Corruption, state capture and extra-constitutional challenges in the Philippines, Part I

Posted: June 27, 2011 in governance, Philippine politics

(Author’s note:  This blog entry was a seminar presentation made before a regular class at the National Defense College of the Philippines, where I once served as vice president for research and special studies, during the first quarter of the year.  Given the challenge of melding the diverse concepts and phenomena covered in the presentation, the talk is offered for the consideration of  followers of this blog.)

Logo of the National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP)

Some key concepts need to be clarified so we can make progress in this presentation.  Among them include politics, constitutions, corruption, state or regulatory capture, and legitimacy.

What constitutes politics?  Politics is an ubiquitous aspect of life as human beings need to make, amend and preserve the general rules under which they live.  It involves the contest for scarce goods, both tangible and intangible.  With scarcity, the political contests results in some getting and some not getting the scarce resources.  Conflict therefore is one aspect of political life.  

However, people also realize that for order to ensue, they need to cooperate with each other notwithstanding differences in tastes and preferences and conflict over limited goods.  They need to agree on the fundamental rules of the so-called political game.   Otherwise, it would be quite impossible to build and sustain human communities.  

If politics is seen as a ‘game’, then it is rule-bound.  As a rule-bound process, politics is civilized.  Absent rules, politics is a no-holds barred melee.  Without rules, politics is war.

To build human communities, constitutions, which are the ground rules of the political game, are needed.  Constitutions indicate who rules, how they will rule, and why rulers should be obeyed by the ruled.

If we are to extend the metaphor further, the nature of the game is important and this is also specified by the constitution.  The rule book specifies the game: it’s basketball, not tennis!  It’s elections, not coups or insurrections!

When political actors stick to constitutional rules, they’re engaged in regular politics.

When they don’t, they’re engaged in irregular or extra-constitutional politics.  In at least three occasions in our nation’s history, leaders were sought to be deposed through irregular processes known as ‘people power’.  These attempts succeeded in February 1986 and January 2001 but failed in May 2001.   

It is obviously impossible to write a rule book for extra-constitutional politics.  Try it: write the rule book for ‘people power’!

Human communities will have to deal with constitutional conundrums.  First, how does a group of people agree on a constitution in the first place?  For instance, what will make the local communists and secessionists agree to give up the armed struggle and participate in rule-bound politics?  Will adversely-affected parties not opposed any peace agreement reached with these political actors.

Ultimately, a constitution is enforced by armed force.  The secret of effective constitutions lies in how the armed specialists of violence are constrained even as they are empowered to enforce the law.

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