Saturday, June 1, 2013

It's time for a shift to direct democracy, Part 3

Who’s afraid of it?

WHY SHOULD congressmen and senators be afraid of losing their jobs under a direct democracy? On Facebook group Direct Democracy's wall, member Occupier Michael Hudson pointed out this passage from a cited source titled “Pros and Cons” on (a source first posted at the Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines’ Facebook wall by another friend, gallery-owner Simkin de Pio):

photo of the Philippine House of Representatives in session borrowed from

     Representative and direct democracy are compatible; well-designed direct democracy strengthens and invigorates representative democracy. Initiatives and referendums represent dynamic elements, which prevent the political system from ossification. Both citizen lawmaking and parliamentary legislation are expressions of the same principle of popular sovereignty.
      Direct democracy does not replace but complement parliamentary democracy. Only the most important decisions are made by popular votes. Most of the decisions remain to be decided by parliament, government and administration. The independence of the judiciary is not questioned by direct democracy.
     There you go. But the anatomy of this fear of direct democracy may be gleaned from examining what the political elite did with the party-list proportional representation system.
     New Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines member Emil wrote: “In a realm where the moneyed class holds sway, they will use all instruments at their disposal to get themselves into power, even if that means violating the original intent of party lists. I'm sorry to say this, but the party-list system, for all its good intentions, has been co-opted by the
trapos [Filipino slang for 'traditional politicians' and Tagalog word meaning cleaning rag]. (The system is) following the footsteps of the traditional political parties that basically represent the interests of the ruling classes -- as expected. You can't win as a party-lister unless you have money or established political bailiwicks, like Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and Akbayan, but these parties too took time to organize, to put up, and required lots of resources before they could be established.”
     Still, the true small parties would have a lot to gain in terms of chances in a direct democracy. So why would they allow themselves to remain as well-paid slaves to masters? Ah, yes, did I say “well-paid”?
     “I dare say again,” says Emil, “if we really want a truly representative democracy, then the poor must be enabled by legislation to be elected into office as well, not just the less than five percent of the families who control economics and politics right now. And I think the only way to set this up is to change the rules of engagement.”
     And that is precisely what the global movements for direct democracy are all about; that’s what our movement is about. The multi-party direct democracy of Switzerland is evidence enough that it can work.

MY FRIENDS Mac McCarty and Lila S. posted on their walls a post-election essay on Business World written by the historian Vince Rafael. Mac says the article takes a look “at the historical dynamic of Philippine democracy and opens some interesting questions to ponder pre-2016.” In the essay, titled “Election Notes,” Rafa wrote:
     In world historical terms, elections were most effective and meaningful when they were introduced in the wake of social upheavals and movements to democratize society (see for example, the French and American Revolutions; the US Civil Rights Movement). Such elections did not inaugurate change, they simply followed and extended change that was already under way.
     The promise of electoral change coming in the wake of (rather than before) these social revolutions could only be realized, ironically, through the medium of a strong state and established bureaucracies left behind by the old order. Refurbished by the new regime, these were the only vehicles capable of carrying out legislative changes on a truly national scale.
     In the Philippine case, national elections have American colonial origins (whereas local elections date back from the Spanish era). They were first introduced by the Americans in 1907 as part of a series of counter-insurgency measures to quell the Filipino-American war. Hence these elections, like the municipal elections that preceded them in 1903, were not meant to further social revolution but precisely to put an end to its populist energy, re-channeling its demands into a conservative, elite-dominated, counter-revolutionary institution called the Philippine Assembly, the acknowledged grand daddy of the Philippine legislature today. . . .
     Rafa closed his essay with the following questions to ponderIs it possible to have a strong state given the geographical divisions and strong local allegiances of voters, and given the sway of money and personalities over political parties and issues? Can we ever overcome the colonial legacy of a decentralized, 'weak' state without returning to authoritarian rule? Can the national ever dominate the local, which even under Marcos proved unfeasible? Or does democratization in the Philippines also mean increasing decentralization and localization of power which are anathema to the building of a strong state capable of reshaping all levels of social life?
     I think the Philippine geography has nothing to do with it. It is not because Switzerland is landlocked that it would be a study in contrast against the Philippines case. The main difference, landlocked Switzerland and its cantons practice direct democracy. In contrast, the Philippine islands still curiously kneel down to their sanctified idol, representative (or elite) democracy. Theres the rub!
     Let's keep our representative democracy and well never be rid of our trapos. And quite obviously, trapos gain much from the system of pure representative democracy.
     One of these gains is the facility of maintaining what has been termed in our country “political dynasties,” which involves wealthy families who seek further advantage by being in government instead of being merely in business (especially if one family achieved its wealth within government [or revolutionary government] in the first place and found it hard to get rid of the habit, thereby finding the entrenchment of its little dynasty quite a happy situation).
     When the young sons and daughters of these “dynasties” win elections as either mayors, congressmen, governors or senators, what do they do? They take a crash course in legislation after the win. “Why not?” says my friend painter Dulz Cuna, “Imee Marcos done it.” One would wish they also take up a course titled . . . something like Putting the People above Special Interests 101.

