Benjie Oliveros | The social contract and Aquino’s Sona


As the second state of the nation address of the Aquino administration draws nearer, the government and the media have been reminding the Filipino people of the supposed social contract entered into between President Benigno Aquino III during his June 30 inaugural address – where he even led an oath taking ceremony – and the people. There has been much hype about measuring the fulfillment of this social contract as a gauge of the performance of the Aquino government during its first year in office.

The concept of a social contract was derived from the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau during the 17th and 18th centuries. It could be remembered that this theory emerged at the point in history when, the divine right of the monarchy to rule is being questioned by the bourgeoisie, or their predecessors among the lower nobility, who were gaining economic power and the people who were beginning to revolt against centuries of feudal oppression; and the concepts of people’s sovereignty and individual rights were being put forward. There arose the question, with what would the monarchy be replaced?

Hobbes put forward the treatise that questioned the divine right of the monarchy while at the same time averring that to manage the conflicting self-interests of individuals, they should surrender their right to a political authority, which he identified as the Sovereign or the king, who will enforce the social contract – which is reflected in common laws – to enable them to live in a civil society that balances and promotes their self interests. Hobbes treatise greatly influenced the English political system where there co-exists a parliament and a monarchy, which was eventually relegated to presiding over formalities.

Locke also saw the need for the people to surrender their right to a political authority to a civil government that would settle property disputes and therefore preserve their wealth, as well as their lives, liberty and well being. But, according to Locke, the people could revolt against the political authority if the government breaks its compact with the people by becoming a tyranny. Locke’s writings were said to have influenced the American revolution.

Rousseau calls for the submission of individual wills to a common general will to address inequality and other social ills that were brought about by the development of private property. As individual wills are directed toward individual interests, Rousseau averred, the general will is directed toward the common good. To enforce the common will, Rousseau said, there should be a political authority that is generated out of agreements and covenants, which he calls the social contract. Rousseau came out with his treatise during the peak of the period of Enlightenment, and among the writers of that period in French history, his was said to have the most direct influence in the French revolution against the monarchy in 1789.

It appears that it is Rousseau’s social contract theory that the current Aquino administration is trying to emulate. However, Rousseau’s social contract could not be generated by a representative democracy but by the assembly of the entire democratic body. This is why, President Aquino, during his inaugural address, went through the motions of entering into a covenant with the people.

However, Rousseau’s social contract theory did not solve the inequalities and social ills of France. In fact, France had a colorful history after the storming of the Bastille in 1789. From the first republic it evolved into an empire ruled over by Napoleon Bonaparte, then to a restoration of the monarchy in 1814, a revolution in February 1848 that established the second republic, which was followed by a failed revolution of Paris workers in June of the same year, the establishment of another empire in 1850 and another workers’ revolution in 1871, commonly known as the Paris commune. So much for the social contract and the pursuit of the common good. Currently, France is hard hit by the crisis. It has an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. This caused massive strikes by both public and private sector employees and workers, and protests by students since 2009.

This brings us to the point: who determines the common good? Even when President Aquino made a supposed covenant with the people during his inaugural address, he merely enumerated his promises and assurances. The people, even those in attendance, did not have a voice in this so-called covenant.

Now the Aquino government is saying that what it has been doing is for the common good. Is keeping mum about the persisting impunity in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations for the common good? Do the dictates of the common good make the Aquino government look the other way when victims of human rights violations cry out for justice? Is the continuing landlessness among the peasantry and the denial of the land from the rightful owners, the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita for the common good? How about lending a deaf ear to demands of workers and employees from the public and private sectors for a living wage? Is it also for the common good to allow attacks on workers’ rights and to deny them of job security?

Is it for the common good that the Aquino government is pushing for intensified privatization through public-private-partnerships when such schemes before have resulted in increasing rates of utilities and basic services? Is it the general will not to regulate prices of oil products and basic commodities?

Is it also for the common good that the country surrenders its national patrimony and natural resources to foreign corporations and governments? Will the country’s dependence on foreign investments redound to the common good when all previous administrations have been doing this for more than a century and yet the Philippines remains backward and poor? Is the continuing presence of US troops in the country for the good of all even if it violates the country’s sovereignty and integrity as a nation?

Of course, the Aquino government would say yes and admonish the Filipino people to be patient as it has only been in office for one year and that the road to change is a “rough and rugged one.” But the Filipino people have heard this line before, albeit said in a different manner. The previous Arroyo administration had, from time to time, asked the Filipino people to be patient, to swallow the bitter pill and tighten their belts while her family and allies continue to fatten their wallets and favored foreign and local corporations rake in profits. And that patience had given the Filipino people almost a decade of poverty and misery, attacks on people’s rights, and a worsening crisis. Why should the Filipino people exercise patience once more when the so-called common will does not reflect the people’s issues and concerns and the supposed common good benefits only a few? (

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