By Yen Makabenta
Filipino-Americans protesting President Rodrigo Duterte’s inclusion and participation in US President Joe Biden’s two-day virtual “Summit for Democracy,” would not know it, but Duterte’s statement most probably helped direct the summit to more productive discussions of the issues.
Instead, he extended the discussion not just to the traditional concern for free and fair elections, but also to underscore the rule of law and the Constitution in strengthening Philippine democracy.
The protesting groups, led by US Filipinos for Good Governance, wrote to Biden on December 8 to protest his decision to invite Duterte to the democracy summit (December 9 to 10), saying that the latter’s presence at the event “makes a mockery of what the US professes, especially given the sheer magnitude of his crimes.” They blasted Duterte for depicting the Philippines as a vibrant democracy and then rattled off their familiar litany of complaints about his administration silencing and red-tagging critics, waging a war on drugs that targeted the poor and legalizing political repression through an anti-terrorism.
In his intervention, Duterte said that Philippine democracy was a work in progress, “but the Filipino is free. The Philippines is free.” While the Philippines is considered the oldest democracy in Asia, its system of governance is “not perfect,” he said.
He cited how corruption, poverty, and peace and order issues continue to be major challenges for the country.
“Corruption, poverty, and peace and order issues have always been and continue to be our major challenges. They weakened our institutions and deprived many Filipinos of democratic agencies,” he said.
Despite this, the President said the Philippines has come a long way.
WATCH: PRRD’s Intervention in the Summit for Democracy
“The Philippines was the first republic in Asia and the inspiration of all Asian struggles for independence. Today, we have a vibrant democracy, and an open and diverse society. Freedom of expression and of the press are fully enjoyed, and the regular transfer of power is guaranteed through free and honest elections,” Duterte said.
“Philippine democracy is indeed a work in progress. But the Filipino is free. The Philippines is free. I will step down in June 2022. The work of our imperfect democracy will certainly continue,” he added.
This was a highly significant statement by the President, and one which Filipinos have awaited and will clearly welcome.
Significantly, contemporary political science has increasingly stressed the role of constitutional liberalism in defining democracy, which is more than the process for selecting government.
In his book The Future of Freedom (W. W. Norton & Co., New York, 2003), Fareed Zakaria wrote: “Constitutional liberalism is not about the procedures for selecting government but, rather, government’s goals. It refers to the tradition, deep in Western history, that seeks to protect an individual’s autonomy and dignity against coercion, whatever the source — state, church or society. The term marries two closely connected ideas. It is liberal because it draws on the philosophical strain that emphasizes individual liberty entrenched in the American South through the democratic system. It is constitutional because it places the rule of law at the center of politics.
Zakaria also observes a tension between democracy and liberty, and writes: “Slavery and segregation were entrenched through the democratic system. In the end slavery died not because it was lost in a vote, but because the forces of the North crushed the South. Eventually, the Jim Crow system that succeeded slavery in the South was destroyed, not by democracy, but despite it. In America’s greatest tragedy, liberty and democracy were often at odds.”
For most of modern history, what characterized governments in Europe and North America, and differentiated them from those around the world was not democracy, but constitutional liberalism.
The Western model of government was best symbolized not by the mass plebiscite but by the impartial judge.
Imperialism and democracy
Zakaria cites how Hong Kong was a revealing illustration that liberty did not depend on democracy. It had one of the highest levels of constitutional liberalism in the world, but was in no way a democracy. Since the Chinese takeover, Hong Kong has had no democracy to speak of.
We must therefore wonder whether the US government, before embarking on this grandiose Summit for Democracy, understood just how complicated the subject was, and how its persistent preaching of democracy to the world could spread mischief instead of unalloyed blessings. What is surprising now is that it is the cognitive-challenged Biden who made the move to convene this summit.
In the Philippines, it is not forgotten, and will never be forgotten, that at a critical time when we Filipinos were on the cusp of winning our liberty and independence, the US Navy crossed the ocean into our seas and conquered and annexed our archipelago on the pretext of teaching us civilization and democracy.
Climate alarmists at the UN, like Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, never miss a beat in spreading climate-change dogma into every UN council and activity — the more important the better. The Security Council itself was turned into a target.
Thank goodness, Russia sits in the powerful UN Security Council, and has the power of the veto.
Last December 14, Russia moved to veto a Security Council resolution linking climate change and global security that supposedly carried the support of a majority of member states.
Backed by Niger and Ireland, the draft resolution called on Secretary-General Guterres to “integrate climate-related security risk as a central component into comprehensive conflict-prevention strategies.”
The text won support from 12 of the council’s 15 members.
“The resolution was completely unacceptable. And not only for Russia, a number of countries supported us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media.
“The topic of climate cannot be a factor that limits the right of countries to develop,” Peskov said.
He added that “highly industrialized” countries which “significantly harmed the climate” in order to develop their economies are now setting the agenda.
India also voted against the resolution, arguing that global warming was chiefly an issue related to economic development, rather than international security.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has for years been a notorious skeptic about man-made global warming, saying Russia stands to benefit from it.
But his approach has changed as Russia — one of the world’s biggest producers of oil and gas — sees the devastating effects of climate change.
The country has set numerous heat records in recent years, and the rising temperatures have contributed to severe floods and forest fires that have affected Siberia with increasing regularity.
Putin said earlier this year that Russia — the fourth-highest carbon emitter — was aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060.