CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/30 Sept.) — Let’s hope the bold steps being taken against those involved in the pork barrel scam, along with the radical shuffling of personnel at Customs, will impact the societal mood sufficiently to lessen public agitation.
The rising anger and disgust are at such levels that they can be exploited by reckless adventurists intent on sowing confusion and mayhem (like what happened in Zamboanga City) to deflect public attention and escape prosecution or worse.
But… however firm or willful the administration is in pursuing the current anti-corruption campaign, however determined it may be to clean up the system, the effects are bound to be transitory unless the people are awakened and empowered and the processes that assure transparency and accountability are institutionalized, backed by a Freedom of Information Act.
It was tolerance of the pork barrel system and our helplessness in having venality arrested that made abuse and shameless plunder possible. For so long, we allowed the ruling cliques to exploit our helplessness. We let them get away with impunity, along with their loot!
Delimiting the People’s Sovereign Role
Not only that, we allowed the traditional politicos—trapos—to confine our role in the political process to a narrow one that served their purposes. This role—on which they focus the people’s attention and through which they manipulate elections —is the simple act of casting one solitary vote every three years.
Trapos have dealt our society a great disservice in having people believe that casting a vote is sufficient to fulfill the duties of a citizen in a democracy. Equally bad, they make the masses believe that it matters little whom they vote for as long as they vote and, if they can, do so many times.
Not least, they’ve actually succeeded in making the poor and the undereducated think it’s all right to support a candidate who buys their vote. Then having made the point, they proceed to buy up all the votes they can afford!
In fact, voting is merely the minimum act required of a citizen in a democracy. It does not embrace the totality of his duties. It is only one of many. There is the duty is to ensure that those who win the election proceed in conjunction with other winners to establish a government that protects and not betrays the public trust, one that enhances and not diminishes the common good. Then to do all other tasks that make democracy vibrant and governance receptive.
To repeat: voting alone does not fulfill the affirmative acts a citizen must perform in order to sustain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
People Power, Consent–of-the-governed
Essential to such government is people power and its dynamic role in upholding the principle of consent-of-the-governed, to support what is right, to reject or dissent otherwise. And citizens are duty-bound to contribute to the give-and-take of ideas and acts necessary for the governing process.
Doing so applies especially at the primal base of the republic—the barangay—where all the people are and where direct democracy operates. As members of the Barangay Assembly, the community’s legislative governing body and its highest authority, everyone is expected to participate in local governance—just as citizens do in Swiss villages and in Israel or in Athens.
Only in the barangay is it possible to convene an entire community to take up issues that concern them. From municipal to upper levels, it would be unwieldy to convene the entire constituency, which is why they are governed by what is called representative democracy—in which mainly officials (proxies of the people) speak or act on their behalf, although the people may also participate if they so desire.
Let No One Equate Elections with Democracy
Active people power or the exercise of citizen sovereignty is important to ensure consent-of-the-governed to acts of government especially during periods between elections. It is needed in times like today—when the public trust has been violated so grossly, and at the highest level at that!
In the wake of the general outrage provoked by the pork barrel revelations, restoring trust and confidence won’t be easy. No less than a revolution in our attitudes may be called for. Let’s explore this next.(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)