Democracy is not just about empowering the poor

By Christopher Ryan Maboloc

          Development, according to Amartya Sen, “can be seen as the process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” As a matter of principle, it has been argued that democracy is firmly rooted in the way it empowers ordinary citizens to achieve the kind of life that is worthy of their dignity as persons. Sen believes that the just and equitable approach to human progress must be anchored on the capabilities of people. The fundamental freedoms of individuals are intrinsically and instrumentally important for them to be able to choose those things that they have a reason to value.

          Arguably, if our country needs to improve its living standards, then power must be diverted from the center toward the peripheries. But the poor themselves do not have the means to do so. If we examine the national statistics, 52% or 11.3 million households belong to the poor or the lower income class. But they only have a 23% share of the country’s wealth. Around 45% constitute the lower up to the upper middle classes, who share 65% of the country’s wealth. Filipinos who belong to the middle class are in Metro Manila and in Central Luzon’s industrial zones, while the poorest are concentrated in the Bicol region, in Western and Central Visayas, and in Mindanao.

          Indeed, if power is the essence of the political apparatus, then it is important that those who belong to the middle class should possess the will to serve the ends of democracy. Sen argues that human development depends on those elements such as economic and social infrastructures, as well as the protection of the people’s political and civil rights. While equality cannot be evaluated solely in terms of the income space, it should be pointed out that the lack of resources undeniably hinders the ability of the poor to pursue and achieve human well-being.

          Democracy is grounded in just and fair procedures. Ordinary people must be involved in the process of political deliberation. The freedom to voice out dissent in public discussions gives citizens the chance to demand from their government those entitlements that they have been deprived of. Yet, human poverty has an impact on the desire of any person, as suggested by Adam Smith, “to appear in public without shame.”

         To escape the poverty trap, every Filipino must have an access to actual opportunities for personal growth and development. It is not just a question of distribution, but also of quality jobs and dignified pay. While we cannot prevent those individuals with entrepreneurial skills to create more wealth for themselves, their talent and intelligence as prime movers in particular industries will allow Philippine society to move forward if our basic structure will first secure decent and better living wages for the workers that they will employ.

         Democracy is not just about empowering the poor. The middle class need to make a stake in the country's future. They have to go beyond their gated communities and enjoin themselves in political activism. This is the role of civil society. Change also involves moral persuasion. Those who are at the top of the country’s political and economic hierarchy must embody some sense of moral decency if we, as a people, are to transform and make Philippine society truly just.

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