photo of senators-elect Nancy Binay and Bam Aquino borrowed from

     Platform-less, special-interest trapos are simply a product of representative democracy (elite democracy), not of anything else. They wont disappear in a near-future Philippine direct democracy, but this latter system will at least force them to talk more about specific issues, if only because the people would have achieved a new culture of involvement in issues (a total involvement that could either be immediate or gradual). The trapos will then have to refine their lying and, alas, direct democracy gives the people the power to vote them out via a motion of no confidence (out of their seats) when they fail to deliver.
     “Citizens recall!” says Dulz.
     Exactly. They have that in Switzerland as well as in California. In fact, there are even representative democracies in the world that allow for recall elections. They have it in British Columbia (Canada), among other places I cant recall as of the moment (no pun intended).
     DD (direct democracy) might therefore frighten the currently-privileged elite which have long been privileged by a system that marginalizes the majority from knowing the issues and the details of the issues, one of the tools of which system of marginalization has been the English language. The English of the educated class has been flaunted as a symbol of wide knowledge, in fact has largely been placed within a system that sells education at a high cost. This is why the currently-privileged elite might be afraid of direct democracy. Because, largely, direct democracy is an attitude as well as a discipline of principles. It doesn’t matter that direct democracy would not ban them from seeking office, or that it does not do away with a Congress (a direct democracy in recent centuries being always a combination of direct and representative democracy), but its attitude will take away a lot of the plates of privilege that the elite have for decades been eating from.
     The attitude says this: we wont anymore allow the representation of our districts needs to be the exclusive privilege of the sons and daughters of wealth; we would like to represent ourselves on major questions, us, the hundreds of thousands of us that have been so used to being represented merely by members of the political elite. No more of that exclusivist experiment.
     And the discipline that comes with that desire comes with the knowledge of the issues and the principles behind the issues. In RD (representative democracy) we are constantly either made ignorant or subtly told we are ignorant by the experts class; in DD we are expected to decide for ourselves. In DD we complain to ourselves, not to the landlords. That ought to be our collective attitude; and that ought to be frightening to an elite culture that has secretly triumphed over the majority’s engineered ignorance for so long.

     The attitude says, enough of relying on elite representatives to solve our poverty problems, for instance, or of relying on them to achieve our socialized education objectives. For how else can we resolve those? Who will even bother to start to achieve the latter, since private schools and semi-private public schools are making quite a profit for the elite?
     The engineering of our consent has gone on for more than a century now, so much so that many of us have been conditioned to subconsciously think thusly: lets just wait for our heroes, maybe the next set of senators will solve our education problems for us. Let us forever cross our fingers? . . . Oh, and yes, our system can never be changed is the problem, and our beloved senators would even sigh with us, but would then promptly follow it up with a lightbulb gesture of having come up with a solution. Or we keep forgetting that our culture is to forever wait for heroes, and so we join with our leaders in damning those who are ambitious, those “trying hard” people, the so-called weird social climbers who think they can change the world, who think they are the messiahs, subtly telling us that our messiahs wont be coming soon.
     Well, enough of that attitude. Weve got a new attitude. The Swiss attitude, or the state-level DD attitude of almost half of the states in the US, which is the same attitude driving the OurNZ Party of New Zealand, the Direct Democracy Now! party of Greece, Direct Democracy Ireland, the Online Party of Canada, and many more! . . .

BUT HERE’S the catch. The Philippine government ought to be the government of the people and by the people (the people who should also say, enough of the custom of buying us, the people). DD shall therefore be achieved via the concerted effort of the majority of our people, not just via the idealistic few, for otherwise its likely to fail.
     The attainment therefore of DD shall be a long and tedious process, for its approval needs to emanate from the people, as that is precisely why its called direct or true democracy. If its approval is to emanate from only a minority of the people, it cannot be validated as a truly-made direct democracy and may likely reverse everything. Direct democracy must therefore not be imposed by a bunch of ideologues who didnt attain the peoples backing. Let me repeat, the campaign for direct democracy is going to be quite a tedious and long process, the end part of which needs to be a ratification of new DD constitutional amendments. Paradoxically, the people have to decide whether they want to decide.

     Well, actually that need not necessarily be so. For since representative democracy was imposed on the nation by the few, so direct democracy can also be imposed by a few who may succeed at forcing the shift. It doesnt matter if the people doesnt make use of its new power and privilege and freedom. The important thing is that it is there. Should they choose not to take advantage (avail) of their new right, there is still representative democracy in the background which can continue to happily work on the peoples behalf as before. The advantage of that situation is that it does not give the people a reason to complain. The kitchen is there for them to use, all they have to do is use it. (Just as RA 6735, long hidden from our awareness, has been there waiting for us to use it.) If they, the people, complain about not seeing a recipe they wish someone had cooked already, then Id believe those people to be really stupid and lazy. But until that kitchen is made more available to their awareness, I will not believe any elite architects pronouncement that my neighbors cant cook a level-headed new Act. . . .

