stability-Political Instability, Some Growth-Little

Equity, Capital In-Flow -Human Resource Out-Flow
General Observations by Habito:
The ‘half full – half empty’ Philippine economy
• Tapering inflation / improved fiscal position of the government /
surging overseas remittances / political conflict continues
• Over 5% growth, BUT still slower than the region
• Per capita income now over $1400; self-rated poverty is high
• 2 out of 3 not bad: prices & income versus jobs
‘Economic Tango’
• A case of good economics taking a back seat to other
considerations, in matters that profoundly affect the public welfare
• ‘One senses here a disturbing return to Marcos-era economics’
The Democratic Project
A harbinger of democratic change on the
crest of theThird Wave

PEOPLEPOWER as a modality for effecting

transition from dictatorships

‘Turning Tables in the World’ – democracies

vs non-democracies

The challenge of consolidation; the problem

of backsliding, recession, or backlash

A more sobering reality in Southeast Asia –

Is this trend spreading to the few ‘hold-out’
democracies in the region?
The Downturn: The Last 10 Years
Asian financial crisis in 1997
Attempts at changing the rules (CHACHA)
Ostensibly to guarantee continuity of reform efforts
Perceived as an effort to perpetuate those in power
Emergence of populist politics & candidates
1998 Presidential Elections – ERAP phenomenon
Bad governance, scandals, corruption
Counter-reaction by the entrenched elites
EDSA 2 (promised reforms/urban-based/middle class)
Manipulation of electoral & legal processes (2004+)
Erosion of trust in key institutions (elections /courts)
Breakdown of consensual politics /public alienation
Resort by some to extra-constitutional efforts (Oakwood)
Context of the Chronic Crisis:
A Political Stalemate (déjà vu?)
Crisis of Legitimacy
Breach in the constitutional framework
Unresolved Questions about 2004 Elections
Politics of Survival
Transactional politics
‘Scorched earth’ tactics / authoritarian streak
Strong executive - weakening checks & balances
Public demonstrations / calls for resignation
Resurgence of rebel activity
Politicization of the Security Forces
Involvement in partisan activity
Discontent within the ranks / reality of mutiny
Total war policy
Why Democracy is in Danger
+ Weak rule of law (abuse of power, corruption,
impunity, violence, etc)
+ Poor economic performance (poverty, inequality,
+ Ethnic & religious divisions
+ Weak & ineffective political institutions (parties,
parliaments, systems of horizontal accountability)
+ Weak constraints on authoritarian leaders (civil
society, international actors)

Some Flashpoints for Consideration
The Processes of Political Participation
Credibility and integrity of elections
Dominance of dynasties (‘bossism’)
Weakening of intermediary institutions
Rule of Law
Sustaining leadership within the court system
Fighting the hydra: combating systemic corruption
Culture of violence & defense of human rights
Armed Conflict & Security Forces
Rebel activity & peace efforts
Civilian control vs militarization of civilian authority
The Institutional Framework
Ensuring mechanisms of accountability
The reform agenda (what, when, why, & how?)
• Charter change / procedural & substantive aspects
• Possibility of hijack
1. Some Considerations on Political Institutions

Catholic Bishops’ Statement (CBCP)

January 2007
“ These coming elections in May 2007 are especially
important. Many of our current political
problems, which have hindered fuller economic
development and social justice, especially for
the poor, can be traced to unresolved questions
concerning the conduct of past elections. As a
nation, we cannot afford yet another controversial
exercise that further aggravates social distrust and
The Results of the Mid-term Elections
No substantial improvement in administration of the election
BUT a marked improvement in public vigilance
Election-related fraud (a legacy of cheating)
Election-related violence
Politicization of security forces
Paradox: virtual hegemony of the ruling coalition at the local
level YET failure to deliver votes in the Senate
The Senate vote as a more accurate barometer of public sentiment
(unequivocal victory for the opposition) Final tally: [7-2]-3
80% win for the ruling parties in the House (at least 70 seats;
approximately 1/3 were uncontested by the opposition)
Some cracks in the façade of unity (LAKAS vs KAMPI) / Opposition Too
Emergence of a new generation of national leaders
As the dust settles…
The Integrity of the Electoral Process
Electoral process continues to remain vulnerable to manipulation.
Unacceptable levels of election-related violence; security forces either
unable or unwilling to control it
The COMELEC as an institution must be reformed top-to-bottom!

