Rodrigo Duterte and 2019 PDP-Laban senatorial candidates
President Rodrigo Duterte raises the hands of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan senatorial and guest candidates during the ruling party's miting de avance at the PhilSports Multi-Purpose Arena in Pasig City on May 11, 2019. (Ace Moradante/Presidential Photo)

Unless there was widespread cheating and fraud last May 13, the Philippine electorate has apparently elected to the Senate enough Duterte candidates for that body to be fully under administration control. 

Former Duterte Special Assistant Christopher “Bong” Go, former Philippine National Police Chief Ronald “Bato” de la Rosa, and Ferdinand Marcos’ daughter Imee Marcos — the voters have put them in the Upper House of Congress among others in the regime roster despite the thousands of extrajudicial killings and the sustained assault over the last three years on free expression, press freedom, human rights, and the democratization process, and worse, the consequences for the future.

Among those consequences are the likely resumption and completion of the regime drive for the adoption of a new Constitution and the shift to a federal form of government to complete in law as well as deed the country’s descent to authoritarian rule.

On the agenda is the weakening of the Bill of Rights if not its total trashing, the removal of term limits to enable Mr. Duterte, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and their  accomplices to stay in power indefinitely, and the strengthening of warlord power at the regional level once the country is divided into semi-autonomous states.

To fears that the Senate will lose its already precarious independence with the election of Duterte allies, reelectionist and former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said it won’t — but said a few days later that a Senate dominated by PDP-Laban members and their surrogates will make it easier for the “legislative agenda” of President Rodrigo Duterte to pass that body.

That was precisely the point, the reason why Mr. Duterte campaigned so urgently for his candidates, why he insulted, belittled, cursed and derided the opposition — and why, already denied access to the funds, facilities and other advantages of the incumbent, the opposition candidates were further handicapped by such decisions of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as its designating the Marcoses’ Nacionalista Party as the dominant minority party, and by certain government agencies’ campaigning against them. 

Mr. Duterte also wanted reaffirmation of support for such of his policies as the drug “war” and the country’s rapid transformation into imperialist China’s semi-colony.  But his primary focus was to complete his drive for executive power unchecked by the supposedly co-equal judicial and legislative branches of government. A triumphalist Mr. Duterte can now do whatever he wants on the argument that the May 13 election results were clear indications of public support for his policies and official acts.

As crucial as his endorsement of his candidates was to the outcome of the Senate elections, it was still a largely disinformed and corrupted electorate that has once again placed the country in imminent danger.

To begin with, too many voters look at elections as nothing more than golden opportunities to sell their votes. Prior to Election Day, they allowed themselves to be herded like cattle to the rallies and meetings of the monied candidates, though not to be enlightened on the issues that confront this benighted land, but to applaud them for singing and dancing and to laugh at their tasteless jokes.

There are exceptions to these parodies of the exercise of the right to democratic choice. But relative to the vast millions they’re few and far between. If there were more informed and incorruptible voters the country would be governed by a Rizal, or at least by a Lee Kuan Yew or a Muhammad Mahathir, whose authoritarianism was at least partly offset by their competence and commitment to their people’s welfare.

The behavior of the Philippine electorate is part of the culture of corruption, self-aggrandizement, indifference to the common good, ignorance and violence that has kept the Philippines at the tail end of development in Southeast Asia. It is among the reasons that have made democratization nearly impossible to achieve despite that process’ having began over a hundred years ago during the reform and revolutionary periods of Philippine history.

To a number of factors can we attribute the making of that culture. The country’s colonization first by Spain and then by the United States began and then cultivated it. Spanish colonialism made lawlessness a virtue by compelling the Indios to find creative ways to avoid forced labor, while the US colonial period made uncritical acceptance of oligarchic rule a civic duty.

After the “grant” of “independence” in 1946, the population was made to believe that democracy merely consisted of  electing to office those candidates from the handful of urban and rural dynasties descended from the old principalia trained by  the US in “self government” during its 46-year occupation of the Philippines.

Ruled and ruler share the same ideological assumptions, among them that of the virtue of keeping the supposedly democratic electoral and political system intact.  The Catholic Church has been a willing collaborator in that enterprise, and so have the mass media and the educational system.

The Church in the Philippines has never gone beyond the vague instruction for the faithful to “vote wisely.” During the martial law period it actively opposed the Marcos dictatorship only when it realized that a critical mass had developed to overthrow it. In the current crisis of human rights and the rule of law, as an institution it has refused to endorse candidates for the Senate despite the threats, the insults to Catholicism, religion and God Himself Mr. Duterte has been unleashing at every opportunity. The separation of Church and State does not preclude its expressing its preferences as minority sects have done. But its prelates are apparently anticipating the not-so-remote possibility that the Duterte regime will last beyond 2022.

Meanwhile, not only have the error-filled textbooks of the corrupted educational system made false information resident in the brains of millions.  It has also made conformity, mediocrity, obedience to authority and uncritical acceptance of the way things are rather than a lifelong commitment to learning and freedom the duties of citizenship.

The corporate media habitually lament the mass of voters’ ignorance of the issues without taking at least partial responsibility for it. Not only are some sectors of the press in deliberate complicity with the regime in misleading the citizenry and keeping it disinformed. The information disorder that afflicts millions is also a consequence of the media failure to provide the analysis and the critical, informed reporting so sorely needed in these desperate times.

Never has Dr. Jose P. Rizal’s observation on the need for an enlightened citizenry as a condition for the realization of true democracy been more cogent than today — and never has the power elite’s failure to provide it and its fostering mass ignorance instead been as apparent. Today as in the months before September 21, 1972, the country is once again at the threshold of another disaster from which it may never recover.

We have most of the voters to blame for it. They’re the millions who approve of mass killings, who’re indifferent to the violations of human rights, who despise intelligence and who’ve never read a book. They disparage democracy without knowing what it is and approve of tyranny because they can’t tell the difference. Miseducated and misled, it is they who, wallowing in their apathy, corruption and ignorance, elect every three years the same oligarchs and dynasts that made them what they are: the instruments of their own misery, and their own worst enemies.

Also published in BusinessWorld. Photo from PCOO.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. Why blame the voters? It is the society as a whole who made them to be the way that they are. You assume your an enlightened but what if you grow from the same environment and situation that the underprivileged has; do you think you’d have the same mental process as you have today?

    1. Read it again. It isn’t the voters to blame for it but Philippine society and those who rule it.

  2. Brilliant summation of our predicament, of which we have no apparent hope of overcoming…at least in the near future.

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