Monday, May 4, 2009

Rethinking the Concept of Sovereignty

by Alan S. Cajes

Note: This article was written sometime in 2001 as a reflection of Edsa Dos and Edsa Tres. The picture is from

"Consent of the governed" is a well-known political phrase that is attributed to John Locke. It serves as the bedrock of the country's republican and democratic political system. In 1986, the message of the phrase found its way into the Philippine Constitution -- the document that encarnates our will as a people, as well as the terms and conditions of our social contract. It declares that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. Put differently, the governed are sovereign and government authority is derived from their consent. When that consent is withdrawn, government authority is revoked and the governed can either govern themselves directly or choose another governor to steer themselves.

Sovereignty, therefore, is the principal function of the governed -- a function that can be delegated to the agents. For Rousseau, sovereignty is nothing less than the exercise of the general will.

Since we -the governed- are preoccupied with other demands of life like earning a living and raising a family, we choose from among ourselves those who will exercise government authority on our behalf, namely, the lawmakers, executives, and justices. In this arrangement, the agents enact, implement, and interpret laws in our behalf as the principals. Because there are three agents of the people, each performing a specific task, these agents are sovereign in their respective official acts. The lawmakers are sovereign when they pass or enact laws. The executives are sovereign when they implement the laws. The justices are sovereign when they interpret laws or settle competing legal claims. The three agents of sovereignty lead, respectively, the three co-equal branches of government, namely, the legislature, the executive department, and the judiciary.

The Philippine Constitution, however, provides occasions when we can directly exercise government authority, i.e., direct or unmediated democracy. One occasion is voting during elections. At the moment of writing the names of those who we think will best represent our will, we - the people - are sovereign. Another occasion is when we directly propose or enact laws or approve or reject any act or law through the system of initiative and referendum, which are politically attractive but seemingly impractical possibilities.

The political turmoil that hit the country from the second half of 2000 to the first half of 2001 tested not only our political assumption, which is more and more representative democracy, and less and less direct democracy. It also induced opposing claims to sovereignty. Congress impressed to us that it was sovereign in pursuing the impeachment trial of Mr. Estrada. Mr. Estrada, when he was still exercising the powers of the presidency, insisted that the governed wanted him to fulfill his contract until 2004. Those who took part in "Edsa Dos" claimed that they represent the will of the people. Such claim was dramatized in slogans like: Ang hatol ng bayan? Guilty si Erap! While those who participated in "Edsa Tres" proclaimed that they were the sovereign Filipino people.

Now, the question is: Who represented the will of the people? Congress? Mr. Estrada? The latest two Edsa's?

Philippine politics, to borrow a phrase from Norton E. Long, has been largely conducted by agents rather than principals. Corollary to this practice, Long argues that the will of the people is always expressed by some of the people. And as such, it is a process rather than a substance.

What Long is saying is that it is difficult to determine the will of the people if we consider the people's will as a substance, i.e., something that we can directly experience through our senses. We cannot possibly see, touch, smell, hear or feel through our skin the people's will directly. We can only perceive the people's will through signs or symbols that are results of procedures. For instance, the act of voting is an expression of the voters' will. To determine the will of the voters, we count the ballots, tally them, and based on generally accepted rules, such as the rule of simple majority or plurality, we declare the winner of an election. Here, the will of the people is expressed in signs or symbols, such as names of candidates voted upon, the number of votes of each candidate, the ballot on which the names of voted persons are written, the ballot box, certificate of canvass, etc. The people's will is expressed in signs or symbols as a result of a process, i.e., a series of activities identified and logically or sequentially arranged to come up with the desired outcome.

In science, the observance of procedures under a particular methodology is critical in determining the truth and validity of a result or outcome. Results of experiments in the natural and social sciences are accepted based on the validity of the method employed and the procedures followed. Thus, authority in science hinges, to a large extent, on methods and procedures.

In politics, Long claims that citizens and organized groups show a sign of maturity when they recognize their proneness to folly and adopt procedures to guard against it. Hence, he says, an important factor in sustaining a rational political administration is the promotion of a disciplined public opinion -- one that is trained to observe tested procedures and produce evidence and reasoned alternatives.

