June 19, 2018, 11:28 pm
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Smoking weeds

AMID all the political controversies of late – particularly the Quo Warranto decision of the Supreme Court and all the chatter on social media that that decision has spawned – I’ve tried to get my head around Democracy and what it means to me (as well as what it should mean) because all of the clucking we are doing are part and parcel of that – our democratic space. It is a space that has been won for us by generations of men and women who gave up their lives for it: Against the Spaniards, against the Americans and then against the Japanese, against national and local political leaders with less-than-democratic designs on their “realms”, even against political and even religious movements whose end-goal is the establishment of a new order that brooks no criticism. It is a space we have to constantly fight for. The nature of democratic governance requires it. But why must our association, our relationship, be democratic? Why can’t it be the more “efficient” autocracy or some form of dictatorship? Why can’t we just have someone bark orders while the rest of us follow, or have someone provide for us in the political sphere while we go about our merry ways as citizens, limiting ourselves to our spheres of interest? I constantly ask myself this, and roughly this is what I’ve come up with. I start of with the individual. You, or me. I’d like to think that you and I and each and every individual on this planet (past, present and future) was, is and will be put here for a singular purpose: to contribute to make life better for the present and succeeding generations. Every child born is a contributor in the making: a future teacher, doctor, engineer, pilot, dentist, nurse or cab driver. (Notice that I don’t mention politician and lawyer!). This is why each life is valued, no matter what race color or creed. Everyone is born with a mission – which is to do what he or she can so that by the end of our life on earth we can say that we leave the planet better off than when we found it. If this is the case, then each of us must be given an opportunity to maximize our potential. How to do that? That’s where association with others comes in – and the biggest such association is the collective or the national association we find ourselves in (which of course we can opt to abandon for some other association or society of individuals where we think opportunities are brighter). Usually geographically-bound, these national associations or societies decide to form a way of governing themselves, giving rise to government, of which there are many forms. In our case we’ve shunned living in a society where leadership is passed down by inheritance within one family (I can imagine some readers snickering!) and have decided not to have royalty but a democracy where the vast majority of the people choose their leader. Why? Because we believe that in a democracy the value of every individual (in this case, the voter) is recognized as equal, and the collective is given the power and the opportunity to choose. The choice is based on whoever earns the biggest number of votes – majority wins – but is also limited in terms of duration. The limit imposed on the terms in office is again rooted in the belief that everyone us of value, everyone has a mission to contribute and everyone is qualified (of course to varying degrees). Thus the need for a regular opportunity for change. So we all collectively entrust someone – a person or a group of persons – with powers to help us achieve our collective goal of improving our lot. Because the talents we have are not the same nor are they in equal proportions it is inevitable that some will advance faster than others, and others may in fact never advance at all. But again, coming from the belief that every one is of value somehow, society through the duly constituted government must now find ways and means so that 1) everyone has a chance to advance; 2) those who can advance fastest are allowed to do so provided they do so within the processes and procedures set up by the collective for this purpose (the laws and regulations); 3) those who lag behind are provided assistance so that they do not lag too far behind; and all these happen with the approval of the collective expressed through the programs and policies of the governments they put in office. One more thing: because the powers we collectively entrust to “a few good men and women” are so vast and so immense, these powers are subject to numerous limitations which, taken together, are described as the Rule of Law. This is supposed to guarantee that the immense power of government is always exercised within certain bounds and strictures and are never used to oppress individuals or groups of individuals who will be powerless before the might of Government. In order to provide a check on the exercise of such powers, institutions such as courts and even media are part of the system. These two are oftentimes the last recourse for people against whom the full force of government’s powers are unleashed. Now I’ve said in a Facebook post that I do not subscribe to the claim by some critics of our current government that democracy is dead in the Philippines. It is not, and yes the fact that a critic can make such a claim is a proof point that the claim is not accurate. At least not wholly. But yes, when elements of the system are under pressure to conform when conforming is not their role, then democracy is under attack. And yes, once in a while forces that are not comfortable with the idea of having checks and balances and criticism from an oftentimes critical press get the upper hand, and democracy enters what to me is like hibernation. That can be a short period of time or it can take decades. But I do not think there has ever been a leader or system that has existed long enough that can stifle democracy – because the yearning for the freedom that comes with democracy is innate in every individual born to contribute to improve the world. That’s why I liken democracy to weeds. There may be periods when the field looks barren, having been trampled on continuously by thousands of boots. But give both soil and rain an opportunity to work magic and soon the field is again abloom with weeds. I hope none of you wonder what I’ve been smoking!
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