IT WILL be a tedious process. In fact, when we achieve a new culture of direct democracy, some or many of us may not even be around anymore. But the important thing is for the campaign to start now. Not tomorrow, not next month or next year, not next decade, but now.
     A program of work, then, as Emil reminds us. Yes! A program of work, which is what the Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines was built for. So far, its 149 members have yet to come up with a program of work.
     We’ll do this, then, as a labor of love. And, remember, every political model has its favor for a kind of love, facilitating the promotion of its idealized love. Elite democracy facilitates, nay proposes, the primacy of love for elite selves lording it over beneficiary masses waiting for their benefactor lords charity. We’ll labor for a contending broader embrace of a love concept, one not derived from generous lords but from all our selves for as many of our selves.
     Our friend from Wall Street Peter Casimiro reminds us also via John Adams to remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide. And, indeed, direct democracy is not the end-all and be-all of the democratic struggle for democracy. I say, democracy is a constant, never-ending struggle, precisely because autocracy never stops at its own. And in our case, I would be referring to the autocracy of elite democracy, better known as plutocracy or oligarchy, which would continue to fight to regain the privileges of representative democracy against the true populism in our new direct democracy.
     Another new friend, painter Arturo Cruz, squeezed out a paraphrase of Noam Chomsky’s “Consent Without Consent” which went thus: “according to consensus of Madisonian scholars, the primary responsibility of government is ‘to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority’. That has been the guiding principle of the democratic system from its origin until today.”
     I would say, “Until today, Arturo, until today,” for while that principle seems to be operative until today, it must prevail only until today. For today we have found an option.

THIS OPTION is really this simple: there are two basic forms of democracy, representative and direct.
     Representative democracy says all the people have to do is elect representatives (mis-representatives?) of the millions of the republics citizens. These representatives can take care of the nitty-gritty of the major decisions of governance for us, having been entrusted with the responsibility. We can all relax afterwards and watch our soap operas as they do their jobs on our behalf.
     Direct democracy, on the other hand, while also employing representatives of the majority with its necessary retention of a Congress, simply gives the people ample rights to participate directly in governance/legislation as well as the power to amend or repeal laws (even the republic
s Constitution) and recall elected officials.
     Now, almost all of the complaints we hear on the radio and on TV every day can be traced to the failure and shortcomings, and the abuse, of representative democracy as well as the failure of the people to defeat the powers and privileges they have allowed to be allotted to this system. So, now, having been made aware of this, why prolong the experiment? How can we keep complaining to our leaders while also indulging them the privilege of representative-democracy representation powers, which definitely includes the power to ignore our complaints? How can you complain to your abusers while allowing them to continue to operate within a democratic form that facilitates abuse?
     On the wall of the Facebook group Direct Democracy, our friend Occupier Michael Hudson had another attractive posting, this time the video of a lecture by the progressive-cum-liberal political commentator Cenk Uygur. Here is that video:

Cenk Uygur’s speech at The Conference to Restore the Republic

     Not to contradict anything in the video except for one tiny thing, our Occupier friend quips that, sure, a Constitutional Convention [amendment] is a great idea, but for what cause? Lets try direct democracy. Direct democracy allows the people to petition to place laws on the ballot and then, if enough people sign the petition, we can vote for or against it. Switzerland uses this system, as does over a dozen U.S. states. At least direct democracy gives the people the ability to pass legislation that 90% of us like. And thus direct democracy gives the people a mechanism with which to effect real change.
     And he’s right. And instead of a Constitutional Convention we can already make it possible, simply by demanding for direct democracy even initially at the provincial or the city or municipal level (especially in the case of provinces and/or cities where the leaders are the type who would be more receptive to the idea-cum-demand). From the municipal to the provincial to the national level, then. Maybe that’s the way to quickly shut up all the naysayers who claim that direct democracy won’t work in an archipelagic system like the Philippines (incidentally, wasn’t that the same argument the naysayers used against election automation not so long ago?).
     But who could mobilize such a campaign in the provinces? Well, there are the party-list groups’ provincial chapters, for one. And, again, with any party-list group that claims to be on a mission to empower the people, I would like to know why it wouldnt want to join a multi-party movement for direct democracy.
     And there, in the provinces, we could try the beauty of a referendum or initiative.

THE INITIATIVE. A main artery at the heart of direct democracy. Now, here is where fear lurks.
     And the fear is not exclusive to special interest groups who would find it quite easy to convince a bunch of congressmen and senators in their lobbies but think it hard or more expensive to convince whole communities in their plazas as well as entire media staffs in
their conference rooms. Other concerned citizens also fear that moneyed special interests who can afford to put their prized laws (and loopholes) to vote in election after election may, at the end of the day, be the ones to own those initiatives or referenda. This is an understandable worry, which derives from the dictum that well-financed campaigns and adverts usually win the day. But this is precisely what happens upon a people not used to listening to themselves but only to TV wise asses and their expert messages talking down to our low-financed voices. Direct democracy gets rid of that just-listeners and just-consumers culture; people get used to debates everywhere, not just in barbershops while watching GMA News TV documentaries. In a direct democracy, the people can actually own the philosophy that sees highly-financed campaigns as suspect.
     We’ll talk more about this in the next part of our series. [END OF PART 3]


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