The idea of strict adherence to procedures is not foreign to Filipinos. The 1987 Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.

In response to the question, it is Congress or the Senate acting as an impeachment tribunal, which was most likely to express the people's will since it has a process that has been tested at least somewhere else in the world. But there is sufficient reason to concede that the governed elected the Senators to perform certain mandated functions. This goes without saying, however, that elections in this country have always been absolutely clean and fair.

The former Chief Executive had the right and duty to stay in office and complete his term. And by so doing, he is merely following the people's will, which was expressed through their ballots in 1998. This right and duty, however, is not absolute because it is obviously subject to certain procedures provided by the Constitution. That is why Mr. Estrada could have been dismissed from office if he was found guilty by the impeachment tribunal. And since resignation is not prohibited by the Constitution, he could also have vacated his office voluntarily. Indeed, the Supreme Court cognized this avenue and declared the Office of the President vacant. Later on, Chief Justice Davide swore in Ms. Macapagal-Arroyo as President.

Which brings us now to the remaining issue whether some of the people, those in the pro- and anti-Estrada camps, express the will of the people.

The insistence that we observe tested procedures to determine the will of the people does not in any way suggest that free and effective criticism is not considered as a tested procedure. The parliament of the street and other forms of expressions of beliefs and opinions by some of the people are already regular features in the Philippines and elsewhere. The people power at EDSA in 1986 is a sufficient proof that free and effective criticism works.

The problem with this procedure is its tendency to fan heat than shed light, especially when opposing camps mobilize, in one way or another, a more or less equal number of people to their cause. Under this condition, which is quite similar to what we experienced in the streets and other public places, this procedure may fail to achieve its desired end. And prolonging such a process could harm the country in the long run. A prolonged political impasse compounded by massive displays of political strength from both sides, is a feast we cannot afford.

Rousseau points out that the general will is always right and tends to the public advantage. But he also cautions that the deliberations of the people are not always equally correct. When a tested procedure used to determine the people's will ceases to function properly, people, rather some of them, fail to communicate. The result is a hollow politics because the essence of politics is debate, which requires that there must be something to debate about. It does not come as a surprise, therefore, if pro- and anti-Estrada supporters simply hurl invectives at each other or display force through sheer number because of a failure to argue and communicate.

There is a consensus among political scientists that constitutions give form to politics. Thus, a government without a constitution would lack the specific kind of moral limitation that distinguishes politics. Our Constitution mandates a procedure to solve a problem like Mr. Estrada. We owe it to ourselves as citizens of this country to resolve our conflict through free discussion and free acceptance of the outcome of our agreed upon constitutional procedure. Along the way, as former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga says, we can disagree without being disagreeable and argue without being difficult.

In the final analysis, it is only through enlightened vigilance, intelligent debates, and proper scrutiny of issues through tested procedures that we can mature politically as a nation.

Ecology of Governance

by Alan S. Cajes

The fundamental problem that the world faces today is how to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. This fundamental problem involves two components: One, the ecological problem, which covers the degradation of the ecological systems and reduction in the natural capital stock, and two, the political problem, which includes ineffective governance. The juxtaposition of the terms "ecology" and "governance" is, therefore, both meaningful and relevant considering that among "the most urgent tasks of our time is to understand the implications of ecology for social and political thought[1]." Here, governance is being summoned to address the ecological problem. On the other hand, ecology, both as a science and a paradigm, is seen as a philosophy that can enhance the art and science of governance.

It is clear that the basic problem has something to do with governance, which may be defined as "the capacity of the institutional environment" to manage the interaction among and between individuals and social groups, as well as the public agencies[2]. Robert N. Stavins explains the relevance of governance to ecological issues:

"The fundamental question that needs to be addressed by public policy in the area of environmental protection as we move into the next century is 'What is the appropriate role of government?' This question emerges along three fundamental dimensions in relation to environmental protection... (1) What is the appropriate degree of government activity; (2) what form should government activity take, and (3) what level of government should be delegated responsibility[3]?"

