OPINION: What Democracy?

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Feb 18 2020 12:30 AM

You have to ask yourself this question first before engaging into a debate even quarrel with a colleague, a friend, or even a relative on a fundamental issue of “democracy”. Each time there is an issue on elections, law enforcement, business with government and so many others that the government or any popular or political personality is involved, someone or some group is bound to cry, democracy is under attack! But you have to ask first what is democracy for you? We don’t have to discuss its etymology or even its history and theory. We just have to reflect and ask what it is for you. You might be surprised what it reveals to you.

Democracy is often equated with participation. It is related but these are different terms. The term democracy is far more comprehensive while participation is quite specific as it is narrow. There are many tools and processes needed to achieve democracy and participation is one of which. It could be likened to an ingredient in a dish that it is only one among many. If there is too much of it, it will not result to what is desired. Too much participation will lead to disappointments, even disillusionment, which in turn, in the extreme scenario could turn into anarchy.

Participation is a fundamental component of democracy no doubt. Without it, there can be no democracy. We have to determine what participation is on the other hand to understand why there is such a thing as right amount or right kind of participation. Imagine yourself in a business meeting and in that meeting having a conversation with someone who understands. Regardless whether you have a different take on an issue and the other person or persons you’re conversing with have an opposite take or thinking, if both or all parties actually understand the issue entirely, there is in all likelihood going to be an agreement or a resolution.

Of course one can say, in meetings, especially business meetings, everyone actually understands except that there will always be someone who is either not objective or unwilling to compromise. That is true, and therefore the result is always an impasse. Still the resolution that one expects is always there, readily available.

I say this because when you are in an entirely different situation, that is in a meeting but you have people or even just one person who has to be part of the decision and doesn’t understand the issue at hand entirely, no matter how long you debate, there can be no resolution. In fact, apart from having no resolution, it can get into everyone’s head and result to animosity among people.

The thing is in these meetings there is a clear objective, to resolve a particular issue. There will be self-interested groups or personalities who will always have a different take and would likely just want to have it their way. Still, it is not as simple as one getting the better of the other. There is a common objective that which is good for the company and not just for particular groups engaged in the discourse.
So if it is not a business or company or organizational meeting, it is just a plain debate or discourse and winning the argument is the end all and be all of the entire exercise. It is not about getting more important things done like pushing up sales for the company or improving and or increasing production and making it more efficient, which all in all would redound to the benefit of the company regardless as to whose argument wins. The argument in this regard is not just an argument; it is a likely solution to the issue or problem being resolved.

What we can learn from the foregoing is that participation is a fundamental component but it has to be the right kind and amount that it has to be parallel to how business meetings are conducted. Not because there is participation that democracy is secured or achieved. It has to be informed as understanding issues is key in order to participate responsibly. The objective has to be for the common good and not just for the aggrandizement of a particular person or group.

To my mind, this reflects what we consider to be democracy here in the Philippines. We have given premium to participation, and that is good, except that we have not given much attention to the kind or amount of participation that is needed. We haven’t given much reflection what we have been participating for that we are not even clear if we’re just participating for a particular person or group. This is true regardless what side you are on, regardless what issue is in fact. And this is the sad state of Philippine politics and democracy.

Whenever someone raises democracy as an issue, that it is threatened and that we have to act to protect it, I always have to ask what is this person or group talking about?! What democracy are we referring to?

Democracy is about participation only as much as it is able to arrive at the right decisions for the people, that it benefits them, majority of them at least and not just a select group. In fact, this is the very purpose of participation, to allow people, everyone to participate and have a stake in what the government does, that it should be for them. The people have to be informed that they understand the issues so that they can participate adequately and responsibly. The objective of participation is clear, that is to achieve what is good for everyone or at the least for the many or the majority.

You know what kind of information gets to the people. Regardless what country, there will always be a mix of different kinds of information. There will always be good and reliable information that it is not an adulteration of a fact or figure. There will always be misinformation or propaganda. The question is, of all the available information, how much of these are reliable and unadulterated compared to the other that is the exact opposite? The next question is very much related to the previous, how able will the people know the difference assuming they make an effort to make a distinction?

The answers to this question are hinge on the capacity of the people. When you ask the question “how able will the people know the difference?” the answer depends on the capacity of the people, their wherewithal to determine the truth. Assuming there is this capacity of the people, the next consideration is if in the whole universe of information, one can actually find the right one; that some groups do not strictly and deliberately hides it from them.

Now, assuming that the information is there, will it be used to find what is good for everyone or at least the majority, or will it just be used to favor a particular group? This has been our dilemma from the very start. If you haven’t noticed, the question of capacity of the people, the wherewithal to determine what is true including the latter, which asks if it will be used only for a particular group, all redound to the overall condition in society. Because of poverty, we can’t expect people to have that capacity. Because of the socio-economic conditions, there is no way we can prevent that whatever is being pushed in the public is only in support or for the good of a particular group

Regardless if one is in favor or against the abrogation of the VFA or the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, there has to be a serious weighing of issues. No doubt there is no foolproof way that any decision can be made that is free from biases. We have to learn more now though as we move forward and face these issues and more and reflect how we have been making decisions, how we have been participating and engaging in public discourse ever since. If we have yet to see and realize how bad it has been so far, we really are in serious trouble.

I have to say something as I have been guesting and now writing with ABS CBN what my thoughts are as far as the renewal or non-renewal of its franchise. The network is not perfect; it has admitted it has not been. Just like any organization or even just a person, it has to be made accountable. We have to take time to determine on the other hand the best way moving forward. It is an issue that is without serious self-interests involved that the interest of the public may not be served well in the process.

If it has to be shut down, what are the ramifications? Other than the possible displacement of countless employees, what measures can be employed that whatever replaces it will not be committing the same alleged mistakes? My point is that, the issue is bigger than the network itself. It is not even just a war between the President and the network. It may appear to be that way as the words of the President seem to suggest that, but we have seen how the President says different things that some disagree, rather vigorously at that, but the result end up to be something good. Of course not many will agree to this. To me, the issue is more between elites, that in the end it is not the public that stand to benefit most. I am afraid, and I am hoping that this is not the case, that in the end it will just be a choice which elite will have the network.

There is a silver lining in all these at it is in most challenges. It should be a clarion call for more meaningful reforms. If we are to be objective, we are in this very polarizing situation because the government has not been able to do much to actually regulate and make institutions serve their purpose and that is mainly to serve the people. Why government is not able to do much is because those who are able to get to and run the government have not been wanting it to actually regulate and make institutions serve their purpose. Worst, while there clearly is opportunity to undertake serious reforms, you have the same people, the same groups preventing it from happening.

I am afraid this is going to be a showdown. I can only keep my fingers crossed that the winner in the end will be the people.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.