An elegy for the death of democracy

Cartoon by Renzo Hipolito/TomasinoWeb

We begin our lament by recounting the life of the deceased.

Democracy in the Philippines has already been dead for a while now; the rotting stench has always been there for anyone to notice. But it was not until this year that its death took a rapid nosedive, the decay eating it from the inside out.

When the Congress voted in favor of extending martial law in Mindanao until the end of the year last Saturday, July 22, many began announcing that “democracy is dead.” After all, it calls to mind a distant but vivid memory: Philippine democracy had already died once 44 years ago — when the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos also declared martial law and led a 21-year authoritarian regime before he was overthrown by the masses in a peaceful protest.

Looking back on the first year of President Rodrigo Duterte, it seems that he is more than willing to follow the late dictator’s footsteps.

Giving Marcos a hero’s burial was his first step, and he backed it up with a bloodbath of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations, intensified military aggression, verbal assaults and discrediting of mainstream media, sexist remarks and rape jokes — he even announced plans of abolishing the Commission on Human Rights for meddling with his anti-drug campaign.

A large, blind crowd cheers for his jokes and populist image, but Duterte’s creeping authoritarianism and fascism is unmistakable.

Last Saturday’s events were enough to prove it: eight youth leaders, which included Lumad teachers, were detained for “public disturbance” after they protested against extending martial law during that Congress session.

Surely, somewhere, Archimedes Trajano stirred in his grave.

But to approximate just how far the decay of democracy has crept into the everyday Filipino, we can look no further than the four corners of the University of Santo Tomas.

Last Tuesday, July 24, in the middle of Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address, the Central Judiciary Board released their resolution junking the historic abstentions in last April’s Central Student Council (CSC) elections, favoring the petitions filed by Steven Grecia of Lakas Tomasino Coalition (LTC), along with Daniela Frigillana.

The resolution — the decision to intentionally disregard the votes of the Thomasian student body — is appalling.

What could be a better way to show just how far and how deep democracy is being killed from the inside than to violate the will of the electorate in a student council election?

Surely, both Grecia and Frigillana are within their rights to question the elections results. However, their actions and the intentions behind them — which are more or less politically motivated — also merit heavy questioning, scrutiny, and criticism from the students they claim to serve.

Since they willfully chose this path by filing the petition in the first place, they, as well as the officiating bodies involved, must now answer to each and every question and criticism hurled towards them.

Who were the members of this Central Judiciary Board? Is it any different from the CSC Central Board or the Commission on Elections? Were there any proceedings or meetings, and if so, where were the documents and minutes? Why are they being made public just now, when there is already a resolution?

For the everyday student, the entire fiasco is decidedly hard to digest: there are far too many documents filled with legalese, too many exchanges, too many persons and parties involved, some of whom we may never even know.

The CSC, as an institution, is representative of the student body — and any case, petition or resolution involving it must be transparent and easily accessible to the student body.

The fact that some of the most important statements and documents were either painstakingly gathered by the press from underground connections, or were instead released weeks, if not, months after they were dated, is questionable in the part of the officiating bodies involved.

The entire case was seemingly kept under wraps with little to no hint of transparency and thus managed to rob the student body of any voice and position in the making of the resolution.

It does not come as a surprise, then, that the common reaction of the student body is backlash, disgust, and anger. The resolution was a decision decided for them — not by them.

The abstentions were not just a trend or a bandwagon, as some of LTC’s supporters claim: they were a clear wake-up call from the student body for competent, socially-aware, and progressive student leaders; a rejection of LTC’s trapo tactics and a demand for political parties with strong and student-centric ideologies; and lastly, for a CSC that will bravely protect and advance their rights since they, for the past years, have failed to do so.

But those in power — those working behind the scenes — continue to invalidate this by advancing their own interests.

Thus, any effort to uphold and implement the resolution should be rejected and protested. It is unjust, undemocratic, and a blatant violation of the rights of the student body. The candidates who will be given positions following the resolution must decline these positions and prove themselves as actual student leaders sensitive to the voices of the student body.

The burden of making sure that the remains of democracy in the University will live on lies with the Commission on Elections: they must now take into task the need to revise the election code on which they were crucified to make sure that this fiasco does not happen again.

But until such time, we are left with a corpse: a solid proof that the blood of democracy had been spilled here in UST. We need not look further than UST as it breeds politicians who work not to serve but to keep their power and influence in place. Look no further than UST where basic rights and democratic principles such as poll results are discarded. Look no further than UST where the interests of the few are being favored — very much like how it happens outside the University.

Today, we celebrate the death of democracy. Please be guided accordingly.

The Official Digital Media Organization of the University of Santo Tomas