Democracy won’t thrive with civic ignorance, warns constitutionalist
Democracy dies when the people remain mired in ignorance, breeding tyrants who promise solutions to all their problems.
Constitutionalist Christian Monsod issued this warning on the eve of the 31st anniversary of Edsa Revolution, echoing the words of a former US Supreme Court Justice, whose remarks in 2012 seemed to portend the rise of leaders like Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte.
“We are told that an ignorant people can never remain a free people because democracy cannot survive for long with civic ignorance,” he said on Friday.
“And if we do not do anything about it and prefer to live with our frustrations about who is accountable for things that go wrong, someone will eventually come and say ‘I will solve all your problems if you give me total power’.”
“And we will give it to him. That’s when democracy dies,” Monsod said, paraphrasing the words of David Souter five years before Trump came into power.
Souter’s warning “resounds in our situation today,” said the former chair of the Commission on Elections.
Speaking at a forum at the University of the Philippines School of Economics, Monsod lamented that about 73 percent of the Filipino people admitted to knowing little or nothing about the 1987 Constitution, based on a Pulse Asia survey in July last year.
Such ignorance now fuels attempts by the Duterte administration to revise the Constitution, which was framed during a constitutional convention, of which Monsod was a member, in 1987, a year after the peaceful Edsa uprising toppled the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos.
“We are told by the present government that the problem of our country is Imperial Manila, hence the need to shift to federalism,” Monsod said.
“But I submit that we have failed in development not because of the Constitution, but because we have not fully implemented it, especially its provisions on social justice and on local autonomy. The Constitution is not the problem, it is part of the solution,” he said.
Monsod described Duterte as an enigma because of “inconsistent messages and behavior, language that the civil society does not accept, inability to dialogue because he is not a good listener and muddled governance because of ad hoc or case-to-case decisions.”
Even so, he said he was convinced that the President’s heart “is with the poor.”
“And given his high trust rating, it is neither feasible nor desirable to try to bring him down. But he is an enigma because his pro-poor agenda is correct, but the means he wants to use are wrong,” Monsod said, citing Duterte’s bloody war on drugs and encouragement of extrajudicial killings of suspects.
He said it was not only the President who was an enigma but the Filipino people themselves.
“And until we have both a transformational leader and a transformational people, we can never fulfill the vision of the Constitution of a new social order,” he said.
For all the promise of a new social order that the 1986 Edsa Revolution represented, Monsod said it ended in failure.
“We folded our banners, we put away the t-shirts with the imaginative slogans that brought humor to the seriousness of the times, and we went back to our previous lives focusing on our narrow purposes and advocacies. And as we went our separate ways with our separate causes, we lost something of the dream of a nation and the significance of interconnected lives,” he said.
“You may ask—have we failed Edsa? My answer is yes,” Monsod said.
Thirty-one years after Edsa, “we still have the twin problems of mass poverty and one of the highest [inequalities] among our peers in our part of the world,” he said. “The social reform programs are underperforming and the social divides have not changed.”
“And I submit that the biggest divide among our people is not culture or identity or territory but the divide between the rich and the poor, whether within a Christian community, a Muslim community, and indigenous peoples community, or within our nation as a whole.” CDG
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