The Dominance of Political Dynasties (Bossism)

Political clans entrenched in the political system since 1986
Strengthened ties between national leadership & local clans
In the House, despite 49% first-term, 75% will be from dynasties
Over 80% of provinces controlled by dynasties

The Weakening of Intermediary Institutions

CSOs: divided & under-funded; advocacy NGOs are particularly weak
Political parties: underdeveloped & weak; new constraints in the PL
Very little aggregation, mediation, and synergy between these actors
2.Rule of Law
Independence of the Judiciary
• The Supreme Court is perceived as a critical last bastion for defense
of democracy and has thus far (on the whole) resisted pressure
• The last 3 Chief Justices (including the incumbent) have exercised
leadership of the Court to safeguard Civil Liberties
• Question remains for how long given the appointment process
• Judicial independence less of a reality below the SC level

Fighting the Hydra: Combating Systemic Corruption

• Institutionalized corruption has entrenched the power structure and
stymied reform efforts
• Gains in one area are lost in another
• Anti-corruption agencies exhibit similar weaknesses as the COMELEC

Culture of Violence & Defense of Human Rights

• Different forms of violence is unabated & law enforcement is weak
• Marked increase in human rights violations (EJK & ED in particular)
The Political Context of Extra-Judicial Killings and
other Human Rights Violations in the Philippines
No senior civilian or military official has ever been
held accountable for serious human rights
There exists an aggravated culture of impunity
amidst a prevailing culture of violence
The continuing political crisis is a backdrop for
understanding the current spate of outrages
against international standards
Politics of polarization
Politics of fear
3. The Armed Conflict & Security Forces
Some Concerns Regarding the Security Forces
Renewed politicization (out of barracks)
Militarization of civilian authority
A historical anti-left bias
Currently being exploited by ideological forces
Undeclared policy of ‘looking away’
Some cleavages but as yet not serious
Weak mechanisms for civilian oversight

Some Concerns Regarding the Armed Left

A long history of armed conflict (disciplined/well organized)
An ethic of struggling against the system rather than working within the
system (politics of exclusion)
Existing social, economic, and political conditions are conducive to hard
left-oriented politics
A ‘peace process’ without an end (tactical rather than strategic
commitment by the contending parties)
Some Concerns On the Mindanao Conflict
A long standing, multi-faceted conflict that requires
intervention at the national & community levels
A communal dialogue process involving all stakeholders is
essential to resolving it

Need for Workable Solutions to Different Conflicts

Without jeopardizing operational concerns at guaranteeing
human security in affected areas, peace processes have to
be pursued
Ultimately, some key questions are justice, inclusion,
empowerment and participation

Security Sector Reform cannot be postponed

4. The Institutional Framework
Charter Change (Cha Cha) & the Crisis in
Democratic Institutions?
Amidst the crisis of institutions, reforms are being actively
pursued across the political spectrum to the point that it
will not be a matter of if but when for Cha Cha.
Challenge is to proceed while guaranteeing accountability
Cha Cha as the Panacea?
Real danger of hijacking for selfish ends (with precedent!)
Cha Cha in order to be viable:
At the right time, for the right reasons, thru the right process, &
championed by right advocates (broad buy-in)
Should address the institutional weaknesses of the current political
system (electoral systems, allocation of power, accountability
mechanisms, central & local competencies)
Possible Explanations for the Current
Democratic Recession
Crisis of legitimation & the search for equilibrium
Absence of a consensus for democracy
Political economy of neo-patrimonialism
Behavioral (Socio-Psychological)
Attitudes about democracy, particularly of a key
driving force: the ‘Middle’
A Reassertion of the Developmentalist Model
The Crisis of Legitimation
3 periods of similar crises in modern Philippine political history:
+1969-1973 – resulted in authoritarian consolidation
+1983-1986 – resulted in democratic restoration
+2001-present – currently being contested (search for / manufacturing of)

