Thursday, June 6, 2013

It's time for a shift to direct democracy, Part 4

“… the manipulation of bodies in space suggests that it is not the space that creates content, but those within it. But, as [artist Joseph] Beuys suggests, such spaces might contribute to the creation of direct democracy. Perhaps this is what [Kazimir] Malevich was thinking about when he started painting black and white squares. Maybe that's what protesters have been thinking about more recently, with the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. Space is an important thing. It can be a very political thing. And as Occupy London has been officially evicted from St. Paul's, physical space is becoming such a rarity, one might wonder where such bodies might interact….”
“… space as a place for interaction, debate and discussion.”
– both quotations from

What’s the worry about it?

WE’VE READ the three parts of this essay, wherein each Part would have passages that repeat (as probably necessary) statements already made in the other Parts. And now, here, let us paraphrase the eight most common worries about installing a strong direct democracy in the Philippines.
     First, as we mentioned in the closing paragraphs of Part 3 of this multi-Part essay, there is that worry or fear with direct democracy, namely, that in a culture as uneducated as the Philippines’ (or as poorly educated as the US’) there is in it the ever-present danger of being ruled by public relations budgets. We might not fear the mob, but save us from the trained consumers!
     This fear is understandable. However, we must bear in mind that direct democracy wakes and increases citizens’ political awareness simply by being a system focused on issues of society and the polity. Thus, it isn’t surprising to know that the uneducated class in the US states with DD (direct democracy) might seem to be more knowledgeable about political and other social matters of concern in their respective states than their uneducated peers in the US states with mere RD (representative democracy). And that’s because citizens in a DD are directly engaged in the issues around propositions and initiatives up for a vote that necessarily go through a process of being debated on in the public arena. Taxi drivers will inevitably talk about things that directly affect their profession/industry, but so will they talk about other social matters brought up to a vote in any oncoming ballot. Let’s zoom in on an example:
     When au pairs watch a documentary about poverty blues on GMA News TV, they become engaged. When the channel is turned to an ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) debate on an issue, naturally in educated-class English as per that channel’s format, they consequently acquiesce to the speakers’ supposed high IQ. The latter is your example of apathy and “stupidity” in society produced not in a direct democracy but by a system of elitism and elite-leaning privilege and conscious or unconscious marginalization.
     So, what’s the difference between the current influence of public relations budgets made to sway media perception and protestation within our RD and public relations budgets that will be spent in any future DD? You know the answer to that one. But additionally, DD has measures to immediately correct laws passed by the people, and even laws passed by Congress, whereas in an RD it would take decades before somebody in the political elite class even starts to listen to what the sometimes-progressivist-sounding media would complain about, especially if the law that needs to be reversed is proving to be beneficial to the ruling classes. And, again, whereas we would have to wait for a politician’s term to end to expect some changes (with fingers crossed), Swiss and US DD can vote out (recall) via a motion of no confidence a national or state or local official or representative of their National Council or State House of Representatives anytime the people want to. . . .

NOW THERE’S another worry, corollary to that one above. Here’s Worry #2:
     The frequency of special interest-backed propositions. Moneyed elites, so the worry goes, can keep putting an issue on ballot after ballot, changing the wording each time (so that a Proposition that once required a “No” vote may now require a “Yes” vote). True, it can be quite amazing to see what corporate legal departments can afford to do with words. And so, in the 21st century world of PR and consumerism, the referendum or initiative could be the simple way to buy the laws a special interest group wants.
     But again, why is it better to have a special interest group-funded referendum in a direct democracy? Well, because it has to pass the people’s vote. In a purely representative democracy, all the special-interest group has to do is lobby some representatives, and that’s to make a law that would pass---as often happens---unbeknownst to the people.
     It’s true that PR is powerful and can rehash itself into many shapes and continuously hound the majority vote with persuasive talk, but let us not lose our faith in the people and their intelligence and the presence of guardians against special interests who can counter the corporate-backed PRs this early. Our media alone abound in such guardian-individuals, however corrupt some of them may be. Direct democracy is not one of the worst things that happened to California. In fact, I doubt that it is one of the things that the state’s people would want to give up.
     Let me re-state what I said in Part 1 of this essay: “… it’s quite understandable to me why the US Constitution framers avoided the temptations of direct democracy at the federal level (as against Switzerland, for instance, which embraced it); and that understanding may come from my being an Americanized Filipino, quite familiar with the American experience with oppressive majorities lording it over minorities…. (But) I would argue with America’s declarers of independence and say that I’d much rather struggle as a minority within the direct democracy lorded by a majority that may nonetheless be persuadable than struggle within the elite-handled machinery of representative democracy where the entrenched elite always wins.”
     So, how do we make this thing happen? That is precisely what the Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines Facebook group (which I created) is for. If we like the idea as a solution to our decades-old problems, let’s come up with a plan.

