There's Nothing Like Killing Democracy, Philippine-Style
Like any other elections, the Philippine electoral process reflects the competition between social forces.
Social forces, as defined in the Philippine context by Abinales and Amoroso in their book State and Society in the Philippines, “are movements and voluntary associations with political agendas that contend with each other and the state. They try to achieve their goals through coalition or accommodation with or defeat of other groups or the state, are willing to move into the state, or may endeavor to take over the state.”
And for all the hype about Philippine “democracy” – it is anything but. Yes, it has the trappings of elected representatives and elections – but the overall dynamics isn’t what democracy is all about. I would go out on a limb to say that the way we, Filipinos run our affairs contributes to the process of killing democracy. What’s more surpising is that the middle class was singled out as having to take part of the blame – well, it can’t take all the blame, should it?
In a recent article on the Global Decline of Democracy, Newsweek magazine had this to say:
A global decline in political freedom is partly the fault of the middle class.
Political freedom blossomed in the developing world in the 1990s and early part of this century. While authoritarians still ruled most of Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia in 1990, by 2005 democracies had emerged across these continents. The Soviet Union had morphed into Russia, a freewheeling society that seemed to bear little resemblance to its grim predecessor. With the fall of Saddam Hussein, the overthrow of the Taliban, the apparent end of military interventions in Turkey, and the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami in Iran, even the Middle East, long the laggard in democratic reform, appeared to be joining the trend. In 2005, Freedom House noted that only nine countries experienced rollbacks of democracy; in its report in 2009, it registered declines in “40 countries in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union.” Indeed, the organization found that the number of electoral democracies had fallen back to 116, its lowest number since 1995.
The culprits in democracy’s decline may come as a surprise. Many of the same middle-class men and women who once helped push dictators out of power are now seeing just how difficult it can be to establish democracy, and are pining for the days of autocracy. Why has this happened? In many cases because the early leaders of the young democracies that emerged in the 1990s failed to recognize that free societies require strong institutions, a loyal opposition to the ruling party, and a willingness to compromise. Instead, they saw democracy as just semiregular votes; after they won, they then used all tools of power to dominate their countries and to hand out benefits to their allies or tribe. This narrow interpretation of democracy not only distorted the true meaning of the word but also alienated the public in many countries, who became disgusted that these democrats seemed no more committed to the common good than their authoritarian predecessors.
This reminded me of the promise first EDSA uprising – and how Cory Aquino reneged on those promises. Cory was swept into the position by the constant agitation and propagandizing of the middle class in order to arouse, organize, and mobilize the broad masses. Upon getting the position, Cory Aquino instead of putting progressives in her Cabinet, at best appointed, self-serving trapos who were out to carve a niche for themselves in the oligarch-centric Philippine ochlocracy. This went further as the “anointed ones” of the oligarchy – from Aquino to Ramos went about doing business as usual.
In the process, the public got disgusted and became skeptical of professionals and intellectuals because they were perceived to have “sold out” to the oligarchy. This prompted a backlash that made the poor doubt anyone who was professional and intellectual – with good reason! So much so, that this time around, the discontent would make Estrada sail through victory with a double digit lead over his nearest competitor. It is for this same reason that Arroyo faced a major challenge from FPJ – and this is still the reason why despite Estrada’s conviction – he still had a strong following. Because clearly in a society where cheaters reign – you might as well have a cheater that is willing to spread the sunshine.
Without the distrust of professionals and intellectuals, more of the poor would have voted for Aquino than Estrada. The Estrada votes is a silent testimony of a house divided. What has that got to do with the Philippine middle class?
The Philippines’ marginal sectors and middle class have yet to make the connection that protectionism is primarily responsible for the stagnant economy). Let me spell it out in layman’s terms – with this kind of economy, you don’t just change the rules of the game (i.e. administrative reforms to curb corruption) – you change the game. Until we get this, we will be in an endless loop – and AP will sound like a sirang plaka (broken vinyl record) because we are still addressing the same unsolved problems.
Role of the Middle Class in Killing Philippine Democracy
At first the statement struck me? WTF? But on second read – the Newseek article did have a point to make.
One of the starkest examples of this phenomenon has been Thailand, which was considered by many in the 1990s to be one of the most promising young democracies in the world. Since then it has suffered one of the greatest comedowns. In the 1990s, Thailand passed one of the most progressive constitutions in the developing world, built a vibrant NGO culture that rivaled any in the West, and midwifed an unrestrained media that dug into scandal after scandal. In 2001, riding a wave of popular discontent following the Asian financial crisis, which had decimated Thailand’s economy, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications magnate, won national elections on a promise to right the economy and bring social welfare programs to the poor, who make up the majority of the country but historically had been treated with disdain by elite Thai politicians. Once in office, Thaksin delivered on some of his populist pledges: his government launched a universal health-care scheme and delivered loans to each village to kick-start economic growth. The prime minister made an elaborate show of listening to the poor, traveling from village to village to hear even the most minor complaints.