Forms of Non-legitimate
Criteria for Legitimacy

i. conformity to rules (legal validity) illegitimacy (breach of rules)

ii. justifiability of rules in terms of legitimacy deficit (discrepancy

shared belief between rules and supporting
beliefs, absence of shared beliefs)

iii. legitimation through expressed delegitimation (withdrawal of

consent support)
How People View Democracy
Declines in the Philippines (2001 to 2005)
Democracy is always preferable - 64% to 51%
Democracy is suitable for our country - 80% to 57%
Satisfaction with way Democracy works - 54% to 39%
Reject authoritarian “strong leader” - 70% to 59%

(Diamond, 2007)

“Few Filipinos believe that there is democratic governance in the Philippines;

the big majority nationwide (82%) is comprised by Filipinos who either
acknowledge oligarchic politics or say they are uncertain about the character of
the country’s political regime.” - PULSE ASIA 2006 Survey Report
The Vicious Double Cycle of ‘State Capture’
(Speaker’s Model of the Philippine Political Economy described in Hutchcroft’s ‘Booty Capitalism’ )

Political Finance

Accumulation Control of Electoral
of Resources & Political Processes

of Wealth
of Power
in ‘State in
Elites Capture’ Political Elites
Vested Interests
Rent-Seeking Marginalization
Behavior & of the
Transactional Politics Poor & Powerless

High-Risk / Low-Investment
Economic & Political Environment

The Grand Alliance of Certain Economic & Political Elites

The Middle Force Dilemma: Democratic
Revolution versus Good Governance
Middle forces: socially coherent, culturally & intellectually dominant,
politically ascendant segment of the population.
Democracy was restored in the Philippines through ‘democratic
revolutions’ with prominent roles by middle forces
‘Middle forces’ often small (about 15% of the population) BUT
concentrated in the urban areas and the capital (up to 40%)
Those democratic rules were ‘broken’ in EDSA 2 when procedural
democracy was sacrificed in the name of good governance
Ironically, the same discourse was earlier used to combat
authoritarianism (Cause-Oriented / Moral Force)
What makes these powerful social movements threaten the
democratic order they help create?
(Thompson’s Assessment of Recent Philippine and Thailand Experience )
The Middle Force Trajectory
Democratic revolution failure of reform populist
challenge renewed mobilization/insurrectionary reaction

Failed reformism after restoration of democracy leads

to disenchantment & demobilization
Fear that democracy will threaten good governance
leads to return to insurrectionism
Elections dominated by either traditional politicians
or populists seen as threats to good governance
Neo-patrimonialism, economic & moral crisis can cause the middle
force to turn against the democratic project
Capable of toppling dictators but not of winning elections (‘People
Power’ as a viable modality to fight bad governance BUT less so to
guarantee good governance)
Lessons & Non-Lessons
Other democratic developing countries that have NOT
exhibited middle force insurrectionism (e.g. India &
Costa Rica) have showed:

1. Integrity of electoral process (Parliamentarianism not

necessarily superior to presidentialism)
2. Depoliticization of, not flirtation with, military,
3. Stable political parties (often highly dynastic)
4. Integration of poor through symbolism & social programs
5. Toleration of ‘legal left’, and decentralization and autonomy
for minorities (armed groups confronted, but legal radical
groups accepted in democratic process)
Conclusion: Central Question
In the Philippine context, how can
democratic politics further good
governance and both mobilize society at
the local level and attain development
outcomes at a national level?
Where governance is effective, innovations are possible; but
the spread of innovation is slow and uneven (pockets!)
Underdevelopment creates conditions that entrench bad
governance, particularly as a result of the double
phenomenon of middle class out-migration and patronage
politics in the poorest areas / periphery (re: Hutchcroft, et al)
Political Will: The Essential Condition
Is the commitment of a country’s rulers to
democratic and good governance reforms, and
their readiness to incur the costs necessary to
adopt and implement these reforms?
In badly governed states, the central challenge is
to generate the political will to improve
governance, control corruption, and generate real