WORRY #3: this one says we’d be copying a foreign model. We’re afraid that model might not be applicable in our country.
     First of all, our present representative democracy is also copied from a foreign model, derivative of the US federal Constitution. In fact, this system was only imposed upon us during the American Commonwealth era, we didn’t exactly pick it from a roster of choices.
     As for copying foreign models, I always cite the example of the popular rock band Yano. In the 1990s, Yano---among other bands---got enamored with British punk rock and thought of bringing that type of music to the Philippine airwaves and Manila club scene. But while other bands copied the music (and lyrics content or allusions to the British or American psyche) and brought in the fashion, Yano emulated the philosophy alone. So, in the case of their punk fashion statement, instead of wearing Doc Martens shoes (cheap old ladies’ shoes in London at the time which were now already being sold as high-end items to the Philippine youth market), Yano wore cheap tsinelas (flip-flops) onstage, the equivalent of Doc Martens shoes according to punk fashion philosophy then. In the case of their songwriting, Yano sang punk lyrics in Tagalog, referencing Philippine political (instead of London political) realities.
     When are foreign systems/models better for our environs? Well, those would be times as when I advice my neighbors to buy imported peanut butter if only because Philippine peanut butter doesn’t seem to have aflatoxin-level standards to follow, and our government offices don’t have enough people to widely examine the local stuff for salmonella. . . .
     So, back to DD. How is direct democracy possible in the Philippines? Well, in fact, there is already a bit of it in our roster of laws. As I mentioned in Part 2 of this essay, the closest we have come to it is with Republic Act 6735 (The Initiative and Referendum Act). But is this law usable at all? That is, is the initial requirement too steep for it to be considered useful in the national level? How can a movement for direct democracy in the Philippines use this law presently? If there’s a need to amend it before it can be used, are there senators and congressmen who can help us in amending it? Would they fight for the amendment to the finish? And what else do we need to put in?
     And if we need to do more, as in, say, radically install the Switzerland DD model, for instance, then how do we achieve that? How many political figures do we need to create a movement? Would a former military figure (the patriotic and reformist type, if there is such an animal) be welcome in our ranks? How many people do we need to come with us? And how do we do it? Do we start with die-ins and other Occupy movement-style moves? Would our desires fall for a Constitutional Convention that may promise to work on a DD constitution?
     Perhaps we could start with the details. Let us look at the Swiss model, for instance. Or the California model. What are in them that’s applicable to Philippine culture, what are not? If not, why? Are there contending arguments that would negate the negativity or pessimism (or conservatism)?
     These are the questions we wish to tackle at the Forum, the reason why it has to be called a forum before it can be called a movement. If, at the end of the day, this forum arrives at the conclusion that DD is just going to be another hot air, then let’s fold up and get back to complaining about “political dynasties” and unqualified candidates/officials and anti-epal (anti-earmarking or anti-projects claiming) bills that took decades before someone upstairs bothered to pick it up, and maybe somewhere along the way of our eternal complaining we’d find another solution. But in the meantime, DD is the only comprehensive solution to our constantly-aired problems that I can think of, a comprehensive solution to these problems that have all-too-often been waylaid by “more pressing problems.” So I hope we can find lights to lead us in this road.
     So, reader, let me invite you too. I’ll give myself the honor of adding you to this new group should you be interested in such a forum as this on the subject of direct democracy, especially as you may also happen to believe that such a form of government may be applied to the Philippines. But I would understand if you opt to leave the group sooner or later.
     Partisans and non-partisans are welcome. The only requirement is for you to be interested in wresting away our country’s pure representative democracy from the total control of the political elite.
     We want everyone here, leftists, rightists, centrists, devout Catholics, atheists, everyone! Everyone who feels we’ve had enough of the experiment of pure representative democracy where a member of the political elite manipulates the media (with the help of campaign gurus) to have himself seated as a representative of millions without the benefit of causes and solutions driving him/her as a champion of. It’s about time the people get access to also represent themselves.

