Systems and people

There is something perverse in the way the leaders of Sigaw ng Bayan are peddling the shift to a parliamentary system.  They advertise it as if it were a miraculous cure for all our problems.  They claim that it will treat political instability and end political adventurism among our soldiers; that it will spur economic development, end poverty, and bring back our overseas workers to their families, etc. One can recite the many advantages of the parliamentary system, but no existing studies of parliamentary governments can support these extravagant claims.

The success of any system of government basically depends on the readiness of a people to make it work as it is supposed to work in theory.  Even the “best” system is likely to be corrupted by bad politicians and immature voters.  But, on the other hand, a system that has proved dysfunctional in some countries may produce good outcomes in others.

A society’s leaders and citizens are shaped by a myriad of factors. Some of these are cultural and economic; others are ecological. Some are deeply rooted in a society’s past, while others are responses to the exigencies of contemporary times.  No single perspective is capable of showing why the leaders and citizens of a nation are the way they are.  Thus, no scientific theory can presume to tell a people what model of government is good for them.  Only politics can settle that question for any nation.

Every society must strive to find out, through trial and error, what mode of governance is best for itself at a given stage of its development.  Because all institutions ultimately draw their nourishment from the instincts of the people, a nation’s institutions must be periodically adjusted to reflect the people’s growth over time.

For better or worse, our American colonizers left us a legacy of democratic forms, which perhaps were far too advanced for the kind of society we had at that time.  The great inequality that, from the start, marked our society promoted patterns of patronage and dependence in various spheres of Filipino life.  These feudal practices contradict the democratic ethos embodied in our modern institutions.  We have lived with this schizophrenia — this split between our culture and our formal institutions — for over a hundred years now.  The result of this has been a type of democracy that is not found anywhere else.  It prominently features American jurisprudence and American constitutionalism in the conduct of our official affairs, but induces a willful blindness to the outrageous realities produced by the gross disparity in wealth and opportunity.

It is the non-recognition of this disparity and of the complex adaptations it breeds that lies at the root of the governance deficit in our country today. Corruption and patronage are nurtured in the soil of excessive wealth and absolute poverty.  The basic problem of our country today is not the form of government but the obsolete political economic structure that has consigned the vast masses of our people to a life without hope.

This is not simply a matter of confronting economic stagnation, and choosing the right economic strategy.  It is, more importantly, an issue of social distribution, and ensuring the fulfillment of the people’s basic needs.  One should not separate the development of the country from the development of its people, or encourage the attainment of personal growth at the expense of the nation’s long term development.

It is this delicate balancing of private goals with public interests – rather than the clash between political liberty and economic prosperity — that poses the biggest challenge to our way of life today. One does not need to turn to social theory, to see that there is something wrong with a society that exports thousands of its doctors and nurses every year even as it fails to provide medical care to more than half of its population.  Or, sends abroad millions of young parents to work as servants in foreign homes while their own children grow up alone.  Similarly, there must be something equally perverse about a national policy that allots a third of the government’s annual budget to debt payments, while leaving the nation’s children to go hungry and pursue learning in overcrowded classrooms.

Clearly, one does not to be a very rich nation to be able to take care of the minimum needs of one’s people, especially of the young generation.  Cuba is certainly much poorer than the Philippines in terms of resources and level of economic development.  But today it ranks among the top 25 countries in the world with the highest life expectancy.  Its health care system is comparable to what is found in the most developed countries.  But on top of this, 28,600 Cuban health professionals today work in 71 different countries, mostly in Africa, as part of this socialist nation’s international missions.  Since

1961, Cuban universities have opened their doors to more than 45,000 students from poor countries who have come for specialized training in the various sciences and professions.  Yet this is the same small country of 11 million people that the United States has tried to bully and isolate through an economic embargo, and, for the last half century, to subvert and convert to US-style democracy.

What system will work?  A nation has to examine its own goals and priorities before it can answer this question.  To do otherwise is to engage in fruitless debate.

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