By By Atty. Romulo P. Atencia
Desperate Times
posted 7-May-2016  ·  
4,854 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Some people try to distance themselves from real-time politics by just focusing on ideas and principles of proper governance, rather than on the respective merits of the candidates for public office. The advantage is that ideas are devoid of flesh and blood, and one can never harm a relative, friend or acquaintance no matter where the political pendulum swings. Conversely, a political campaign presents to us the very human face of a candidate, with perhaps the same ambitions, desires, fears, and needs as ours. Behind that face is the candidate’s spouse, children, parents, relatives, clan, province-mates, sympathizers, etc. This is where the human factor comes in. For instance, how can one not vote for the candidate who once saved his life? Or, how can one not vote for a relative whose political adversary is a total stranger? Some voters even argue, why not vote for the candidate who gave them a thousand pesos when the guy is just giving back part of the stolen loot?

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The reality is that not a few voters cast their ballots on Election Day with the common good farthest from their minds. As a result, grossly inefficient, abusive, and self-centered government officials still abound in our midst. Plunder, misappropriation of government funds, and bribery are still prevalent. Some government functionaries routinely overstep their authority by issuing or allowing illegal searches and seizures, and some police authorities continue committing atrocities and other illegal acts like  entrapment and planting of evidence. In fact, the people are only getting the kind of government they deserve by their cavalier attitude in choosing their representatives in government.

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Another unwanted effect of our bastardized electoral customs and system is the persistent problem of poverty. Candidates who have spent tons of money in getting elected usually want their money back once the coffers of government comes into grabbing distance. Consequently, there is never enough funds left to spend for the average citizens. Many of our people, reeling from the effects of unemployment, hunger and malnutrition, do not believe the Administration’s claim that the Philippines is no longer seen as the "sick man of Asia" and is allegedly now the toast of the town among international investors. What is readily apparent to the average Juan de la Cruz is the pervasive criminality hugging the headlines almost on a daily basis. Organized crime in the our country can be linked to certain families or barkadas who perpetrate crimes ranging from extortion, sale of illegal narcotics and loan sharking  to  robbery,  kidnapping, and murder-for-hire.

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Considering the present situation in our country, it can truly be said that these are desperate times. This brings to mind Dirty Harry, a 1971 American action thriller film where Clint Eastwood plays the title role. Eastwood's iconic portrayal of the blunt, cynical, unorthodox detective who is seemingly in perpetual trouble with his incompetent bosses, set the style for a number of his later roles and, indeed, a whole genre of "loose-cannon" cop films. The film was released at a time when throughout 1970 and 1971 there were prevalent reports of local and federal police committing atrocities and overstepping their authority by entrapment and obstruction of justice. It has been argued that America needed a hero, a winner at a time when the authorities were losing the battle against crime.

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Our country needs a hero too. And here comes that alleged Superiority. There is one presidential candidate who has exhibited the same blunt, cynical, and unorthodox character – maybe even more – of Dirty Harry. Known for being outspoken and for his hard line reputation on crime, it's not the first time Rodrigo Duterte has made inflammatory statements. Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims Duterte responsible for the 1,000 people executed since 1990. It has also been reported that he threatened to dump criminals in Manila Bay to fatten the fish there, given the chance to be president of the country. If elected as president, Duterte, who is accused of supporting extra-judicial killings to bring stability to the once-crime-ravaged city of Davao, has astonishingly promised to end crime and corruption nationally within his first three to six months in office. Some people simply cannot understand how he can do this within the confines of the law. Recently, he also promised to form a coalition government with the Left. Curiously, his trivialization of rape and vigilante-style killings do not seem to lessen his popularity. It is even perceived that the rich, famous, and even the intelligentsia now root for him.

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Thus, it is not difficult to see that the existing political and economic structure do not favor the great majority of our people. No wonder then that in the Philippines, as in other troubled democracies, there is a growing yearn for change -- for better or worse. It is claimed that the time has come for the people to deal with the situation with a clenched, if not an iron, fist. The sad realization has dawned upon them that the Philippines is more of an oligarchy disguised as democracy, with elections largely a clash of political families. Indeed, statistics show that up to 70% of Filipino legislators hail from political dynasties, and the economic picture reveals a similar tendency. In 2011, for instance, the 40 richest families swallowed up to 76% of newly-created growth in recent years -- the highest rate of growth-concentration in the Asia-Pacific region. This simply means that the benefits of the claimed economic growth of our country do not trickle down to the masses, being gobbled up by the oligarchs in the higher strata of government.

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I agree that there is need for fundamental change in our form of government, among other things. Otherwise, this recurring cycle of inefficiency, abuse and corruption in government, and  in the entire electoral process, will just perpetuate its merry-go-round. But the change must always be through legal or constitutional means. Otherwise we will be wiping out painful lessons of history gained by humankind and forged in the anvil of experience since man became the dominant creature in this planet. Additionally, I believe that if there should be any change – as there must – it should be for the better. We do not need another king, dictator, or another totalitarian form of government. We had more than enough of them in the past. The fight against government inefficiency, corruption, rampant drug abuse and criminality must be through our justice system. I therefore call upon the next Congress to call for a constitutional convention to study amendments to our Constitution. The one we have now is tailored upon a form of democracy which has been found to be faulty and ineffective in the local setting. 

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