WORRY #4: The situation is dire. It’ll never be achieved.
     Dire. In Waray, “dire” means no.
     But one thing to bear in mind in this fight: direct democracy is true democracy, pure representative democracy is an insult to the demos (people) as well as the kratos (power) Greek roots of the word. Why would you not want to fight for true freedom, then? And what might be the reason why the elite class is averse to it? Well, the elite is averse to it because the majority in the elite is averse to true democracy. The elite would want to perpetuate the status quo where they, of the elite, can forever misrepresent the millions in their (not the millions’) democracy.
     And how can it not be achievable when everyone is welcome? Even the progressivists are welcome to join. Except maybe the communists, for I doubt they would find our direction to their liking, though I can’t say for sure.
     My social-liberal Facebook friend Dave T- (who’s suspicious of progressivists as being closet communists) asks, “Would this be a platform whereby the broad democratic Left could reach out more effectively to the masses?”
     Well, it might be a contradiction in terms to want to seek a debate with contending parties in a direct democracy when you’re holding a microphone with your right hand and a gun with your left. And, during a fora (physical or virtual), there might already be confusion about the definition of the word “democracy,” considering that communism has had a hold on that word quite an ocean away from the mainstream Karl Popperian grasp of it.
     Still, could there be a common ground? I don’t know. I can’t say for now.
     My friend the painter Marcel Antonio jokes: “I doubt if a Marxist [he means a communist] would even want to seek a common ground, because there is no common ground. A Marxist seeks direction that oscillates between two extremes. She would rather have her desires unrequited than fulfilled from the attainment of its goals, consequently burning itself out. :)”
     A succinct articulation of a century-old reality, my friend.
     “Not really,” he says, “it's Alain de Botton reading Roland Barthes reading Marx. :D”
     Then, here, my friend the Pentecostal preacher Mac McCarty offers the following note: “I agree, Marcel, as far as traditional Marxism goes---no middle ground---, but folks like Étienne Balibar call those guys theological fundamentalist Marxists who read the book of Marx as truth, literal and eternal. He subscribes to a ‘symbolic’ theology of Marxism and considers himself a reformer (not always a nice word among Marxists). He also has interesting things to say about change. (More perhaps in other threads.)
     “The point is that not all Marxists are protracted-struggle, blood-in-the-streets revolutionaries visualizing a kind of sociopolitical rapture in a ‘That Day’, a That Day after which the evil, greedy, psychopathic people and forces will be swallowed up by the earth and all will be hunky and dorey in worker’s paradise, but I’m getting carried away. I say ‘Yeah, bring on any Marxist who has “middle ground” ideas of any kind … we can only benefit.’”

WORRY #5 in case direct democracy is installed, best articulated perhaps by that page again in titled “Pros and Cons”---“Ordinary citizens are not interested enough in politics. They are uninformed, uneducated, irrational, emotional, egoistic and short-sighted. Citizens are politically incompetent and the issues are too complex for them to understand. Therefore political decisions on policy issues should be made by professional politicians who have the necessary skills and understanding.”
     And I can only quote the last paragraph of that site’s answer, which somewhat echoes my answer to Worry #2 and goes thus: “Political incompetence is no cause for excluding citizens from political decision-making on issues. In reality it is the other way round: political incompetence is an effect of the exclusion of citizens from political decision-making.”
     So let’s talk about it now; its advantages, disadvantages, its problems, the solutions it brings to the table, and how we can make Philippine direct democracy unique, if it needs to be.

WORRY #6: Is direct-democracy majoritarianism okay? Agree that representative majoritarianism should go, but under a direct democracy majoritarian régime, what protection do minorities have?
     Well, I believe the accusation on DD majoritarianism as potentially a return to mob rule compared to the RD majoritiarianism’s supposed educated sympathy for minorities is a myth. The developments in many a government as regards the protection of minorities has not been due to the educated empathy of the elite but due to the progress of a national or regional cultural experience. In fact, it’s the other way around. All campaigns for DD start as reactions to what are perceived to be regimes of elite democracy that have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the decades-old complaints of society, becoming unsympathetic, self-centered, uninterested in the welfare of both majorities and minorities (except their own minority class’ welfare). Furthermore, sympathy for the minority is decidedly more expressed in the masses than in the profit-motivated hypocrisy of elite-backed regimes.

WORRY #7, which would also be a corollary to Worry #s 1 and 2:
     A classmate of mine in high school who’s also a member of our Forum posed this exploratory question: “Would direct democracy’s ‘direct’-ness be a myth with media’s and government’s attempts at influencing the decisions of the people, the masses? It is sad to say that with the almost 27% poverty level in ‘Pinas, madaling ma-compromise ang popular opinion kapag kumukulo ang tiyan ni Juan.”
     My answer: Right you are, buddy. But that influence, which can be both positive and negative, is being projected on direct democracy by its opponents as though it is exclusive to it. But that influence is already here, happening right now, in our representative democracy.
     Certainly, in a pure representative democracy, some members of the media---about the only ordinary citizens 100% engaged in political issues as direct participants in this pure system---as well as of opposition parties do come up with contentions to the lies and truths moving within their own circles of privilege, but that’s precisely the point: in a representative democracy, the debate in the media is often left to the elite class to act on, with the lower and lower-middle classes put in the sidelines as mere TV audiences, perpetuating thus widespread ignorance by this exclusion. The privileged take it upon themselves to “influence” the rest of the nation with what they deem to be the good policies and attitudes for that nation. And we know better than to continue to believe in these lies.
     In direct democracies, in contrast, even well-financed campaigns by special-interest groups consider the fact that the people (inclusive of the cynical and even the uneducated) are already directly engaged as their equals over the issues, and that the people have been made aware that they are responsible (because they now have the power to be responsible) for their own welfare. In direct democracies, the people do not merely lean on the expertise of Yale- or Harvard-educated technocrats of the often self-serving elite. They listen to these technocrats as well as opposing ideas and then use their intelligence and experience for a positive or negative vote. This is what happens when debates in society are not left to “experts” and “representatives” to decide on alone, when society itself is empowered---beyond merely having the right to complain---to decide for themselves and enact or repeal laws themselves.
     And if their “tiyans” are “kumakalam” within this society with strong and simple direct democracy instruments, then the more they will want to get involved in the DD reality of involvement (via propositions and initiatives and referenda and recall elections that concern them) as against being merely virtually involved via RD elections involving faces and names that the masses cannot directly link to the search for solutions to their poverty and hunger except by way of faith in those faces.

