Luis F. Dumlao, Ph.D. Associate Professor and Officer-in-Charge, Department of Economics, School of Social Sciences, Ateneo de Manila University. The arguments presented are those of the author and not necessarily that of his institutional affiliation. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, March 13, 2006 edition, page S1/5.
Filipinos have reached yet another peak (or low point, depending on your viewpoint) in their dividedness. There are the pro-Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (pro-GMA) forces, whose priority is political survival. There are those who are pro-opposition, different groups who commonly demand the resignation of GMA. But other than being for or against GMA, Filipinos are very much divided. The pro-Erap group maintains that former president Joseph Estrada (Erap) is innocent. The pro-Cory group insists the plunder cases filed against Erap should continue. Some rightist elements in the military, and the leftists are also divided between using underground and constitutional means to uplift the lives of the disadvantaged. The list of the sources of division can go on and on. Filipinos have taken sides and debate endlessly, leading to a political stalemate, and this further fuels their division.
But Filipinos are not as divided when it comes to their preference for democracy over any other type of political and economic system. Even economists who pride themselves on using hard data before making conclusions feel safe in asserting at the outset that Filipinos are united in embracing democracy. After all, the Filipinos’ struggle for democracy resulted in People Power I. Their hatred of corruption and their peaceful exercise of democratic protest resulted in People Power II. Filipinos embrace democracy; they can be united, despite having to undergo the process of maturing politically, the hard way.
For one, in 1998, Erap decisively won the presidential election. For pro-Erap people, this was a step towards the right direction. For them, the country had become so democratic that the poor and lower middle majority were able to elect the person whom they believed would improve their economic status. For the anti-Erap forces, this event was a step in the wrong economic direction. To them, the country had become too democratic that the supposedly educated and more sophisticated class were outvoted by the majority in selecting a candidate whom they thought would be incompetent to lead the country. The latter was the sentiment of most economists and of the more “knowledgeable” sector of society. Yet, after the election, the country united and decided to support a democratically elected president. For the pros, it was a triumph; for the cons, it was a hard lesson in democracy, but it was a triumph of democracy nonetheless.
In 2004, GMA supposedly won by just over a million votes and with less than a majority of the voting populace. Economists were not very united in their choice of candidate. Some insisted that GMA was an economist herself and thus was the best person to lead the economy. Some say that three years of GMA was long enough to foresee a continuous lack of economic improvement if not deteriorating unemployment rate and worsening government revenue collection (without imposing additional tax to taxpayers). Between GMA and Fernando Poe, Jr. (FPJ), some economists were more solid for GMA for her apparent advantage in economic management, and incumbent’s experience.
But as economists, we can only insist and argue who will be best to run the economy. Outside of that, economists are one with democracy. If GMA was indeed the best one to run the economy, then her victory is a triumph. If she was not, her victory is another lesson that a maturing democracy has to go through, but a democratic triumph nonetheless. Pro-opposition economists will just have to teach and disseminate information more effectively in conveying who is the best one to run the economy the next time around.
If only things were that simple. As economists and Filipinos in general embrace democracy, society is one in supporting a candidate who is elected by the people, even if they do not agree on the choice. For as long as the person is the one who won and for as long as the person is the clear legitimate winner. As economists, we may not be united on who can best run the economy. But we economists are united in that whoever truly wins in a democratic exercise, we will take that as a given (constraint) and work our way to improve the economy. Economists may not be as united regarding economic policy, but we are united in upholding democracy.
But the question is—thanks to the Garci-tapes—did GMA really win? The answer to this question lies at the core of our democracy. For free and clean elections are the bases of our democracy. The answers will either reinforce or dilute the democratic principles that People Power I struggled to put in place. Just as important are questions of proper use of power—thanks to the fertilizer and other corruption scandals. Was power abused and was there corruption to fund and maintain the presidency of the incumbent? How bad has corruption been? These questions are valid issues in seeing if the democratic fight against corruption that People Power II struggled for is being given due attention. These are the “uncertainties” that many economists these days refer to. And for the good of the economy, these are the uncertainties that the current administration must proactively and convincingly address to the people’ satisfaction.
Indeed, for our democracy to mature, our people need to learn from difficult experiences— such as what we are going through now. These are but “growing pains” that developing nations have to go through and resolve in a decisive way, one way or another. But before Philippine democracy reaches maturity, it has to fight and strive to be democratic to begin with. Herein lies the whole point of our current political struggle.