But Thaksin wasn’t the boon to Thailand’s democracy that he seemed at first. Instead, even as he was extending social protections he set about undermining many of Thailand’s young democratic institutions. He gutted the civil service and the judiciary, replacing independent thinkers with cronies, and silenced the media by allegedly having allies buy into media groups and then silence critical reporting. Declaring a “war on drugs,” Thaksin was accused by international and domestic human-rights groups of condoning extrajudicial killings and disappearances by the security forces. Prominent human-rights activists like lawyer Somchai Neelapaichit have simply vanished. Overall, more than 2,500 people died mysteriously during the drug war. Michael Montesano, an expert on Thai politics at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, says that Thaksin more closely resembles a Latin American caudillo, such as Juan Perón, than a democratic politician.
One of the unlikely effects of such power grabs has been that in many of the countries where democracy has recently been rolled back, the middle class that once promoted political freedom is now also resorting to extralegal, undemocratic tactics—supposedly to save democracy itself. Middle-class Thai urbanites, for instance, bitterly disappointed by Thaksin’s abuses and worried he was empowering the poor at their expense, have rebelled. Rather than challenging Thaksin through the democratic process, such as by bolstering opposition parties or starting their own newspapers, they tore down democracy by shutting down institutions of government and calling for a military coup, even while claiming to support democracy. In order to push first Thaksin and then his allies out of office, mobs of protestors tried to paralyze Bangkok in 2006, 2007, and 2008, launching a siege of Parliament and, in 2008, taking over the main airport, a move that wreaked havoc on travel to the country. Many called for a military intervention or some other kind of benign despotism to restore the rule of law and fight corruption, which they claimed had worsened under Thaksin. “We had to save democracy, even if it meant [ignoring] elections,” said one Thai diplomat sympathetic to the protesters. The Thai elites got what they hoped for: Thaksin is in exile, his opponents are in power, and Thailand’s democracy is shattered.
A similar pattern has played out elsewhere. Middle-class demonstrators in the wealthier eastern part of Bolivia have launched an antigovernment campaign against President Evo Morales, a populist former union leader who has tried to redistribute wealth, nationalize businesses, and use a national referendum to dramatically increase his own powers. In the Philippines, where a previous generation of Filipinos had gathered to bring down the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, middle-class Manila residents came together again to force out Joseph Estrada, popularly elected and beloved by the poor but accused of massive graft. After Estrada left office, many of the same middle-class protestors turned out in attempts to force out Macapagal Arroyo, though she survived and remains in office.
The middle class’s push back against democracy, by way of coups and other antidemocratic means, has disenfranchised the poor, sparking still more protests. In Thailand, crowds of protesters, most of them poor, have launched their own violent demonstrations that target the middle classes who tried to push Thaksin out of office. Similarly in Bolivia, the middle-class anti-Morales protesters now have been met with angry pro-Morales protesters mostly drawn from the ranks of the poor. In the Philippines, poor men and women furious that their hero Estrada had been forced out by the middle class launched their own counter-protests. Now, with the nation heading to another election, Estrada, out of jail and running again, is picking up support from the poor for his presidential bid.
These counterprotests have led to class divides that could take generations to reconcile. After more than a decade of fragile democracy, many institutions created in the 1990s have been destroyed, and those in power have few remaining tools to resolve political tensions. In Russia, for instance, even if a leader came into office who wanted to restore more freedoms, he or she would have to fight the Putinesque system and bureaucracy, which have centralized all power in the Kremlin. In Thailand, even if current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva wanted to return the country to the freedom of the 1990s, he couldn’t, because during Thaksin’s rule and then after the coup, Thailand’s rulers tore up its reformist constitution, ruined the courts, and so politicized the media that newspapers now slavishly back either the pro- or anti-Thaksin forces. It would take years, if not decades, for a new leader to rebuild the civil service, courts, and other institutions with the type of trained, impartial people who’d been developed before.
And if we add to this list – the Philippine middle class latest behavior during the elections, I’d say Newsweek hit a homerun. Philippine democracy is still in tatters, and with Noynoy Aquino’s spineless ineffective “leadership” – Philippine democracy might very well rip apart sooner than later.
Thai Red shirts, Filipino yellows shirts – different colored shirts, but the wearers have the same lemming mentality. Thailand has had only one Thaksin – the Philippines has had an Aquino, a Ramos, an Estrada, and an Arroyo – and they were all like Thaksin. And if you have been keeping score of the latest developments in the President-elect’s camp – the dude is another Thaksin in the making.
The good news is the middle class role in this mess has been identified. Now for the bad news – the Philippine middle class is shrinking!
What Middle Class?
The findings of a study on the Philippine NSCB Executive Director, Romy Virola came to a conclusion that the Philippine middle class is shrinking.
