Democracy Advocates: Denounce trolls, fight disinformation to uphold democracy

Published December 4, 2021, 8:14 PM

by MB Technews

Filipinos have a moral duty to counter disinformation because it threatens democracy by hampering people’s ability to make enlightened decisions for their lives and the future of our nation.

Transparency and governance advocates agreed on this during the fifth and last session of Pilipinas Conference 2021, titled Recovering Philippine Democracy Beyond 2022, and organized by Stratbase ADR Institute on November 26.

“We should learn from the damaging lessons of these times,” said Professor Dindo Manhit, President of Stratbase ADR Institute. “We need to collectively expose and denounce trolls.”

Dean Ronald Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government said the root of our deep troubles lies in the different forms of inequality affecting politics, economics and society, and that inequality in power has its roots in inequality of wealth.

“Political concentration of power leads to economic concentration because it doesn’t really change the status quo, in fact, politicians tend to benefit from the status quo,” he said. “That economic concentration then leads to an inequality in opportunities and vulnerabilities to being knocked down the income ladder again and again.”

How, then, can we break free from this trap? Inclusion is the answer, Dr. Mendoza said. “Several key elements include strong social protection, regulation of dynasties, and finally, improving competition in the economy, such as opening up sectors which have been heavily regulated and protected.”

“Filipinos have to reclaim the development narrative, which we have lost, and which is the reason populists are able to take and maintain power,” Mendoza said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Francisco Magno, Trustee & Program Convenor, Stratbase ADR Institute and Professor of Political Science, De La Salle University, said citizens are more than voters – they can be actively engaged in between elections. “Participation is a mechanism – is a process for fostering transparency and accountability, so when we discuss participation, it has to be considered in the context of how it actually promotes transparency and accountability,” he said.

He talked about The People’s Council, the Citizen Satisfaction Index System, and other tools to ensure that the people actively participate in running and monitoring the affairs of government.

Zy-Za Nadine Suzara, Executive Director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, & Democracy (iLEAD), said that the 2022 budget is ill-equipped to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is a need to recast the 2022 proposed budget towards an inclusive recovery. The priorities, proposed by the People’s Budget Coalition, are these: there should be a boost in funding for the healthcare system, there should be support for workers and small businesses, there should be aid and social protection not only during lockdowns but also help people recovery from the financial impact of the pandemic to them, there should also be safe and humane public transportation in the new normal,” Suzara said.

Dr. Leni Jara, Executive Director of the Council for Health & Development, acknowledged that the current Philippine health care system “is really not in very good shape” and that there is a shrinking government role in health.

“We have to remove unjust socio-economic structures in health. It should be people-centered,” she said. “There should be a redistribution of wealth and equitable access to health. And we should be self-reliant and responsive to the needs of the people. However, these are all not happening.”

This, then, raises the urgency of choosing the correct candidate for this coming election.

Natalie “Ching” Jorge, Chief of Party, YouthLed, said the country deepened its democratic backsliding through the crackdown on free media, the curtailing of freedom of expression, the militarization of the pandemic, response, executive overreach, and weakening checks and balances.

Still, the youth represent 30% of the Philippine population where 52% of voters for the 2022 elections will fall below the age of 35. “There is tremendous potential for youth to significantly influence democratic governance in the Philippines with young people demonstrating grounded knowledge and issues affecting the country,” she said.

She emphasized the role of family as the greatest influence – at 54% – on whom to vote for at the national level. The youth also looked to family at 59% on their stance on political issues and look to their family as a guide at 57% on their support for government policies and activities.

“Young Filipinos are more inclined towards individual, civic, political action, online and issue-based collective action. There is less interest in politics but more focused on social issues and social change. By allowing the generation of young Filipinos to organize and express themselves this way, we pave the way for stronger democratic engagement,” she said.

Finally, Dr. Julio Teehankee, Full Professor of Political Science & International Studies & Former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University, said that many scholars are puzzled by the outcome of some countries who have undergone democratic transitions – the return to power of parties and personalities who have deep roots in the dictatorship.

“It is confounding to note that after gaining the right to pick their leaders in free and fair elections people would still vote for candidates identified with the authoritarian regime” he said.

This has greatly affected the consolidation of the country’s democratic gains and has weakened our electoral and party system.

“It all depends on us, those who would want to make an impact on the outcome of next year’s election and prevent further regression and backsliding. And this can be done if we go out of our respective echo chambers. The real struggle is outside social media. Not talk down on the voters, not to look down on the poor voters, but to try to understand and listen and address the concerns they have.”

Professor Manhit said that generations of Filipinos fought for our democracy, and it is this that should prevail in our country, founded on the ideals of transparency and accountability.