Thursday, September 18, 2008

Middle Class Revolt Against Democracy

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that the Philippine Middle Class has served as the bellwether for two trends, the first being the advance of democratic reforms in the 1980's and 1990's, while the second is its subsequent retreat a decade later. The original EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986 which ended the Marcos dictatorship, heralded similar pro-democracy movements notably the Revolutions of 1989 that resulted in the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.

On the other hand, the second such People Power movement in the Philippines (aka EDSA Dos), while retaining the superficial characteristics of its predecessor, toppled a genuinely elected President, and is therefore considered by many as a reversal of democracy. Whatever the merits and demerits of EDSA Dos, the subsequent silence and rationalizations for inaction by the Philippine Middle Class when confronted with the reality of Electoral Fraud by the incumbent further validates its retreat from previous democratic aspirations. As this featured article observes, this Middle Class-led retreat from democracy is now a worldwide trend.

I believe that the main drivers for such a reactionary turn has been the ability of the poor to assert their numerical superiority to vote in their chosen candidate into Office, as has happened in Latin America's Electoral Revolutions. Unfortunately for the relatively fewer Middle Class, these chosen leaders either do not have their respect (as in the case of the late FPJ) or advocate policies that are perceived to be contrary to Middle Class interests (as in the case of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or Bolivia's Evo Morales). What makes it easier for the Middle Class to turn away from democracy is the unfortunate fact that many among their ranks are afflicted with an Elitist Mindset and do not consider the poor as equals when it comes to the exercise of democratic rights. In Thailand, this sense of superiority has become the basis for the Thai democracy activists' logic as described by Randy David:
"What Thailand’s democracy activists say they are fighting for seems to be something more. They see the pursuit of democracy as the protracted struggle to organize the poor as empowered political subjects, to wean them away from their subjection as an army of docile voters activated purely by money and patronage. They are determined to keep at bay the traditional politicians that have preyed upon the ignorance and vulnerability of the Thai masses—by constitutional means if possible, or by extra-constitutional pressure if necessary."
These rationalizations are as self-serving as they are familiar. Over here, i expect that similar plans are underway to make the Philippine 2010 elections the last one that formally adheres to the principle of one-man/one-vote.

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Jego said...

Not being an egalitarian -- Im more of a 'fraternitarian' -- I dont see anything wrong with the bit you quoted from Randy David.

(I have to explain the not-egalitarian thing: I believe a true egalitarian society can only be achieved through a totalitarian state, and in my view, totalitarian = bad.)

cvj said...

Hi Jeg, neither am i an 'egalitarian'. However, for the Bangkok Middle Class to assume an 'i have to teach the masses before they can be allowed to vote' position is elitist which is a bad sign since elitism is what you get when you wrap up ignorance with arrogance.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the Bangkok middle-class (nor the Philippine middle class) can muster enough to push through a constitutional change to remove the one-man one-vote item.

Anonymous said...

Ah, removing the one-vote-per-man electoral system -- what I would consider as the most important gesture of a "democracy".

Hope denying that priviledge would not lead to social upheaval. Could there be any alternative that seems more fair than allowing every one just one vote? Given a long direct-election history, would Philippines' people be amenable to a parliamentary way of choosing a head of state? If a US-like electoral college were used to choose a president, will people throng the streets if the one that got more popular votes is not the victor?

cvj said...

Hi Anonymous, honestly i wouldn't know how the people in general would react if their right to vote will be taken away (or diminished). I suppose some couldn't care less while others would not approve. The former is possible because sociologist Erich Fromm (in his book Escape from Freedom) observed that there is a tendency for people to be afraid of freedom (with Bong Austero being a recent example). In principle, i'm against removing one man/one vote because it worsens the main problem of Philippine Society which is Inequality.

Jego said...

Talking with OFW's here in Nanjing, there indeed is a sentiment for a 'kamay-na-bakal' type of government like they have in China. Ironic since it is mostly the government that screwed us and yet they want to give it more powers. Wave of the future.

(You already know how I feel about elections, that is, elections != democracy.)

cvj said...

Yeah Jeg, what Erich Fromm wrote about in the 1940's is still relevant to our situation today. As i blogged previously, it's typical middle class mindset, many otherwise decent middle class folks can usually sleep well as long as they are not made to care where the bodies are buried. I guess that's what is meant by the banality of evil.

In any case, whenever i hear 'kamay na bakal', i mentally translate it to 'kamay na bakal' for others, but not for themselves because that's actually what they mean.

