[OPINION] The Philippines: A nation in need of a cultural evolution
More than 30 years ago, the Philippines stunned the world when it brought down its “tin pot” dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, through peaceful means. This victory was dubbed the "People Power Revolution."
Yet in the recent presidential election, Filipinos elected another authoritarian leader, Rodrigo Duterte, who despite his incessant misconduct, was favored by a landslide.
Needless to say, there are a myriad of systematic flaws in the political system that has led the Philippines into its current political state, but one cannot overlook the cultural practices embedded among Filipinos that contribute to the bigger problem. That being the case, the Philippines is in desperate need of a cultural evolution and not just another political revolution.
Since Duterte took office in 2016, the Philippines has experienced political instability. He has led a war against drugs, resulting into the extrajudicial killing of at least 12,000 drug suspects. There has been pushback against the current regime, but recent efforts have been unsuccessful and have worsen the democratic and human rights condition in the country.
In his most recent stunt, Duterte withdrew from the International Criminal Court after the Human Rights Commission agreed to conduct an investigation on his drug war. Duterte has been critical against human rights, believing that it hinders from justice being served.
He, like the skeptics that Mark Philip Bradley describes in his work, believes that human rights are “hegemonic Euro-American norms” that have unfairly systematized the global rights order.
In his visit to the University of Michigan, Chito Gascon, the Philippine Human Rights Commissioner, discussed the different ails that need to change like the weak party system and the prominence of political dynasties. He proposed the notion that the country is in need of a democratic renewal. Gascon argued, however, that what needs to take places is “not a restoration of the last thirty years, but a new path where democracy is not in the hands of the elites.”
Academic research coincides with Gascon’s laments.
Allen Hicken has found that the weak party alliances among Filipinos undermine the country’s ability to develop a stable democracy. Teresa and Eduardo Tadem argued in their work that widespread political dynasties, which are entrenched in several mechanisms within patrimonialism, result in “patronage politics, corruption, poverty and underdevelopment, and glaring socio-economic inequalities.”
These systemic weaknesses and its outcomes thwart the country’s ability to cultivate good governance. However, these aren’t the only ones to blame. Cultural norms are also just as liable.
Education plays a key role, and not just in its literal sense, but also in the form of grassroots awareness campaigns that would help disadvantaged Filipinos understand these systemic and cultural ills, its consequences, and how they can help alleviate the problem.
Many Filipinos are misinformed or completely uninformed about different issues, and often don’t seek to change this circumstance. To illustrate, uneducated Filipinos vote based on strong name-recalls.
However, by providing resources and empowering Filipinos with information, it would encourage them to be proactive and allow them to think for themselves.
The media also plays a vital role, both in the news and entertainment, as Filipinos are so easily swayed by what they hear and see on TV. It doesn’t help that TV shows and movies often reinforce negative norms like sexism, romanticizing elitism, and even the frequent discrimination based on skin color. Changing how Filipino culture is portrayed in the media would perhaps influence Filipinos the way negative media does today.
There is no doubt that there needs to be a systemic change in the Philippine political system, but it is equally important for Filipinos to change the very nature of how they operate in their day-to-day lives. The solutions I’ve discussed do not resolve the persistent issues overnight. They’re simple yet require long-term collective action and commitment.
Even Chito Gascon acknowledges that democratic renewal may not occur in his lifetime but perhaps in mine. He believes in the youth’s ability to act collectively and make the change. And it is with this same hope and confidence that I view the Philippines’ future. – Rappler.com
Patricia Angus is a Political Science and International Relations undergraduate at the University of Michigan. Her area of focus is on comparative politics and international security, norms, and cooperation. Ultimately, her goal is to pursue a career in the field of human rights with a particular interest in poverty alleviation and conflict resolution.