On 29 June 2018, the University of the Philippines Center for Integrative and Development Studies (UP CIDS) Program on Social and Political Change (PSPC), together with the UP Department of Political Science, co-hosted “How to Lose and Save a Constitutional Democracy,” a public lecture by Professor Tom Ginsburg, Leo Spitz Professor of International Law of the University of Chicago Law School. In this lecture, Prof. Ginsburg talks about his upcoming book, “How to Save a Constitutional Democracy,” which he co-wrote with Prof. Aziz Huq.
Aside from the public lecture, Prof. Ginsburg is in the country to serve as Senior Advisor to the Constitution Building Programme of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA). While in the Philippines, he visited the House of Representatives to discuss matters of constitution building and constitution development. He also joined the Constitutional Assessment of the 1987 Philippines Constitution Project, a joint undertaking led by International IDEA, the UP CIDS PSPC, and the UP Department of Political Science which aims to see how the Constitution has performed and achieved its objectives and to contribute to the process of charter change in the Philippines.
Prof. Ginsburg argues in his work that the weakening of democracy will not happen through a collapse, but more likely through a gradual erosion from inside. The agents that cause the erosion of democracy are either charismatic populists (i.e., a savior figure who will unify the people) and partisan degradation (where political parties use undemocratic means to stay in power). Furthermore, many of the tools of democratic erosion are actually legal, such as constitutional amendments, bypassing institutional checks, undermining the rule of law, eliminating electoral competition, and limiting freedom of speech and association.
Prof. Ginsburg also offers solutions that may save constitutional democracy. He primarily used the United States Constitution as an example in examining the weaknesses of the constitution and offering constitutional design ideas that prevent the erosion of democracy. However, he explains that the experience of the US is not so far detached to that of other countries.
According to him, constitutionalism must abstract power away from the person, but recent events in politics show world leaders attacking the media, undermining the rule of law, attacking individual judges, and abusing prosecutorial processes. At the same time, Prof. Ginsburg notes that we can also see that people are being awakened by this state of affairs and are motivated to see genuine change. A major political force may emerge as a backlash from the erosion of democracy and provides optimism in saving constitutional democracies.