Anonymous said...

Too bad, Filipinos have something to compare within just a generation: an orderly society that lasted for more than 12 years from the early 1970s until the early 1980s under authoritarian rule, and a chaotic environment under the ineffectual democratic governments that followed.

The ascendancy of China would only show that a post-EDSA democracy is not requirement for an orderly and prosperous society. (Anyway, I don't think China's meritocratic politics will allow any TV, movie or sports personality to rise through the political ranks, just because it wishes to pander to the populist sentiments of the population).

cvj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

thanks for reminding. Indeed, South Korea, Taiwan and pre-war Japan did become prosperous and 'orderly' due to 'less-than-democratic' governments (but i think promoting chaebols might not count exactly as fair means).

Regarding my earlier post today, i've forgotten to put orderly in quotes... that post indeed did not come out as sarcastic as I meant it to be (i posted that upon seeing the OFW sentiment for Chinese-style control). I just hope that some Filipinos would not nostalgically refer to the martial law years as the 'peaceful years' (especially if the run of unpopular or ineffective governments continue).

cvj said...

Anonymous, aside from South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, there have been other dictatorships such as North Korea, Burma and Zimbabwe. These latter group not being successful economically. Clearly the distinguishing factor is not whether a country is a dictatorship of a democracy, but rather on whether it followed the right economic policies that led to development. For the successful batch of countries above, what they did right was to address inequality in their societies.

Thanks for the clarification and I apologize for the tone of my previous response as i was not aware that your comment was meant to be sarcastic.

Brian Brotarlo said...

How many times have I said, the poor's vote is the wisest of all because it is based on necessity. So what kung minsan maloko sila, they learn and learn quickly, eh yung mga pa-elite... they never acknowledge their mistakes and never learn from it.

Anonymous said...


This is the proper place to apologize for the thing you called communist bogey. I am not calling you communist,but I have to admit that is the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear left.

I did the long cut of googling and I saw a blog about silent waters. Nakalink pala sa isang comment mo dito.

please allow me to use some space here.
"Silent Waters, i'm not a communist but try to look at things objectively. You need only observe at how fast the land of your grandfathers is taking off economically to see that the combination of Communism first and then Market Reforms later, does work. If it's any comfort to you, i'm not advocating communism (especially the Maoist kind). Other countries such as Japan, Taiwan and South Korea was also able to take off without having to go communist. They just addressed the issue of inequality early enough so that it does not get in the way of economic growth. Dictatorship is also not my first preference. The case of India, (another country which followed Socialist prescriptions and then introduced Market reforms) shows that you don't have to be a dictatorship to engineer an economic takeoff.

You seem to believe that what distinguishes the elite, middle class and the poor is hard work. That's not the case since Philippine society is not (and has never been) a meritocracy. If you're born poor, you're likely to die poor no matter how hard you work. The poor people you look down on as being 'lazy' are smart enough to know the odds. It's only people's elitist attitude that keeps them from seeing that." - cvj December 9th, 2007 at 1:32 am"

you mentioned flat taxes,negative income taxes,land reform for equality.

first let us go with flat taxes, since every bill introduced somehow gets changed as it progress and end up sometimes defeating the purpose.
If flat taxes work the way they were supposed to work, that would mean same percentage of tax, rich or poor.

as opposed to progressive or depending on income bracket,where the poor should pay less than the rich pays.
I think what's wrong is they always keep on giving investors those tax breaks,just so we get investments we must give tax holidays,that's where I think the problem is. But if you think of it why should the poor pay the same tax rate as the rich, the rich should pay higher. But that won't solve your inequality scenario.

Now on land reform first before industrialization.
I think we need a time machine for that,now how to make things work,the way you want to.
I think,the first thing to do is to let the children of farmers stay interested in farming, if they are able to convince at least one,then it could make things easier for something to happen with land reform.
I am not saying balik probinsya, I ma saying someone has to stay with their parents.

as for urban reform,I hope a dialogue between owners and the group of settlers would help.
Both have rights,the owners have rights too. If their is a way that a group can buy land at a discounted price from the owners then everybody happy instead of just giving it to them just like that.

now on the issue,why on earth did we follow IMF's advice.
If the result of which was austerity the other side is if we did not do that the longer we have to pay,it is just like paying the minimum payment for your credit card for the rest of your life.
Austerity can arrange for a better arrangement in the next loan,then that is the time to make use of it for spending,ang nagyari sa atin naging fixed ang interest payment and that is up to our law makers.

and that thing about allowing the public to be present in all budget hearings would be nice if that includes the bicam conference,if not then it is a useless proposal.

