Democracy and Independence

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Independence is not granted, it is won. From dependence to independence is not only a journey, it is a struggle – a struggle that must be won.

Today, Filipinos celebrate their Independence Day. It is an occasion that government units sometimes celebrate. Most people do not, however, and they have good reason not to. Independence among Filipinos is a rarity. It is there for a few but remains a fantasy for the many.

The struggle for independence is a natural one. It starts with infants who cannot survive without parents or adults to take care of them. Their dependence is total, but something they overcome slowly along the way to maturity. The really mature gain independence, but maturity itself escapes many in their lifetime. Thus, history points to many weak people and countries who suffer enslavement from generation to generation.

Such is the fate of the Filipino people. The vast majority remain locked in their state of overwhelming dependence, unable to find the strength to stand on their own two feet. Economic deprivation defines the struggle of the Filipino, and the attendant ills of poverty and scarcity reflect in either subservience or rebellion.

For the most part, it is subservience that most Filipinos cannot transcend. In a society where the three highest economic classes are only 10% and the lowest are at 90%, it becomes obvious that the absolute dominance of feudalism in the colonial history of the country fades away very slowly. Democracy has been adopted as the principle and format of political governance, but the transition from a feudal past has been a long and difficult, made more so by bad governance.

When democracy falters, independence sputters. Feudalism is anchored on dominance by force and motivated by exploitation. Democracy is defined by consensus, by equality in rights and opportunities, and the rule of the majority. The extreme contrast between the few and the many in the Philippine setting belie all claims of a democratic society. That is why democratic governance is an impossibility, why Malacanang and Congress do not represent Filipinos but simply rule them. And that is why justice for the few and justice for the many are a study in contrast, too.

The journey and struggle for true democracy parallels the journey and struggle for real independence. Filipinos should not delude themselves into thinking that democracy and independence are alive and well in the Philippines. They are not. What thrives is corruption and poverty, corruption which is the opposite of democracy, and poverty which is the opposite of independence.

How, then, do we transition from feudalism to democracy, from subservience to independence. This is a question that begs for an answer despite so many attempts to transition in the past. The relative successes Filipinos have had only point to an aborted rebellion against Spain which was finished by the Americans and guerrilla warfare against the Japanese, again finished by the Americans. Then, Filipinos have had two peaceful, people-powered revolutions. We may be waiting for Americans to finish these, too.

Filipinos should not be surprised that those who govern do so badly if one assumes they do so in a democracy. But under a feudal system, our government would be a benevolent and progressive one. It is our choice to stay in denial about the falseness of our democracy and independence that causes us the most suffering. And it is our choice to sidestep the challenge of a true struggle towards democracy and independence that prevents us from winning them.

Ironically, democracy and independence are not that impossible to attain. Past efforts, even if they had been unsuccessful, did bring us to higher levels from the subjugated states we were in when the Spanish, Japanese and American ruled us from our own soil. The two Edsa Revolutions, though unfinished, made sure that Filipinos do not have to start from the beginning to make them bear their unborn fruits.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines are not a corrupt body of soldiers. They, too, have fought the enemies of the state as our government had defined them. Many, in the tens of thousands, died in the line of duty. Many more will bravely do the same if they see the need to do so. It is not our AFP that is corrupt, it is merely some officers who are. And even if the Filipino people may not know who the corrupt officers are, their own soldiers and peers do.

The same is true of government. Many in public service are democratically-inclined, and many political leaders seek an independence that brings dignity and honor into our collective life. But those in governance cannot seem to win their own struggle for true democracy and independence against a feudal, colonial system that was never really dismantled, only renovated. And they may not be able to do so without a strong parallel struggle by citizens to shed off their own subservience and dependency.

The effective transition to real democracy and independence is the tandem of strong citizenship and good governance. It is especially is a strong and responsible citizenship that has lagged badly, mainly because people have been asked by many political candidates to just wait until they, the candidates, get into power and will be in a position to help them. As citizens, Filipinos must take up their own struggle so the journey may reach its destination.

Of course, history has always offered another process, a most violent and bloody one, as its favorite pathway to democracy and independence. This option must be avoided, and I hope our people are not forced to do so by circumstance, by the misery of their lives.

Let us celebrate Independence Day as a dream and vision. Let us celebrate the future that we want for ourselves, our children and their children.  Let us celebrate the courage and integrity that will become the bedrock of a society that has eluded us. And as we celebrate, let us understand that heroism and sacrifice are what we must bring to the altar of democracy and independence.

“In bayanihan, we will be our brother’s keeper and forever shut the door to hunger among ourselves.”

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