Few years ago, I was part of a program called Konrad Adenauer School for Young Politicians or KASYP. The program “is designed to strengthen political parties in Asia and to develop a cadre of accountable and responsible young political leaders. In the two-year program, we were given the opportunity to learn about the background necessary for the development of mature democracies of local political parties, internal dynamics and its impact on the welfare of their constituencies, exercise of leadership, electoral process and how these can contribute to good governance. Over all it aimed to create a cadre of political leaders that will make a difference within their political parties and in their respective countries as well” (KASYP, 2010).
After finishing the two-year program, I decided that politics is not right for me given the present context of our political environment. As an Iranun and a voter in the province of Maguindanao, also coming from a political family that served the region for several decades, I took a different path. I chose to work in an academic institution. However, I treasure the knowledge and skills that I got from KAS. Being part of this program taught me a lot of things in terms of how to make democracy work through political party building and the role of civil society.
While I was participating in this program, I was introduced to a book written by Dr. Clarita Carlos entitled, “Democratic Deficits in the Philippines: What is to be done?”
The book started by stating, “In the 1960s, the Philippines was second to none except Japan. Five decades later, the Philippines finds itself at the bottom of every list measuring the quality of life and various human development indicators. It only ranks among the first in two lists: the list of the countries perceived to be most corrupt and the list of countries most hit by disasters”.
Then it was followed by series of questions: Why are we where we are now? What has happened to the promise of democracy that political and economic freedoms will lead to the good life? What happened to the promises of our elected representatives that they are going to represent our interests? What happened to the political party members who sought our votes but who later on changed their political colors? What happened to the promise of the rule of law? Of predictability of outcomes? Of the value of hard work? Of integrity?” (Page 14).
I share these questions to each and every Filipino people living in this country. We should ask ourselves the same questions and work in finding the best answers.
Let me discuss briefly what is the meaning of democratic deficits. According to Dr. Carlos, deficits refer to the areas where democracy has failed us. She further discussed that “we call this phenomenon as democratic deficits. They are deficits in governance. They are deficits in transparency, accountability and predictability. They are deficits in representation. They are deficits in the high number of Filipinos who are not able to obtain education and who are not given an opportunity to improve their lot. They are deficits in the economy which exports a lot but does not produce employment. They are deficits in the way we treat our minority communities.”
Are these deficits something new or are they already embedded in our political system even prior to President Benigno Aquino’s term of office?
The democratic deficits are not only limited to those I mentioned, they also refer to “deficits in the relationship between the local government and the national government. They are deficits in the way we degrade our environment paying little attention to the next generation. Finally, they are deficits in the way health, food, water, shelter and the many other fundaments of living are neither provided for nor are the opportunities to reach them given. These are the many, many deficits of our democracy.”
Every State of the Nation Address of our presidents, a lot of us try to analyse our political climate. Most of us blame the president or blame our government without looking into the bigger picture of these democratic deficits. At the end of the day, we somehow get tired and hoped that the next president will be our messiah and help our nation recover from all the failed democratic systems.
We need to realise that the power lies deep within us. The power to change our mindset and the power to help our government work are our responsibilities.
In the KASYP, I realised that we need to work on several points. Some us decided to participate in the electoral process and get elected to become public officials. I chose to engage the academic sector simply because I know that we need to invest with our young generations. We need to invest with our youth for them to be equipped in governing our country when their time comes.
President Aquino is doing his best to address our country’s problem of graft and corruption. In the book it also mentioned that, “corruption and inefficiency are a lethal combination of deficits that is robbing future generations of Filipinos many opportunities for development while benefiting vested interests”. Thus, a multi-pronged strategy is required in order to address this grave ill of society which may have already become systemic.” The word that we need to understand here is “systemic”. Corruption has become part of culture and tradition in our bureaucracy.
Thus, reforming our system will take time. These will need a new breed of leaders that are determined to address the problem of corruption in our country. I am happy that with the university I am working now, I can do my share in reforming our political landscape. In God’s time, we can change for the better!