There is a need therefore to develop a new framework for governance or what might be called a way for governing governance. This suggestion takes off from the observation that "contemporary societies are unprepared for global transformations, and present forms of governance are in varying degrees obsolete and not equipped to cope with the needs and opportunities now emerging." Thus, novel approaches are needed to deal with the recent manifestations of traditional problems like "what constitutes 'the good life' and how governance should promote it [4]"

As an initial idea, two general approaches to governance may be distinguished following Hayward: the reformist approach and the radical approach. The reformist approach generally holds that the ecological problem "can be appropriately and adequately be taken up within prevailing modes of thought and action." The radical approach proposes that a "whole new trajectory of development must be sought: one where economy and technology are ecologically sensitive, one whose values and attitudes are 'ecocentric,' one whose politics are 'ecologistic' and whose view of ecology is deep rather than shallow[5]". These approaches are at the center of the intellectual debate on how to best manage our remaining natural resources to meet the needs of the present generation and the generations yet to come.

Discussions that point towards a rethinking about the role of governments are prevalent in recent literature in economics, politics and sociology. Yehezkol Dror, for instance, made this observation:

"Many governance issues require fundamental reconsideration as a result of global transformations, for example, notions of human rights and responsibilities, cultural pluralism and solidarity. How and to what extent should governance promote moral education? How should advancement of democracy be combined with recognition of the right to prefer alternative regimes? Imaginative political thinking is needed on a wide range of topics to assist governance as it faces unprecedented problems and tasks[6]."

A re-evaluation about the nature and role of governance is in order, especially that it "impacts directly on the lives of poor people who are less able to avoid the adverse consequences of poor governance and therefore bear a disproportionate share of the ill effects of systems and structures of governance that do not reflect their interest[7]." Such need to rethink the meaning of governance is brought about by the emergence of the ecological paradigm, which locates the State within the sphere of a larger system - ecology. And perhaps, it is only through ecological governance -- one that considers the findings of ecology as a science and as a paradigm -- that society can make sense out of the present condition and do something to address the challenges and problems of a new world order.

[1]See Tim Hayward, Ecological Thought, An Introduction (UK: Polity Press, c. 1994).
[2]See Joachim Ahrens, Prospects of Institutional and Policy Reform in India: Toward a Model of the Development State? in Asian Development Review, vol. 15, no. 1, 1997, pp. 111-146
[3] See Robert N. Stavins, Environmental Protection: Visions of Governance for the Twenty-First Century, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, July 23, 1998.
[4] See Yehezkel Dror, The Capacity to Govern, Report to the Club of Rome (Executive Summary). Ciculo de Lectores, July 1994.
[5]See Hayward, 1994.
[6]See Dror, July 1994.
[7] See Andres Gouldie, Is a Good Government Agenda Practical? An Approach to Governance. Talk given at Overseas Development Institute, March 25, 19998.

The Philosophy of Mao Zedong

by Alan S. Cajes

Whom Do I Serve?

In the philosophy of Mao Zedong, one is always confronted with the decision: to serve the people or one's own interests. This line of thinking brings one to the realm of moral philosophy. Indeed, the ethics of Maoism involves the question: Whom do I serve? And Mao's ethics is one of love and struggle.

Love because it is love for the people which is integral to Mao's vision. In China, love is closely connected with the term unity for when combined with the decision to serve the people, love takes a dynamic position. Struggle because society is marked by continual class struggle, which is reflected in each individual's thought. It is struggle that moves toward the final goal of love and unity -- the classless society.

It is from the perspective of the ethics of struggle that issues like justice, reconciliation, equal rights, social harmony, and personal happiness are seen in terms of the exploitative or the non-exploitative use of power. Power has political, economic, and social dimensions. The issue of reconciliation, for example, also raises the question of power since if one class has superior wealth and influence than another to seek reconciliation is far from possible. The hope of building genuine unity among classes hinges on the fairly equal possession of power and dignity among members of the different classes.

Struggle brings out one's concern for the promotion of the well-being of people. It is seen as a necessary tool to advance the vision of a new society -- one that liberates the people from the bondage of terminal misery and dire want due to exploitation.

Mao's concern for the welfare of the people is central in his ethics of love and struggle. Of all things in the world, he said, people are the most precious. No wonder in one of his earliest writings, he stated: "Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution."
Mao thought in terms of enemies as an expression of his concern for his people who are victims of oppression. Hence, it may be said that his philosophy of struggle grew out of the conditions of suffering and revolution in China and out of his understanding of Marxism. Mao himself said that the people alone are the motive force in the making of world history.