“For a country to be truly and sustainably prosperous there must be a broad-based middle class …that has the knowledge, the skills and the resources to foster economic growth and help generate employment for the poor. But so far, the poverty reduction programs we have crafted have focused mainly on being ‘pro-poor’, ‘antipoverty’, helping the ‘poorest provinces’, etc. We seem to have completely ignored the needs of and the strategic importance of building and expanding the middle class of Philippine society,” he pointed out.
A National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) study presented at the 10th National Convention on Statistics late last year revealed that from 1997 to 2003, the population share of the Filipino middle class shrank in the country’s total population. The population share of the upper class likewise fell during the same period, resulting in a larger low income class.
Entitled “Trends and Characteristics of the Middle Class in the Philippines: Is it Expanding or Shrinking?”, the study used data from the 1997, 2000 and 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Surveys (FIES) conducted by the National Statistics Office to come up with the results. It found that “as of 2003, less than 1 in 100 families belong to the high income class; about 20 are middle income and 80 are low income. And in a span of 6 years from 1997 to 2003, close to 4 families for every 100 middle income families have been lost to the low income category.”
Dr. Romulo Virola, NSCB Executive Director, noted in his blog that the preliminary results of the 2006 FIES “seem to indicate a continuation of the pattern.”
Details of the studies conclusions are quoted verbatim below:
Dr. Virola and his co-authors found that the middle-income class comprise of families who, in 2007, have a total annual income ranging from P251,283 to P2,045,280. Middle-income families also have houses built of strong materials, own a house and lot, a refrigerator and a radio. They noted that while the middle class shrank only a bit between 1997 and 2000, there was a minimum 2 percentage point decrease in the middle class’ population share between 2000 and 2003. The share of middle class families in 2003 was 22.7 percent, down from 23.0 percent in 1997. This further shrank to 19.9 percent in 2003. The study also found that educational attainment plays a big role in family income.
If a household head has a postgraduate degree, the annual familyincome is expected to increase at least 17.3 percent in 2000. A college degree, on the other hand, meant a lower but nonetheless significant increase of 10.5 percent in the same year. The authors said that “this highlights the importance of higher education in the socioeconomic status of an individual”.
In terms of occupation, if the household head worked as a government official, manager, supervisor or professional, annual income would increase 31.6 percent in 2003. A job in trade and industry, on the other hand, meant a 3.6 percent decrease in income in 2000.
Mean income of families with a member who is an overseas Filipino worker is higher by 93 percent in 2003. Their income rose PhP33,986 or 9.5 percent from 2000 to 2003.
The authors added that as expected, families in urban areas had income higher by about 6 percent compared to their rural counterparts in 1997 and 2000.
You can read more about the NSCB study below:
I wonder what could be causing the shrinkage. Could it be a) middle income families are making less and their revenue has fallen – therefore they are no longer considered “middle class” but are in effect “poor”; or b) migration – newer middle income families uproot themselves and migrate on the first opportunity; or c) both A &B.
What this implies is that there will be more undereducated, if not uneducated citizens. It already is a burden to deal with the miseducated ones how much more the exponential increase in the undereducated, miseduated, and the uneducated?
DEMOCRACY IS AS GOOD AS DEAD IN THE PHILIPPINES – is it?
Dr Virola has reason to be alarmed.
The Philippine Middle Class – On the Verge of Extinction or Resurgence?
A recent report by the EuroMonitor provides a glimpse into the resurgence of the middle class in the emergin economies (EME). The study noted the following
The World Bank estimates that the global middle class is likely to grow from 430 million in 2000 to 1.2 billion in 2030, defining the middle class as earners making US$10-20 a day (a range of average incomes between Brazil and Italy). China and India will account for two-thirds of the expansion.
- The share of emerging and developing economies in world GDP in purchasing power parity terms (PPP) is expected to overtake advanced economies by 2014, according to the IMF. China is forecast to be the biggest contributor to world GDP growth by 2017, overtaking the USA and accounting for 18.4% of world GDP in PPP terms from 7.1% in 2000. India, with a share of 6.2% of world GDP in PPP terms, will be the third largest contributor towards world GDP in 2017;
- The rising middle class in EMEs is also a result of the rapid increase in populations within these economies. The workforce (population aged 15-64) for these economies together will rise to 3.0 billion in 2020 from 2.7 billion in 2010, accounting for 68.8% of their total population in 2020. The most rapid increase in the working-age population over 2010-2020 comes from Saudi Arabia (25.6%), followed by the Philippines (23.5%) and the UAE (21.6%);
- The transition for the emerging middle class, however, is not devoid of challenges. Skills shortages are likely to become more apparent despite a new educated mass of people, while resources might become scarce. Income inequality is expected to rise mainly due to the widening difference in earnings potential between skilled and unskilled workers.
Read the Euromitor report below:
These has many implications to the Filipino nation, a few questions come to mind:
1. Can Noynoy Aquino grow the middle class or reduce it even further?
2. Will the middle class ever get its act and its relevance back together again?