Is there creeping authoritarianism in PH? Is PH straying from democracy?

IN the intricate tapestry of governance, democracy stands out as a unique design woven with threads of freedom, representation and equality. Democracy as a governing system thrives on the principle of representation: the idea that every voice, no matter how marginal, should have a say in the collective decision-making process. Its very existence relies on the core principle that every voice deserves to be heard regardless of its volume or pitch. At its core, democracy values the diversity of thought, granting equal rights to every individual to express their beliefs, values and concerns. But the true essence of democracy isn’t merely in amplifying voices; it’s in valuing and protecting voices that sing a different tune. The true mettle of democracy is tested not when it allows the majority to express their views but when it upholds the right of the minority to dissent.

In the Philippines, a land that claims to be a democracy, a nation that boasts of its democratic ethos, a shadow looms under the helm of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Unsettling notes are emerging under the leadership of President Marcos.

The very fabric of democracy — the right to challenge, critique fearlessly, the freedom to voice dissent, constructive criticism, and champion alternative and diverse narratives/perspectives, particularly on hot-button and contentious — be it the South China Sea (SCS) standoff/dispute, the added weight and implications of the additional four EDCA sites (American military bases) amid the volatile situation in the Taiwan Strait and the heightened tensions in the SCS between the Philippines and China, or the Marcos-led Philippine foreign policy that seemingly mirrors US foreign policy and heavily tilts toward the US. These critical issues stand at a crossroad, and the urgency for prudence and discernment is paramount precisely because the stakes for the country have never been higher, appear under threat, and seem to be fraying. Voices of influence — Ambassador Rigoberto Tiglao, Sass Rogando Sassot, Mark Anthony Lopez, Herman Laurel, Ado Paglinawan, Dr. Lorraine Badoy, MD, Trixie Cruz-Angeles, George Siy, myself and many others — find themselves under the watchful gaze of the regime.

According to some government officials, the likes of National Security Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya and Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Jay Tarriela, they are “traitors” and “unpatriotic.” Not only are they monitored, but face sterner accusations. Branded as “traitors” to the nation for merely holding a contrary view, one has to wonder: Is this merely about differing opinions, or are these the harbinger of an encroaching authoritarian era in the Philippines under Marcos Jr.? Are these discordant notes signaling a shift toward a more authoritarian tune in the Philippines under the watch of Marcos Jr.?

Do our insights and perspectives on crucial issues for our nation truly unsettle them? Could it be that their narrative lacks foundation? Is it because their narrative stands on hollow foundations? Is it because their narrative is deceptive and full of half-truths? Or is their story riddled with deceptions and half-truths? Is our voice on pivotal issues concerning our country so powerful that it shakes their convictions? Might their stance be built on fragile premises? Are they treading on thin ice with their stance? Is their position akin to a mirage built on shifting sands? Or is their narrative woven with illusions laced with half-shadows and skewed half-truths?

I do not doubt time will unravel the answers to these questions and come to light in the days ahead. Nevertheless, Filipinos should take note that one of the most insidious threats to any democracy is the slow creep of authoritarian tendencies. When governments, even those elected by the people, begin to perceive dissent or contrary opinions/perspectives as threats rather than a right, it’s a troubling sign. It signals a shift away from democratic values and democracy.

Value of tolerance

Authoritarian regimes are often marked by their heavy-handed approach to contrary narratives, viewing them as destabilizing elements rather than democratic imperatives. A key characteristic of authoritarianism is its intolerance towards dissent. But it’s crucial to recognize that democracies aren’t immune to such tendencies. It’s essential to note that even in democracies, tendencies toward authoritarianism can emerge. Such inclinations often become apparent when those in power prioritize maintaining their grip on power over upholding democratic values. Thus, the line between democratic governance and authoritarian rule can blur if vigilance is not maintained.

Furthermore, there’s danger in silencing the contrary. There’s an inherent peril in sidelining or ostracizing those with dissenting views like ours. The ostracizing of dissenting voices can have a chilling effect on free speech. When individuals fear retribution for expressing their opinions, they self-censor, leading to a homogenized public discourse devoid of critical evaluation. But beyond the immediate stifling of voices, it undermines the very foundation upon which democracy is built. If individuals are silenced for fear of retribution, it paves the way for a monolithic narrative lacking the depth and diversity essential for a balanced society. Moreover, when those in power selectively suppress narratives, it fosters a culture of mistrust. Citizens begin to question the authenticity and transparency of their leaders, leading to a fractured social contract.

At the heart of every thriving democracy like that of the Philippines should be the robust embrace of tolerance. Tolerance isn’t passive acceptance but active engagement. Democracies flourish when they engage in active discourse, probing and questioning each narrative’s depths, whether it aligns with the majority or stands in stark opposition. Tolerance in a democracy is not just a virtue; it’s a necessity. It is what differentiates a truly democratic society from an authoritarian regime.

While democracy seeks to incorporate multiple perspectives to reach a more comprehensive understanding, authoritarianism suppresses dissenting voices to maintain a singular, often self-serving narrative. Diverse voices bring with them new perspectives, challenging prevailing norms and pushing societies toward innovation and reform. Diverse voices and contrary opinions are the lifeblood of a democracy. They facilitate dialogue, foster critical thinking, and prevent the concentration of power. By debating and deliberating on various perspectives, societies can make more informed decisions, ensuring the well-being of the majority without infringing upon the rights of the minority.


Without a doubt, democracy’s essence lies in its inherent belief in the collective wisdom of the people, allowing for an ever-evolving dialogue between contrasting narratives. It is a system built on trust — trust in its citizens to make informed decisions and trust in its foundational tenets to guide it through challenges.

To preserve the sanctity of this trust, it is crucial for democracies like the Philippines, which claims to be one, to champion the rights of every individual, especially those who dare to dissent. Because, in the end, it is the cacophony of diverse voices, and not the monotone of conformity, that truly embodies the spirit of democracy.

Democracy is more than just a system of governance; it’s a living, breathing entity that evolves and grows through diverse narratives. To truly honor its essence, societies and governments must ensure that every voice, especially the dissenting ones, is heard, valued and protected, for it’s in the harmonious blend of diverse tunes that the true melody of democracy is found.

Source: The Manila Times

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.