Friday, August 04, 2006

Plumbing the Past: The Impact of History on Philippine Institutions and Democracy

July 26, 2006 2:30 – 5:00 PM

Aries A. Arugay, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of the Philippines at Dilman
Glenn A. May, Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of History, University of Oregon
Hazel M. McFerson, Associate Professor, Department of Public and International Affairs, George Mason University
Vicente L. Rafael, Professor, Department of History, University of Washington
Joel Rocamora, Executive Director, Institute for Popular Democracy

The Asia Program through the Woodrow Wilson Center is currently examining the political situation of the Philippines and the reasons why its democratic institutions are struggling. They are investigating the possibility that the history of the Philippines is the main cause for their current instability. The event used several stages of Philippine history to explain how each phase has led to the present problem of democratic governance. The panel of presenters was comprised of historians discussing how the US and Spain influenced the democracy of the Philippines and political scientists addressing the current problems as a conclusion of their past.
Vincente A. Rafael focused on the Spanish influence on the Philippines, especially through their rule between 1565 and 1898. Using a nation-state as the primary factor for democratic existence, Rafael asserted that the influence of Spain set the stage for nationalism in the country and a central nation state. Whereas the Philippines were previously independent tribal islands, Spain connected and unified them to function as one. A series of linkages were created through the Philippines; economic linkages fostered their trade, religious ones tied Christianity into the people, vertical linkages created a bureaucracy, and geographic ones tied the Philippines to the outside world. Glenn A. May discussed how the US influence in the Philippines over their democratic structure unintentionally reinforced the undemocratic nature of society as the people were persuaded to accept a ruling mechanism that was not entirely beneficial to their wellbeing. This included voting rights to merely the male elite and a school system that did not compliment their economic realities.
Joel Rocamora attributed the current political problems to a systemic crisis, a fault in the ability of the political system to respond effectively to poverty and violence. The gap between the rich and poor is widespread and increasing, and the state capacity is in serious decline. The Philippines, he believes, are incapable of producing national leadership. There is too much US dependence and influence today. Aries Arugay, however attributed the current problems to the poor dispersal of power in society, the coercion of the government, and the impact of the colonial legacy. Hazel McFerson believed that reforms needed to be made in the agrarian sector and in the elite democracy.

by Rebecca Bonardi

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