Action-Oriented Philosophy

Mao's long experience in developing strategies, military tactics, and social restructuring has hatched a philosophy geared towards political concerns. This is the reason why he said that studying Marxism is not just to know a set of dogmas. It is to master the art of revolution. Said he: “If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must eat the pier; if you want to know the meaning of revolution, you must take part in revolution.

Contradiction Theory

The theory of contradiction, which has roots in Marxism and Chinese tradition, is central to the philosophy of Mao. For him struggle characterizes all natural and social phenomena. And contradiction simply means the struggle of opposing forces within an entity.

Mao believes that gradual or quantitative change permeates even in things that appear in the state of harmony of equilibrium. When unity of harmony is destroyed, the thing can be said to be in a state of rapid qualitative change. For unity, harmony and equilibrium are not absolute but relative and temporary. Only struggle of opposites in a given thing is absolute. As Mao declared:

"Such unity, solidarity, combination, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, constancy, equilibrium, solidarity, attraction etc., as we see in daily life, are all appearances of things in the state of quantitative change. On the other hand, the dissolution of unity, that is the destruction of this solidarity, combination, harmony, balance, stalemate, deadlock, rest, constancy, equilibrium, solidarity and attraction, and the change of each into its opposite are all the appearances of things in the state of qualitative change, the transformation of the process into another.”

"Things are constantly transforming themselves from the first into the second state of motion; the struggle of opposite goes on in both states but the contradiction is resolved in the second state. That is why we say that the unity of opposites is conditional, temporary and relative, while the struggle of mutually expressive opposites is absolute... The struggle between opposites permeates a process from beginning to end and makes one process transforms itself into another, that is ubiquitous, and that struggle is, therefore, conditional and absolute."

A chair, for example, may look unchanging, although the fact is that it is aging or decaying. Quantitative change is said to be taking place. If that chair is burned, a rapid, qualitative change would take place. Now, in both condition, change exists and this is what Mao sees as the struggle of opposites within the thing.
This concept of struggle and contradiction applies to the whole universe, to every being, and most specifically in human life. In the philosophy of Mao, all societies are characterized by struggle and contradiction and each person's thought is in a state of permanent struggle. Mao explained:

"The Law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the fundamental law of nature and of society and therefore also the fundamental law of thought. It stands opposed to the metaphysical world outlook. It represents a great revolution in the history of human knowledge. According to dialectical materialism, contradiction is present is present in all processes of objectively existing things and of subjective thought and permeates all those processes from beginning to end; this os the universality and absoluteness of contradiction. Each contradiction and each of its aspects have their respective characteristics; this is the particularity and relativity of contradiction. In given conditions, opposites possess identity, and consequently can co-exist in a single entity and can transform themselves into each other; this again is the particularity and relativity of contradiction. But the struggle of opposites is ceaseless, it goes on both when the opposites are co-existing and when they are transforming themselves into each other, and becomes especially conspicuous when they are transforming themselves into one another; this again is the universality and absoluteness of contradiction."

Mao, however, makes a distinction between two different types of social contradiction. One is the struggle between people and enemy. Mao calls this as antagonistic contradictions. This kind of contradiction can be resolved normally only through harsh, violent and revolutionary action; although, antagonism may simmer in a society for a long time before revolution breaks out. This is compared to a bomb, which is a single entity until a new element is added, ignition. Then an explosion, a qualitative change, takes place.

The other type of contradiction is the non-antagonistic contradictions among the people. Specifically, these are the possible conflicts of interest between and among workers and peasants or intellectuals and workers.
Mao likewise recognized the tension existing between individual and social needs, between leaders and led, between the government and the governed. These contradictions do not require violent revolutionary action in order to be resolved. They can be settled peacefully through democratic methods of discussion, criticism, persuasion and education.

It should be noted, however, that under certain circumstances, non-antagonistic contradictions may become antagonistic. Mao said:

"Contradiction and struggle are universal and absolute, but the methods of resolving contradictions, that is the forms of struggle,, differ according to differences in the nature of contradictions. Some contradictions are characterized by open antagonism, others are not. In accordance with the concrete development of things, some contradictions which were originally non-antagonistic develop into antagonistic ones, while other which were originally antagonistic develop into non-antagonistic ones."

