The republic in Republic of the Philippines Part II: thoughts on the Filipino middle class on the 27th EDSA People Power anniversary

At the core of the republic paradigm are virtuous citizens who make it their duty to guard against corruption and greed. Virtuousity according to Thomas Jefferson comes with enlightenment which itself is the product of education.

Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government;… whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.

The well-informed and well-educated are found from the middle-class upward. Jefferson as well as Mills looked up to these classes, particularly the middle class, as the vanguards of the republican virtues, to lead the masses toward the republican ideal.

But, in the Philippines, the middle class is conspicuously absent from this active leadership role.

In the audiences of the recent campaigns for senators for example. The absence of middle class participation in these is I believe due to the attitude of this class: “these singing of silly jingles, stage bopping, and goodie throwing are beneath me”. Would you see, say, bankers in these events? Precisely. (Speaking of goodie throwing in election campaigns, I would never vote for a Senator, no matter how brilliant he or she is, who throws candies from the stage at people. God. I think that’s rude and uncouth. If I were running for Senate, I would treat my voters – fellow citizens – with more respect. And if I were to throw something, it won’t be candies, but perhaps gold. I would even go to the extent of speaking to my audience at their level, not up there on a 10 feet high stage. For one, people could get cricks on their necks looking up at you. Even true blue bloods approach the people on the street to greet them.) Instead, audiences are the masses who ironically are disconnected from the current debate for good governance. Are the senatoriables in these campaigns then speaking to walls? How could an intelligent and critical candidate-audience engagement happen in these? The masses won’t of course ask the questions that say, bankers, would ask.

Where are the middle class? You’d think that because they make up the bulk of taxpayers, they’d care where 20% of their labor are put into. But apparently they’re oblivious to national and local issues, because they’re in cafes discussing fair trade coffee while their own country’s coffee production is at a dumps; in malls, exchanging remittances in order to do more shopping; in work cubicles, servicing the rest of the world 24/7; in boardrooms, strategizing for the next profit mix while poverty is right outside at the doorstep; in resorts, temporarily transported out of the chaos in their home cities; at home, playing mahjong with amigas and amigos.

Against such a scenario, John Adams contends that in a “happy Republic”

Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society.

Today is the commemoration of the first EDSA People Power but how come editorials of national dailies write of the nation’s failure to sustain the revolution’s initial outcome. The way I see it the “failure” is due to an imbalance in the citizen participation in politics, specifically the notable and disturbing absence and silence of the middle class. Political life has always been, beginning at a certain time in the past, between the upper class or the ruling class and the lower class or the masses. In my xx years of life, I’ve not witnessed middle class people publicly lending their voice to, say, the concerns of farmers demanding for the implementation of CARP. This class, from my observation, has been more protective of its interests and consequently disengaged from the public whereas the upper class has at least made known its interests and engaged the public in view of this.

The middle class, “the segment neither affected by deprivation nor benefiting from wealth plays a mitigating role in moderating conflict since it is able to reward moderate and democratic parties and penalize extremist groups”, is significant for bringing about social cohesion and economic growth. Contributing to economic growth, middle class values according to Weber emphasize savings and human capital accumulation. Its political orientation toward moderation and stability (as opposed to drastic and sudden change such as revolutions) contributes to democratic development and societal stability. Further, “given its relatively high levels of economic wellbeing, the middle class is purportedly more optimistic and confident regarding the future than the lower class, which would result in stronger support for the political institutions in place.

What do these characteristics of the middle class imply for Philippines?

First, do we know the proportion of the middle class population to the upper and lower classes? And what is our definition of the Filipino middle class?

Second, what are the distinct characteristics or values of the Filipino middle class? The values mentioned above are general ones, and studies show that across geographies middle class values lean toward particular orientations as for instance in Peru where its middle class sees taxes as a redistributive transfer from them to the poor and are not inclined to support them. Also, in a study in Latin America, it was found that higher education relates to a more left-wing ideology whereas higher income relates to a more right-wing ideology; that higher education relates to lessened perception of opportunity whereas higher income relates to higher perception of opportunity.

My point is, our understanding of the direction of national and local change (development and growth) starts with knowing who is the Filipino middle class. They are the missing demographic in the struggle toward change.

In view of this, and moving into the classrooms, it is my fear that the introduction to school children to the gory details of one man’s dictatorship may, if we are not cautious, focus too much on just one side of the story. Change, especially revolutionary change, is a complex matter and myself a parent would want to be comforted with the assurance that this sort of education given to young children will not paint the complexity of history in just one color. Every one of us – upper class, middle class, lower class – have had some role in how our history was and continues to be shaped. To put the blame on one man or woman – whether it be Marcos, Arroyo, Aquino – is not right but also the act of a lazy citizen; because when Arroyo, for example, was slipping during her administration where were the rest of the Filipinos, the virtuous citizens of the Republic? And so, history, using the computer as an analogy, is premised on a garbage in-garbage out formulation. Even a young child with some basic background in computer would know.

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