Voice in the Wilderness

By former Ifugao Rep. Teddy Brawner Baguilat Jr.

(Politiko note: This article was originally published on Politiko 365 Magazine in 2017)

The free market of ideas is one of the foundations of a true democracy. There is, after all, no monopoly of rationality or, for that matter, foolishness.

It is only through public discourse that we can distill the ideas that will yield the greatest benefit for the greatest number.

The soundness of the principle is echoed in nature in the form of evolution: the next generation of each organism is better adapted to its changing environment, while those that cannot adjust are left by the wayside.

Evolution is a slow, tedious process of rearranging genetic code in what appears to be trial and error until nature arrives at the most responsive configuration.

Fortunately for us, the free exchange of ideas does not take as long as natural evolution to arrive at the most ideal answer to a problem. But it does require the active participation by everyone with a notion or a suggestion. It is only by airing every possible yet reasonable view that we can formulate a sensible solution to a challenge.

We are also well-acquainted with the tenet that in a democracy, the majority prevails. It is a simple equation with the benevolent intention of, again, delivering the greatest good to the greatest number. But the path to pulsing the beat of the majority is fraught with travails.

Certainly, the loudest voice does not always represent the majority. Nor is the one who curses the most necessarily always right.

Until we find a way to know the innermost thoughts of each and every one of the more than 100 million Filipinos, the identification of what the majority wants on any particular issue will be a game of chance.

And even in those times that chance actually yields a more or less accurate picture of the majority’s sentiment, it can turn out that the majority is wrong. There is, after all, such a thing as the tyranny of the masses, a phenomenon so real that the ancient Greeks had a word for it: ochlocracy.

And so, while democracy remains one of the most ideal forms of governance for a society which values freedom and liberty, it has a few quirks that need to be ironed out. The surest way to iron out those wrinkles remains the free trade of ideas.

And therein lies the inherent value of an opposition to the prince, well-meaning though he may be in his eyes.

A government that hears only its own voice is nothing short of a dictatorship.

There was a time when the mere shadow of that word would strike anxiety in the hearts of Filipinos, when the mere whisper of it would galvanize them to rail and resist any such imposition. Those days are long gone. Through some sinister incantation, the traumatic memories of our country’s dark history were wiped away. And in forgetting, our countrymen became vulnerable yet again to the rise of another despot.

It is said that the greatest trick of the devil was to convince everyone he did not exist. We Filipinos swallowed the lie, hook, line and sinker.

But this is another reason why our country needs an opposition. Here we must disregard any token opposition, or any person or group which is an opposition in name only, but in fact echoes the sentiments, if not kowtows to the will, of the governor. That is not the kind of opposition which feeds democracy. That is nothing but a lie, a deception, a joke. Surely, a nation cannot be governed through jokes.

A sincere opposition, a legitimate opposition is one which contributes to the free market of ideas reasonable views on everyday concerns. Those views may not always be correct, or not the ones that the people need at a given time, but certainly they have been sharpened by experience and fueled by a genuine concern for the welfare of the people.

Any government can benefit from such an opposition, and so a well-intentioned government that seeks only the welfare of its constituents should naturally welcome that kind of opposition.

At the other end of the spectrum is a government which seeks to perpetuate itself for the sheer enjoyment of power, and one which neglects the well-being of its subjects. Such a government cannot tolerate a genuine opposition, for it would otherwise risk dissolution once its lie is exposed.

Stated otherwise, a government which abhors a genuine opposition can only be up to no good. This naturally leads one to ask, what is our government’s attitude toward the opposition?

I count myself among the opposition, the legitimate opposition. I would like to believe that I have the best interests of my countrymen at heart.
That is why I have favored laws which seek to deliver social justice to the underprivileged, to protect the environment and ensure a legacy for future generations, to guard against discrimination of the disadvantaged sectors of society, to pro- mote the people’s health, and so on and so forth.

I may be wrong in my beliefs. I am merely one voice, after all.
But I can only find out with certainty whether my aspirations are consistent with the best interests of the people if I and others who are equally-minded, whether in Congress or outside its halls, are allowed to trade in the free market of ideas to deliver the views of a legitimate opposition.

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