Sunday, November 25, 2007


A friend of mine, who gave me a surprise visit yesterday morning, found me sitting in front of the television set and intently shifting channels between CNN's and BBC's coverage of the Australian general parliamentary elections. "Why watch that?", he asked, more than a bit bewildered. "Who cares who becomes prime minister down there?"

As a Filipino and until a week or so ago, I cared little for Australia's Liberal Prime Minister John Howard and his bitter rivalry with Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labor Party. The politics of the land down under usually held little interest for me except from the merely academic point of view. Who here cares really whether Mr. Howard wins another term after serving 11 years as leader of his government?

The truth is my interest in the Australian general elections stems from two simple, prosaic reasons - a fascination and.....well......pure and simply envy at the vitality, dynamism and forthrightness of the democracy that the Australian people are so lucky to be living under.

For sure, no democratic system, be it Australian, American, British or whatever and wherever, perfectly approaches the democratic ideal. Even what is supposedly democratically ideal can be the subject of strong disagreement and contention.

But any political system and framework that fully empowers its citizens to freely choose their political leaders, and thus determine the course of their nation's future, on the basis of their personal competence, ideology and perceived stand on the relevant issues and concerns of the times, and holds them personally and collectively accountable to the electorate for their stewardship of the government they have been elected to serve, deserves to be envied.

For a real democracy to work best, each individual citizen must be of the firm conviction that his view and his say on the conduct of his government, whether expressed through the ballot in regular elections or through whatever legitimate means, makes a real difference and has value both individually and collectively. His opinion ultimately does count, thus he is empowered.

In Lianga, as in the rest of the Filipino nation, that is not exactly what the ordinary man in the street feels about his role in the politics of his town and his nation. He is weak, ignored, irrelevant and, most of the time, forgotten. Public accountability is just a slogan and elections a sham where money and power, not the people's genuine will, count the most.

If there is a lesson to be learned from watching the developments in the Australian general elections and the approaching presidential primaries in the U.S. 2008 presidential race, it is that great political changes in a nation occurs when such changes are backed by a groundswell of public opinion supporting such change. A people must not only see the changes they want as desirable but they must want them so bad that they will disregard their differences and work together to see them happen and become reality.

Otherwise, the alternative is the way of indifference and apathy. And when we, Filipinos in particular, no longer care or even take heed of the fragile state of the democracy we are supposed to be living under then we will surely lose it altogether and will be doomed, once again, to repeat the tragic mistakes of our recent and turbulent past.

"They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

Andy Warhol, American artist and Pop Art icon(1928-1987)


  1. Benjie,
    Democracy, in my opinion, is the single greatest philosophical inventions in human history. No other form of government has the flexibility and strength to provide its people with so much. However, most people do not understand how difficult a democracy can be, they simply do not understand that a majority rule can sometime mean that your own views are not the accepted ones. They also don’t realize that when the majority is energized by a flamboyant and artful speaker, there can be dramatic consequences. Take the US led war in Iraq, today most Americans are fervently against the war in Iraq, but shortly after 9-11, you would have had to work hard to find an American who didn’t want us to take out Saddam Hussein. So, why did people’s attitudes change, after so few years? We need to understand that human beings are irrational, and reactionary. Part of that may be instinct, and part conditioning, but it’s a fact that we sometimes act or overact in calamities like 9-11. America has endured over 3 years of war in Iraq, and most of the information used to convince the American people that it was necessary was either lies or mistakes. But once the president had the people behind him, there was no turning back. That’s how a democracy works. Now Americans are complaining about their civil liberties, or lack thereof, because of the security laws put in place because of the terror attacks and the war in Iraq, which shows the other side of democracy, Americans complain when their government is not doing what they want or like.
    That’s what I see missing here in the Philippines, there does not seem to be the direct line of communication for people to their elected officials that is so essential to American government. Our leaders, Congress, Senate, and President have many staff members to go through the load of mail, calls, and emails that they get every day. And in a democracy they listen, or at least they better. The elections that roll around from time to time keep them listening and keep them working to prove that they are worthy of re-election, which is another thing missing here in the Philippines. The elected officials do not try to keep their voters content. I know that the Philippines have been through some very rocky years, but that doesn’t mean that people including the government should give up on the goal of a better way of life for the people. After all, it’s the people stupid (A line similar to one from the presidential elections that put Bill Clinton into the White House “It’s the economy stupid”), which is what Australia has just said to its’ government. People all over the world are starting to get the idea that they really mean something in the great scheme of things, and thank God for that. Now I hope that the Philippine people will take the lessons of other countries who are tired of just getting by, or having their voice muffled by the politicians. I have high hopes for my adopted country, but I hope that it does not follow the path of taking away rights, while giving out minor pittances to the people.
    Mark and Merejen

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