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Brainstorm: The Next Generation | The essence of Democracy

We, Filipinos, are very proud that we have a democratic form of government but what does that really mean?

The word “democracy” comes from the Greek “Demos” meaning “People” and “Kratos” meaning “Power”. It has become cliché that a democracy exists when “power resides in the people”. Again, what does that really mean?

Democracy is equated with freedom, we supposedly live in a free society, we are told. Maybe we should ask, freedom to do what and for what?

I am no expert in political ideologies, but I do have my own views, formed over the years, about what I perceive to be the essence of a true democracy.

For me, there is a true and viable democracy only when people are free to express their views on anything even if it is inevitable that the views of different people and different groups will clash and contrast.

I believe this because I also believe that it is only when the people at large are exposed to different points of view, different ideas and different courses of action that they can make informed choices and it is only when the people are informed that they can fully and properly exercise their right to vote, to choose their leaders and, by doing so, to collectively choose the path our nation should take, when “power truly resides in the people”.

Dissent, and the public expression of such dissent, is therefore necessary and healthy for any democratic society to work. No matter how free you are to make a choice, there is really no freedom if only one choice is allowed.

We must not forget that the alternative, to the free and public discussion of contrasting views and ideas for the people to decide their fate in peaceful elections, is for opposing forces to impose their beliefs on each other through violence, through war.

I have always described my personal politics as being a little left of center. This is because while I subscribe to the freedom of capitalism, where anyone is free to make a better life for himself through his own efforts, I also believe that some socialist reforms are needed to level the playing field so as to have a more equitable distribution of economic power.

For example, while I believe that the government should minimize its interference in private businesses in order to encourage economic activity, I also believe that the government should act to protect every worker’s right to a fair wage and a safe working environment.

I am writing this because I have noticed a very alarming trend on the part of some elements of our law enforcers and the military where baseless trumped-up charges are being filed, individually and in wholesale, against persons and members of certain groups they believe to be dissenters.

The proponents obviously know that the cases they are filing are inherently weak and will eventually be dismissed but, in the meantime, the victims of these baseless charges, usually of non-bailable offenses, can end up being unjustly incarcerated or be forced to go into hiding fearing for their lives.

I do not say this lightly but, just this year, I have handled and been informed of many such cases. As an example, I had a case where my client was accused of having been in a firefight in Davao Oriental when, in fact, he was in Africa giving a lecture at the time. Another client was included in a very long list of persons supposedly involved in the abduction of some soldiers when, at the time, he was hundreds of kilometers away, on a plane going home to Davao City and on the way to traveling to be a wedding sponsor someplace else. I also know of a lady who is based in Metro Manila, where she is a member of a rights advocacy group, who was charged, along with many others, with a murder in Mindanao.

It is easy to dismiss the gravity of these case unless you are the one involved, you are the one unjustly and baselessly accused of a grave crime, you are the one facing the prospect of being jailed for a crime you did not commit.

I would like to be very clear that I fully support the filing and prosecution of cases against those who are truly involved in the armed insurgency against our government but I cannot turn a blind eye when these legal remedies are abused in fascist attempts to stifle the voices of those who are legally advocating social reforms and respect for human rights.

Fascism is the enemy of any democracy because, sooner or later, such abuses will necessarily erode the people’s trust in government and where will our democracy be then?

Again, the freedom to express dissent in a peaceable manner is part and parcel of any healthy democracy. I, and I believe most people, would rather have the dissenters out in the open, expressing their views through public debates or protests, than to have them forced to go to the mountains to join the armed insurgency. Filipinos killing Filipinos is simply an unacceptable option.

I am writing this not to demonize the military or our law enforcement agencies. Far from it, I am doing this to protect these institutions.

I sincerely hope and pray that those in power will act so that the actions of a few rotten apples will not end up destroying the good work of our men and women in uniform who are truly there “TO PROTECT AND SERVE” our people and our democracy.

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