WORRY #8 is almost an extension of Worry #7: Another former classmate of mine asked, is it applicable in a poor country such as ours?
     My answer: It ought to be applied especially to poor countries where the lower classes and the lower-middle-class have been game to the exploitative bent of their elite and lumpenbourgeoisie. If a relatively well-off people like Switzerland’s or California’s or Massachussetts’ would not allow their elite to manipulate policy through the representation of a few, how much more a poor country! For to say “no, it can’t be done here” would be to say only well-to-do people can demand to represent themselves, poor people must only acquiesce to their ilustrado elite’s expert, Harvard-seminar’d wishes. We have been doing that for more than a century now, and yet we have to wait for decades before someone upstairs acts on something as simple as an anti-epal law!
     We are all learning here, of course, and that’s why we need the inputs of those among us with more academicized exposure to this subject---Professor Ramon Casiple, for instance, whose essay (which I mentioned in Part 1, click here to read it) was partly inspirational. I’m just being the online activist for this cause since I’m the one with more free time. As of the moment, the group would like to get the eager membership of some election experts, former Comelec people or not, who can advice us on ways by which cost-efficiency can be administered into DD processes such as referenda. It would also be great to get advice from the states in the US where they have DD, advice such as on how they operate it at minimal cost. Are there adaptations to cost that we can design into the system? Questions like those need to be discussed and resolved by the group before we even accept an invitation to be present at a TV talk show. :) As of the moment, my view is that we must not allow the political elite to hoodwink us into the “malabo yan, magastos yan” (“that’s a costly enterprise, that won’t fly”) bias, especially since this is the same elite who have been appropriating lump-sum billions into government programs that are sometimes (oftentimes!) meaningless to the majority.

SO WHAT about this Facebook group called Forum for Direct Democracy Philippines? Well, this non-partisan group serves as an outlet for exchanges regarding the possibility of pushing for the application of direct democracy to Philippine society. Direct democracy could just be the cure for all the ills of our century-old representative democracy that has turned government into a milking cow for many if not most in the political elite.
     Party-list group leaders, if they’re as serious as they claim to be about proportional representation in governance, should join this forum … which, God knows, might just turn into a, say, die-in movement for real change.
     Let us study the direct democracy of Switzerland, and the US states that have it, where there is no more need for party-list proportional representation, as all parties, big and small, are given equal treatment! No, not given equal treatment by the Comelec but by the system itself! [END OF PART 4; TO BE CONTINUED]

In October of 2013, enterprising political activist Manny SD Lopez enjoined me and other direct-democracy advocates (Rey Callope Sabio, Dexter Briñas Amoroso, among others) to form ePIRMA (the Empowered People’s Initiative and Reform Movement Alliance) which would spearhead a people’s initiative (using Republic Act 6735) against pork barrel spending. The new group sought the help of Atty. Jose M. Roy III, another direct democracy enthusiast, among other lawyers, and the inspiration of former Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno, a direct democracy advocate in his own right, who had then been coming out in the media at the height of the PDAF scam to inform the public of the available people’s initiative option. The ePIRMA alliance grew and attracted all sorts of individuals and groups: social liberals friendly and not friendly to the Aquino government, opposition groups, leftists, advocates of other special causes, even Marcos loyalists. Albeit the Facebook community page of the group allowed various subjects and viewpoints to be posted by its members, the alliance’s central committee managed to focus the group on the pork barrel system as its main target, followed only by concerns as various as total public finance management reform, Porto Alegre-modeled participatory budgeting, the abolition of ‘political dynasties’, and so on.
     By July of 2014, the group had joined in a coalition with the Cebu Coalition, the Makabayan group, PICAD, and Scrap Pork Network, for a final framing of an anti-pork barrel initiative that, after the decisions by the Supreme Court rendering both the pork funds PDAF and Aquino-administration DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) unconstitutional, would criminalize any similar fund-making along with their use. The initiative is slated to be launched on August 23, 2014 in Cebu City.

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