That is a good start if the bill is sincere in all its intent and purposes.

Lastly, the thing about being born poor and dying poor : I know you do not mean that.

pano ba mag blockquote?

cvj said...

I have to apologize as well Karl, but i suppose that's how it sometimes is when the discussion gets heated.

On the flat taxes, i know it's tough to implement but i think it's something we have to push for the long term. It is ridiculous that our tax base is getting narrower and narrower. Kaya nagagalit ang Middle Class professionals dahil nakikita nila na sila lang ang nagbabayad. I do not believe in tax exemptions just because of low income. Everyone has to do their share so the working model should be if i earn 1 peso then 12 centavos (as an example) should go to the government.

Kung mangyari iyun, mas lalawak ang tax base, tapos puwedeng bawasan ang income tax rate ng Middle class.

As for it not solving the inequality scenario, that's true, but there's a larger principle at stake, which is that everyone regardless of economic standing should do his or her share to help government.

For our development to be sustainable, we should rebuild our bayanihan spirit. This requires that no one sector or minority can take an unfair share of the burden. Wala dapat agrabyado.

On land reform, it's not too late. We can find enough people still willing to farm as long as it is for a profit.

I think your suggestion on urban land reform is a good one. Dialogue is certainly better than sending out bulldozers.

[gtg, to be continued]

Anonymous said...

"If you're born poor, you're likely to die poor no matter how hard you work. "

The first is a very depressing statement, and I couldn't help agreeing. While there could be dozens (or hundreds) of reasons why this is so, what I consider -- in my opinion -- the most important are
* The very poor quality of the public school system.
- which ensures that the children of the poor would be lowly-skilled and poorly-disciplined, and are definitely no match to Catholic-school educated kids (the class divisions are delineated quite early, you see).
* Lack of opportunities.
- The phenomenal birth rate somehow has resulted in having too many people. Unfortunately, there are not too many jobs, school slots, etc. Jostling for limited spots would benefit the better-educated, better-fed and more qualified ones, of course. (There are positions overseas for maids, seamen, labourers, nurses, etc. , so at least there's "hope" for some of them ... at least that's how they see it... So, these OFWs go to countries with low birth rates that are compelled to import labour).

About another one of your statements:
"The poor people you look down on as being 'lazy' are smart enough to know the odds."
- Er, actually, quite a number of them are not smart enough to realize that jueteng is rigged, and that the chance of winning a Lotto jackpot is miniscule. My pet-peeve with my neighbours and relatives is that though they do not have enough for basic needs, they would always be ready to part with significant sums for buying "hope". (by contrast, I noticed that middle-class people are not THAT diligent with lotteries)

cvj said...

Hi Anonymous, i agree with your observation on the poor who spend on jueteng and/or lotto. I think though that it's part of human nature to take desperate (or even foolish) gambles in the face of a hopeless situation, the proverbial suntok sa buwan.

Anonymous said...

Back to Thailand, it seems me that the political divide there is not really the elite versus the masses, but the city dwellers versus the rural population. The forces that have been occupying the government offices are not really the elite, although perhaps your argument is that it is their mindset that is elitist.

Voting in rural Thailand and the Philippines has very little to do with policy choices and everything to do with short-term material gain. I don’t blame poor people for using their vote in that way, but it doesn’t seem to have much to do with deciding on what is best for society as a whole, which is what I thought politics was about (well partly, anyway).

I wonder what your take is on situations where votes are obviously bought and sold, especially when scummy characters like Thaksin and GMA are involved.

cvj said...

Hi Torn, i take your point that it might not be correct to characterize the largely Bangkok-based supporters of PAD as "elite". Nevertheless, my pet peeve has more to do with those who possess an elitist mindset.

Even granting that majority of rural voters can be bought, i don't think it justifies the PAD's proposal to stack the decks in their favor by limiting the number of elected officials to 30% of the entire legislature.

As i commented over at Ricky Carandang's blog, such manner of trying to acquire power for themselves (via force and undemocratic manipulation) will result in their becoming corrupted which negates what they are supposed to have been fighting for in the first place.

Once the Middle Class becomes corrupted, then it loses its most potent weapon, which is its power of moral suasion and by extension, its ability to keep Society from deteriorating further.

On the issue of vote buying, i think the Bangkok Civil Society should open a dialogue with its rural counterparts.

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