Strewn heavily across my feeds are reactions by my contemporaries on the recently-concluded United States presidential election after whose results and record youth voter participation they have expressed hope that their voices may be translated into votes and therefore into power come 2022.
The most persistent fact that currently prevents such hopeful beliefs from materializing is, quite lamentably, the barriers to economic improvement and political entry inherent within the organization of the current system and in our constitution.
In Acemoglu and Robinson’s book “Why Nations Failed”, they accurately identify that one of the driving forces behind the promotion of democracy and enhancing good governance within a particular state are the inclusiveness, quality, and make-up of its institutions, its government.
Early in the book, they narrate how after the 1688 Glorious Revolution in England, the English Parliament sought a compromise with the new Monarchs, William and Mary, asking that lawmaking and administration powers be vested more within them. In order to reign as chiefs of state, husband and wife acceded to this Bill of Rights and the earlier Declaration of Right. What resulted was the limiting of absolute monarchical power and the start of England’s and later on, the United Kingdom’s tradition of strong participative government.
These actions, including the embrace of free, global trade and greater market access, paved the way for the development of electoral democracy later on in the United Kingdom, allowing people’s living standards to rise, the formation of a strong middle class, and thereby leading to a broader and more diverse coalition of interests to be represented and heard in public affairs and governance. Today, the United Kingdom stands among the freest economies and strongest democracies in the entire world.
The contemporary Philippine experience, however, disheartens and discourages many talented individuals from entering the field of public service. Their yearnings and desires to seek a better life for themselves and our countrymen are clearly and quite sadly delimited by barriers to entry guaranteed by features of the present system.
These features practically close off access by non-wealthy and non-well-connected people, and also ensures their continued economic hardship by keeping investors and therefore jobs at bay.
One of these unpleasant features is the presidential system, where we now have candidates who run for office based on their wealth, their name recognition, and who are nominated not by their respective constituents, but by patrons, financial backers, and other politicians who deem them worthy enough. Patronage has limited the pool of politicians which the people may choose, and more often than not, political dynasties, celebrities, and wealthier people end up being elected into power, people who may not necessarily be in touch with their constituents’ needs.
The dearth of jobs and the protectionist nature of the economy, greatly underscored by anti-investment constitutional restrictions, have likewise presented problems for ambitious and brilliant young folk who wish to enter politics, as some may not have the required amounts of largesse to fund a political campaign.
The electorate’s economic standing, too, has taken a prolonged battering caused by economic protectionism, causing a brain drain where professionals leave the country to seek gainful employment and correspondingly sending those who remain into poverty and lower living standards. Economic protectionism has also fueled the decline of people’s intellectual capabilities, leaving the Philippines ranked with an average IQ of 86.
Presented all these problems, we ought to recognize that barriers to entry are inhibiting the development of political and administrative potentials among the Filipino youth. My contemporaries, sadly, may prove unable to find their voice in an unjust system continually predominated by narrow and clientelistic interests. Our great potentials are stifled by a mediocre status quo.
And in demolishing these barriers, these tragic prohibitions, we can take a good look at the ingredients that made the United Kingdom the successful state it is today.
We can emulate their fondness for accountability by pursuing the diversity of a parliamentary system, whose leaders are taught to debate properly, and grow more accountable to their fellow lawmakers. We can look at unshackling the chains of protectionism and embrace international investment to make our electorate wealthier. And we can embrace devolution in a federal model so that no part of the youth in this country will be left behind in whatever far-flung corner of the Republic.
I firmly believe that in harnessing the talents, abilities, and potential of the youth, be they Negrense, Filipino, and more, there must be the institutions present and organized in such a way to amplify our voices, to let our ideas flourish, and to incentivize participation. For without such reforms and without creating a pathway to inclusive governance, perhaps our voices may never be heard. And with it, we can make our democracy much more meaningful.