Tuesday, August 23, 2005

People Power: watchful, impatient, alive

What is beginning to come to light from the impeachment saga against President Arroyo is that intra-governmental checks and balances (e.g., the impeachment mechanism) are not sufficient to prevent the tyranny of a group of individuals (the anti-impeachment faction in the House) over a numerically smaller group (the pro-impeachment group), so that if unrestrained by external checks, a minority of individuals in the House will ultimately tyrannize over a majority (about 80 percent who favor the impeachment process as a peaceful regime-change alternative, according to reliable surveys) of the Filipino people.

Arguably, the chaos in the House today reflects both the symbolism of democratic impulses and the unabashed powerplay - bordering on sheer callousness to the depth of the current national anxieties - of various political forces at work. This is the kind of procedural democracy Filipinos borrowed from the Americans, a sort of “democratic elitism” centered on the goal of preventing majority control – what critical scholars call as Madisonian democracy.

Madisonian democracy “enshrined” in the U.S. Constitution is anti-democratic. Madison and his colleagues believed that People Power of the American revolutionaries, the unpropertied and the uneducated Americans, was nothing but “imprudence of democracy.” As the architect of the U.S. Constitution, Madison had less fear of centralizing power in, say, the Executive, than in “elective despotism,” referring to the potential “One hundred and seventy three despots” in Congress at that time. (Congressional politics, one must concede however, is most proximal to the Athenian ideal of democracy.)

To Madison, the goal of the American Constitution is the establishment of a non-tyrannical republic, non-tyrannical against the wellborn, the wealthy and the privileged like himself. The centralization of powers in the American elites was thereupon reinforced by the invention and investment of the power of judicial review in an unaccountable U.S. Supreme Court beginning with Chief Justice Marshall’s exposition in Marbury v. Madison. The doctrine in Marbury was but an echo of Alexander Hamilton’s counter-majoritarian bent. If he had his way, Hamilton would have established a “constitutional monarchy” in the United States. He convinced no one but himself at the Philadelphia convention, luckily for the next generations of Americans.

Filipinos, on the other hand, have of late realized, not once but twice, that there is an antidote to “political warlordism” (Philippine oligarchy’s version of democratic elitism) whether in the Presidency, in the Supreme Court or in Congress. They are proud to call it People Power. This powerfully liberating political phenomenon, uniquely Filipino, may also be christened as Filipinos’ People Power democracy. Today, it is intently watchful, it is impatient, it is alive.


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