In the Philippine Politics, you either belong to a “Dilaw” [Yellow] camp or to a DDS [Diehard Duterte Supporter] camp. “Dilaw” is the disparaging term for the critics of the country’s leading opposition party, the Liberal Party (LP). While “DDS” is associated with the supporters of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) and of the current president, Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte, with red as its party color.
In Dan Slater’s article entitled, “After Democracy,” he branded the Philippines as an “illiberal democracy.” Illiberal democracy, he explained, is more often the individual project of a power-hungry elected leader; minority populations are openly assaulted, and the core democratic institutions are brazenly attacked; its leaders do not accept restrain; and lastly, in order for power not to be limited, norms are broken and rules are bent by its leaders. With this democratic erosion symptom, one will expect that it is the role of the opposition party to cross and check the government and remind it of its accountability to the people.
There are two fundamental norms in a functioning democracy according to Levitsky and Ziblatt: Mutual toleration and Institutional forbearance. If the rivals are accepted and are seen as having the same equal right to exist and are viewed as legitimate, there is mutual toleration. Here, in order to come up with a better solution, politicians agree to disagree. On the other hand, institutional forbearance refers to upholding the law by avoiding any action that might violate its spirit. These two norms go hand in hand in sustaining a democracy. In the Philippines, it is a different case. Criticize the government and you will automatically be branded as an opposition party supporter, praise the government and you will be branded as a supporter of extra-judicial killing (EJK) and of other negative issues attached to the administration. Mutual Toleration and Institutional Forbearance are clearly in danger.
But first, what led Philippines to this unwanted and unnecessary political factions? The predecessor of Rodrigo Duterte, Benigno Simeon Aquino III of the Liberal Party promised to follow a “matuwid na daan” [straight path] in an effort to continue his late mother, former president Corazon Aquino’s legacy as a leader of integrity in contrast with the administration of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s ubiquitous corruption allegations. There were notable reforms made during his term as president but there are also unresolved problems that continued to precipitate even until this day. The Macroeconomic growth was lagging behind in reducing poverty, improvements of infrastructures were slow, and it did little to address concerns regarding agriculture, food and other basic needs.
Come Rodrigo Duterte who has a populist tendencies for his frequently blunt and profane language, won the elections in 2016. Using the slogan “The change is coming,” he was able to convince 16.6 million Filipinos to elect him as president. His advocacies on suppressing crime, drugs, and corruption became more compelling due to the undelivered promises of the Aquino Administration. Upon assuming office, he appointed his former law school classmates, former colleagues in Davao, and chose representatives from the far-left, businessmen, and military officials to be part of his cabinet as well as those who were accused with pervasive corruption scandals such as Macapagal, Estrada, and the Marcoses. The current administration’s principal priority is the war on drugs which lead to subsequent killings of thousands of suspected drug users and pushers. Many journalists and human rights advocates claim that these are extra-judicial killings. From afar, one could say that the country’s democracy is declining because civil liberties of the Filipinos are at stake.
Beset with plethora of problems, the opposition party plays a pivotal role in calling out these irregularities committed by the ruling government. As articulated by Arugay and Slater in their article entitled, “Polarizing Figures,” on explicating vertical and horizontal accountabilities, the opposition elites can sometimes impose horizontal accountability on power-aggrandizing leaders in a manner that dampens polarization rather than fueling it. Moreover, Dahl noted that a political system that allows opposition, rivalry or competition is an important aspect of democratization. In the Philippines, the polarization among two parties continues to widen as more issues remain unresolved.
It is easy to play the blame game and pinpoint who really are at fault. It is easy to identify yourself with a party you think upholds your virtues. However, many Filipinos believe that not choosing which side of coin they should be would automatically put their duties as citizens in question. One must bear in mind that the goal of political parties should be to achieve a common democratic national interest in the end. The opposition party should not only focus on criticizing the ruling government but offer alternative solutions and work with the ruling government on nonpartisan issues. The citizens on the other hand, should be more vigilant by calling out any actions or decisions they perceive undemocratic regardless of political partisanship. As what the former president, Manuel Quezon said, “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.”
Maybe it is time that Filipinos unite and fight in the name of the country. It is time because democracy is beyond the yellow and red politics of the Philippines.
Unity among Filipinos that is beyond the political party system is indeed needed in the country right now. The high degree of polarization in the Philippines has caused rifts in democracy and among its people that even almost every concern in the country has been highly debated with no signs of consolidation. Even the calling out of the failures during the preparation of the recent Southeast Asia Games held in the Philippines have been quite an uproar with some, if not most, people branding one another “Dilawan” and “DDS” resulting into another “Yellow and Red” social media war. I agree with the author of Filipinos becoming united in calling out the undemocratic behavior of the government. However, it would be difficult to unite a heterogeneous society such as the Philippines. It’s different from South Korea’s popular movement where the people, in a homogeneous society, were united in the name of democracy. Furthermore, it would also be good to be able to eliminate the Philippines’ long tradition of politics of personality. Filipinos would not be able to achieve the unity needed from them as long as what they mainly perceive is the identity and charisma of their leaders. As Levitsky and Ziblatt also stated in their book, some norm-breaking can also be democratizing. Thus, in this case, breaking the norm of politics of personality in the Philippines may reduce the increasing polarization in the country and it may further pave the way for a rebirth of Philippine democracy.