Toward Promoting Full Democracy
Some principles to inform a reform strategy:
Build and strengthen inclusive, empowering and
sustainable institutions in the political, economic and
cultural realms
Defend the hard-won victories of earlier democratic
struggles, form consensus around democratic
processes, & broaden constituencies for these
Deepen democracy not just in current formal but elitist
character, but to one that ensures genuine popular
Any major change in political structures should not
benefit those presently in power (arms length), &
must involve national dialogue and public education
Reflection – Need for Political Engagement
For international actors, its important to consider Diamond’s 12
point Principles of Action
Within the Philippines, domestic stakeholders need to act in
order to foster trust in democratic process
Elections and election administration
Democratic institutions (parties and parliaments)
Democratic processes (oversight and rule of law)
A need to renew & reinvigorate civic engagement in politics
(partisan & non-partisan)
Defend, deepen, & widen the political space for effective
Support the emergence of democratic leaders & champions
Nurture and strengthen constituencies as well as energize
communities for sustained advocacy of reforms
Recommendation - Search for Common Ground
In the Immediate to Medium Term:
Build Foundations for the Next Government
An opportunity to step back from the brink & to prevent an escalation of
Critical to sustain economic growth and reduce public desperation
Initiate credible political, electoral, and administrative reforms to reduce
imperfections in the political process and ensure credible elections in
2010 that will help return stability and achieve some equilibrium
Alternative Attitudes to the Result:
Best outcome
• Administration focuses on reforms rather than survival
• Administration agrees to compromise for the common good
Worst outcome
• Administration views its partial win as endorsement of its policies
• The rebuke of administration intensifies political hostilities
Some Initial Steps to Restore Credible Elections
Clean-up the institutions and systems for election administration
Improve the capacity of the COMELEC
Complete full automation of elections ahead of 2010
Consider other mechanisms to further reduce opportunities for human
intervention / human error in the counting & tabulation process
Separate election adjudication & election disputes resolution from elections
management functions
Enforce election laws fully (particularly on campaign contribution &
expenditure) coupled with a vigorous anti-corruption effort
Prosecute to the fullest extent all violators of election laws
Support civic-education and voter’s education efforts
Institutionalize and sustain citizen’s oversight mechanisms
Initiate law reform legislation (party law / political finance)
Rationalize the mobilization of election officers to include citizens
Ensure civilian control over security forces, including citizen oversight
Some Other Necessary First Steps
Need to restore a consensus for democracy in the run-up
to the 2010 General Elections through among others:
 Improve mechanisms for public accountability (CHR/Senate)
and a sustained effort at addressing corruption (OMB/PAGC)
 Political party development, strengthening, and consolidation
 Allow alternative candidates to emerge with distinct platforms
and visions of governance
 Promote mechanisms for the political representation of the
marginalized and disenfranchised sectors of society in a
process that is linked to the larger political transformation
agenda (political reforms towards constitutional reform)
 Sustain economic growth and spread its benefits
 Pursue a reform agenda in social expenditure with a sharper
focus on safety nets (education, health, water, food security)
 Reduce drivers of political polarization, e.g. violence &
exclusion (address impunity)
“You have spent many lives and much
treasure to bring freedom to many
lands that were reluctant to receive
it. And here you have a people who
won it by themselves and need only
the help to preserve it.”

- President Corazon C. Aquino

Address to the US Congress
18 September 1986
All that is necessary for evil to
triumph is for good men (and women)
to do nothing
- Edmund Burke

* In fact it is possibly the commonest political quote you will find anywhere on the
World Wide Web. It is used to warn of the encroachments of government, and to
warn that governments do not do enough…It is always quoted with considerable
reverence, and is made to stand as one of the unassailable truths about the need for
freedom of action in democratic societies (
One Final Story…
Much Thanks!
Marc Plattner & Sally Blair as well as the other helpful staff at
the International Forum for Democratic Studies, DRC and the
Journal of Democracy
Ryan White, my ever so patient Research Associate
All the wonderful people at NED & The Core Institutes
The input from academics: Robin Broad (AU), Paul Hutchcroft
(UWis-M), Larry Diamond (Stanford), Scott Mainwaring (Notre
Dame), Paolo Carozza (Notre Dame), Mark Thompson(FAU-EN),
Benjie Tolosa(Ateneo), Tony La Vina (Ateneo), Julio Teehankee
(DLSU), Joel Rocamora (IPD) & Mario Taguiwalo (NIPS)
And the many insights from the many conversations with
members of the Washington DC Policy Community: at State,
the Hill, DRL, USAID, Think Tanks, and NGOs