Grassroots & Governance

Because of his populist approach to governance, it is possible for Rodrigo Roa Duterte to leave some beneficial legacies out of his presidency. Perhaps poverty incidence will decline somewhat, universal health insurance may almost be attained, thanks partially to legislative initiatives by the opposition, which, by the grace of God, he signed into law, and of course, a decline in crime rates resulting from his brutal “war on drugs.”

The recent appointment of renowned agricultural scientist William Dar as Agriculture Secretary bodes well for reducing poverty incidence which is largely found in rural agricultural areas. So far, his policy statements are making sense. Let us hope he makes significant progress in the next three years.

The decline in the crime rate has strong appeal to the socio-economic class D, those who have surpassed survival needs, but are more concerned with safety and security in their work, and in their communities, based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, on which I wrote recently.

Last time I checked, which was a few years ago, the D class comprises 70% of Filipino voters, which translates into “as the D votes, so goes the election.” The E class, or those concerned with survival needs such as food, water, air, shelter, etc. accounted then for almost 15% of voters. This means that the upper and middle socio-economic classes, or the ABs, and Cs, make up only 1/7th of total voting population. This explains the mystery of why our demagogue president continues to get 80% or more approval ratings in national surveys of the voting age population.

Why, therefore do I and many of my friends continue to fret, nay, express dismay, even grief over the kind of national leadership we have today?

Let me attempt my own explanation. Our Western-style, modern Christian education has made us embrace ideals such as right versus wrong, the rule of law and not of men, leadership that appeals to the better in us, the long-term welfare of the community and the nation, integrity and consistency in policy direction and decisions. These are characteristics of what we can term as civilized, rather than primitive societies.

It seems patently clear to me that the demagoguery of Rodrigo Duterte is leading us backwards into a more primitive society, from the progress we had been making, albeit slow, toward a civilized one. My Google search defines a demagogue as “a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than using rational argument.” Or one who “rhetorically exploits an issue for political purposes in a way calculated to appeal to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people”.

By this definition, we can conclude that panderer is indeed a successful demagogue because he accomplishes his political objectives, even if he may not have thought it through carefully. He may just be using his gut political instincts which he honed over decades as the tough mayor of Davao City.

A civilized society, however, which many of us desire and hope for, and which some continue to work for, is one that edifies, rather than panders to the basic wants and needs of people. It chooses leaders who inspire them to be their better selves.

Those among us who want to work toward a more civilized and humane society would do well to understand the mindset of the large majority of those who decide who should lead our country.

First, of course, we need to help provide and support initiatives for raising our people above the basic survival and safety needs: enable them to rise above their basic needs, through better access to education, jobs and broadened opportunities to help themselves,

Second, review our systems for choosing our leaders. Perhaps the American-style electoral democracy is not the right method. As the successful leader Mahathir of Malaysia, which has almost zero poverty incidence, has publicly stated, Western-style democracy is not appropriate for us Asians.

Many successful nations provide for indirect elections. Ordinary voters choose their legislators and local leaders, who in turn, select the leaders from amongst themselves: Singapore, Japan, Canada, Australia, and many of the erstwhile UK Commonwealth, which has a highly professionalized civil service.

Their system seems to protect nations from choosing demagogues to run their country; but rather tend to select responsible, better qualified leaders who have a longer term view of where their government should take the country for the benefit of its people.

The rule of law based on a ratified Constitution, with an independent judiciary, civil service, and legislature are a must, if a nation is to join the world of civilized nations.

Our demagogic leadership, if you can call it that, is rapidly moving toward a rule of men rather than of law, and has repeatedly violated the Constitution, including the deliberate failure to protect our sovereignty and territories. Over the long-term, if the trend is not arrested, this can cause the Philippines to deteriorate into an almost barbarian nation. What can the leaders in our business community do to prevent this developing disaster?


Teresa S. Abesamis was a professor at the Asian Institute of Management and a Fellow at the Development Academy of the Philippines.