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Is Philippine Democracy Dying?

Monumento ni Andr�s Bonifacio in, Caloocan City commemorates the founder of the Katipunan. Bonifacio exemplifies the indomitable spirit of freedom-loving Filipinos. Photo: Pampangatalents.com & philnews.com

n their latest New York Times Bestselling book How Democracies Die, Harvard University political science professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write about how liberal democracies like ours can turn into autocratic, totalitarian regimes. The authors, point out that democracies don’t all die the same way. Some go out with a bang; a military coup d’etat, with tanks in the streets, bombs exploding, and scores killed in raging battles. Today however, many democracies die quietly, sometimes citizens remain unaware that they are no longer living in a democracy.

Many of today’s wannabe tyrants seem to have learned well from history. According to Levitsky and Ziblatt, they use their country’s democratic institutions such as elections to attain power, then “gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power.” So long as they get no push-back from those around them, tyrants will continue to accumulate power. Levitsky and Ziblatt point out that “the abdication of political responsibility by existing leaders often marks a nation’s first step towards authoritarianism.”

From the 1930’s when fascists took over Germany and Italy, to what’s going on today in countries like Venezuela and Hungary, where individual freedoms are slowly being eroded by autocratic rulers, the end results are the same—people lose their freedoms as autocrats rule with impunity.

The questions Filipinos must ask themselves at this point is: are we still a democracy or are we now a dictatorship? Are we as free as we were on Monday, May 9, 2016 when we voted Rodrigo Duterte into office or have some of those freedoms been taken away? If you believe we are still a democracy, is it a strong and vibrant one, or is it—as Levitsky and Ziblatt might put it, a “dying” one? A lot has happened since that election.

The discarding of established rules and procedures by this administration, for the sake of expediency, appears deeply troubling: The extra-judicial killings of thousands of suspected drug addicts and pushers; the incarceration of Duterte’s top critic, Senator Leila de Lima; the removal of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, not by impeachment as required by the Constitution, but by some minor technicality; and most recently, the revocation by Duterte of Senator Antonio Trillanes ‘ amnesty granted by former President Benigno Aquino, based on a supposed technicality—again.

Tyrants and autocrats have no time or patience for minutiae. They don’t let “minor details” stand in their way. Even the Constitution or the rule of law, at times, becomes a minor detail to these individuals. As they remain in office, they continue to amass power. At some point they start believing in their own delusions and their absolute right to rule. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely as the saying goes.

The only way for democracy to survive, in the face of a tyrant is for the people, the country’s institutions, and the media to push back hard. We must not allow our rights and freedoms to be snatched away from us. For three centuries we endured Spanish colonialists—then Americans, and later Japanese. Today however, we decide our own destiny. Let us guard what we have so far achieved. So we can bequeath it to future generations of Filipinos. Published 9/12/2018

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