A government of the people

>> Thursday, December 15, 2016

Ike Señeres

In his famous Gettysburg Address, the late American President Abraham Lincoln spoke about a “government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Although President Lincoln said these words more than two hundred years ago, it is still very clear up to now that the government of any democratic country should belong to the people, and to no one else, not even to the ruling parties nor the elected and appointed officials from these parties.
In theory, it could be said that the authority given by the people to the parties or the persons in power is only temporarily borrowed, because in reality that authority could be permanently taken back on the force of an impeachment or a recall election, as the case may be.
That said, it is even clearer that the government really belongs to the people, and to no one else. Since there is really no ownership issue in this regard, the only remaining issue so to speak is the exercise of that ownership, by way of the participation of the people in the process of governance. I am not talking here about the participation of the people in the process of elections, since that is merely the process of choosing whom to give the authority to.
During the early life of the Greek City States, they were able to practice direct democracy because there were only very few citizens that could attend their public meetings. When their populations grew however, they invented their Senates, in which case they already elected the public officials who could represent them, in other words, to vote for and in their behalf in the passing of laws.
Then and now, the theory is that it is still the people who are participating in the lawmaking and in the governance, although indirectly by way of the elected representatives. Fast forward to today however, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is now available to make direct democracy possible.
Then and now, it is a known fact that public opinion could influence both lawmaking and governance. What that means is that then and now, the people could indirectly participate in both processes, especially if they are involved in public hearings and public consultations. Fast forward to today, ICT now makes it possible to quickly and regularly conduct surveys that would measure the pulse of the people, as to what laws they would like to be passed, and as to how governance should be conducted. No one might have noticed it as of now, but these surveys are actually using the same technologies that could be used for both consultations and elections.
There are many derivatives of ICT that could be used for consultations and elections; among these are Short Messaging Service (SMS), Instant Messaging (IM), mobile apps, email and social networks. If this direction is pursued however, there would be questions about determining the identities of the respondents or voters, and about protecting the security of the mobile and online systems.
Looking at this from a technical perspective however, I would right way say that there are many technologies that could validate the identities of persons, and there are also many technologies that could ensure the security of the systems.
Aside from recall elections, the law is now in place to allow the people to directly pass laws through people’s initiatives (PI), in effect bypassing the Congress itself. Needless to say, the same technologies that are used for consultations and surveys could also be used to gather the signatures that are needed to produce the numbers that are required by the PI process. Again, there would certainly be issues of identity and security, but just the same, there are many technologies that could be used to address these issues. The fact is, all systems could potentially be hacked, but on the upside, all systems could also be fully protected.
Even without the use of ICT, the Local Government Code (LGC) is loaded with provisions that would allow the participation of citizens in the Local Development Councils (LDCs), with full voting rights and not just for consultation purposes. Sad to say, the records would show that not too many citizens would attend these council meetings, in effect forfeiting their rights to be represented and to be heard.
Aside from the LDCs, representatives from certain marginalized sectors are entitled to representation in the municipal councils and the provincial boards, but as I understand it, the selection of the representatives has been influenced by bad politics and rampant corruption.
In a manner of speaking, it could be said that every Filipino now has a voting machine in his hand, and that is the mobile phone. It does not matter whether he has a feature phone or a smartphone, because either way, it could work as a voting machine. While it may still be a long time before our country could go back to a direct democracy just like the ancient Greeks, there is nothing now that would prevent us from not only expressing ourselves in the processes of consultations and surveys, but also in the form of recall elections and people’s initiatives.
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