Gerontocracy in the Philippines

Posted by Marissa Langseth | Posted on January 27, 2019

This country, the Philippines,  is run by a Gerontocracy (rule of the old).

The issue of the bill to lower the minimum age of criminal liability to 9 years old indicates a lack of progress in the outlook of many of our solons today. It would seem that this proposition is a mere shortcut or excuse for any real attempt at genuine reforms of our justice system. The apparent lack of an innovative solution to the problem of children in conflict with the law, as embodied by the said bill, is a clear sign of an entrenched Gerontocracy – the rule of the old – reminiscent of the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union in its dying days.

What do I mean by Gerontocracy? Is it simply that those in power are elderly politicians whose days of glory are well past? No, Gerontocracy means not that the men and women of power are old in the sense of their advanced age, but rather their perspectives and ideals are unsuited for our fast changing world. So much so, that we ourselves are trapped in the very conventions that has set our conditions to be what is it today; lacking in progress in many areas that are now openly questioned and redefined by the public (e.g. gender roles and restorative justice), reminding us of Rizal’s allegory in El Filibusterismo that the country is like a bowl floating aimlessly in a river. A Gerontocracy is therefore the continuing stagnation of a country as it struggles to move forward due to the myriad of forces holding it back.

What does this Gerontocracy do to us? Well, in the issue at hand, it has allowed for a renewed interest in putting children into jails for petty crimes rather than protect them from the vicious influence of syndicates and others. This lack of innovation on the solution of incarceration signals quite clearly how the mentality of quick fixes has never gone away. Remember how certain people have called for a war on drugs to curb the narcos? Remember how a strongman was built-up as the solution to all our woes as a country? Think about it, this is a gerontocracy for we have tried to use the same old tools to solve the same old problems rehashed time and time again over the generations.

Therefore, the gerontocracy we are facing is not just a rule of old politicians and their old power-relationships to each other and the people. What we are facing is the continuation of old obsolete ways of thinking that continue to shape us. I am not casting a wide net here, there are great filipino traditions worth passing down to the next generation for which I have the utmost respect. But I am labeling the backward and often self-destructive ideas like the lowering of the minimum age of criminal liability – yet again – as gerontocratic tendencies that are better left stored in the attic.

We have so far condemned the bill as a violation of the rights of children, my proposed course of action now is to view the whole sordid affair as a manifestation of what happens when obsolete ideas that have been rejected before is resurfaced despite what experiences tell us.

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Ryan Dave Ryla

Graduate student, Master of Arts in Political Science, University of San Carlos, Cebu City, Philippines

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