Thus, if conflicts between and among people are not handled properly and resolved in due course, a situation can develop, in which violence would become necessary. Mao's theory of contradiction, then, gives a clear and definite place to violent struggle and also puts limit on it.

Theory of Justice

In the physical world, the development and resolution of contradictions is an impersonal and neutral process. In the human realm, however, the process moves in historical dimensions. In this context, human struggle can be said to be a question of ethics, of the moral choices people make. Hence, the issue of justice arises: the issue of right and wrong, and the stand which persons take in relation to it.

In the philosophy of Mao, the theory of justice is not systematic but implied. Mao’s writing exhibits a passion for justice.

Justice is always seen to be on the side of the masses. Thus, Mao's problem was how to bring about a society in which the suffering and oppressed people, the people in the grassroots can attain full access to power, dignity and the resources of society.

The term masses is more inclusive than the Marxist term proletariat. It means all those who are oppressed by an exploitative system. Mao, at one point, defined that masses as all those "who are oppressed, injured or fettered by imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism namely workers, peasants, soldiers, intellectuals, businessmen and other patriots". He further said that the "masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant; without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge." The mass line is based on the belief that the common people have the wisdom and the ability. Thus, intellectuals, artists, and the government officials must develop a spirit of identifying with the masses. They have to overcome the traditional idea that one studies and labors just to gain a position of personal privilege. Rather, they should serve, rely on, and identify with the masses.

A concern for justice is the meaning of the continuing process of contradiction in the human realm.

Vision of Human Destiny

For Mao, the goal of struggle is his vision of human destiny. This can be seen in his writings, particularly in his poetry. When he was a young and lonely revolutionary in the 1920s, he wrote the following lines:

"Alone in the autumn cold
I scan the river
that flows northward...
Bewildered by the immensity
I ask the vast grey earth
Who decides men's destinies?"

Considering the turbulence that reigned in China, he saw two prospects for the nation: a destiny of light or a destiny of darkness. He said:

"...either a China which is independent, free, democratic, united, prosperous and strong, that is, a China full of light, a new China whose people have won liberation, or a China which is semi-colonial, semi-feudal, divided, poor and weak, that's old China...We must strive with all our might for a bright future, a destiny of light, and against a dark future, a destiny of darkness."

Human action and struggle are important in Mao's vision of human destiny. They are required if there is to be any movement toward the realization of this vision. Here Mao can be considered a humanist for giving primary place to the human factor. Mao said:

"Whatever is to be done is to be done by human beings; ideas and action represent the dynamic role peculiar to human beings. Human consciousness and dynamic participation is a characteristic which distinguishes the human from all other beings."

Mao believes that it is possible to attain or achieve a society which is devoid of strife by human effort. However, he believes that the process of resolving ever new contradictions is universal and eternal. For without contradiction and struggle, life, itself would cease.

When the cultural revolution in China emerged successful, Mao saw the state of China as a time of socialism, in which the distinctions based on privilege are gradually eliminated. It will be followed by the classless society of communism. Nevertheless, contradiction and revolution will continue forever and universally. For even in the communist classless society there will be stages of development, and the leap from one stage to the next will be a revolution achieved through struggle. There will never be a time when conflict is eliminated since revolution is permanent. This also explains the apparent inconsistency of Mao's philosophy, one which could be considered as a paradox. It also represents two sides of his thought which are in paradoxical relationship to each other: one, there is movement towards the goal of a society of peace and justice; two, there is the understanding that contradiction and struggle are eternal.

The concept of permanent revolution keeps the vision of classless society from being used to support the theory of reconciliation. Indeed, the starting point for Mao's ethics is contradiction and struggle. And to understand his ethics and the meaning of struggle, one should consider Mao's concern for justice and his vision of human destiny. The concepts of justice and destiny are distorted if they are used to support a theory of reconciliation without struggle.

Note: Quotations are taken from Whitehead, Raymond L., Love and Struggle in Mao's Thought, New York: Orbis Books, 1977