CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/20 April) — So much is said of the importance of “political will” in leadership whether in or out of government, usually as regards strength of purpose or lack of it in performing official duties.
Do officials enforce laws and regulations resolutely, vigorously? Do civil society leaders implement policies and programs with the requisite determination, due diligence, and willful pursuit? Political will.
On the other hand, little is said of the will of the people or the popular will—its role, importance, or essentiality to the democratic precept of consent of the governed.
This is relevant because what usually gets done (public works, programs) is dictated by priorities or preferences of the officials—not by the wishes of the people, their bosses, constituents to whom they are accountable but whom they rarely if ever consult or inform.
In a democracy, it is wrong to presume that what officials want coincides with what citizens want. Otherwise there is a disconnect and a potential for conflict.
It is time to stop thinking of political will as whatever the one in power says it is. And we ought to adopt a people-based formula or process that the government or the non-government can use to define what needs to be done, with what resolve or determination, and other details.
People in government should stop presuming that whatever they do conforms to the popular will. To cure this presumptuous conduct, they should adopt a consultative, participative mode of governance that at the same time satisfies the need for consent of the governed.
What’s the public’s position or viewpoint, what do the people want, what do they want to happen? Forums that answer such questions—along with resolutions, declarations, and petitions—mold public opinion and the popular will.
Take reforms. What do the people desire to change or to reform? In the ideal order, this would be indicated by a survey or a show of hands in a representative chamber, local or national. But our system seems hopelessly stuck with oligarchs and oligarchic processes that take the people for granted and presumptuously act on their behalf.
This is exacerbated by officials who behave as if they have blanket authority to do as they please and as if backed by a blank check they can encash and spend at will.
Worse, nothing is done to enforce the requirement that officials report and account for their actions. And no effective mechanism has been established to ensure that they do.
Remember when former U.S. First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Manila in her capacity as U.S. Secretary of State some years back?
Among the first things she did was to address a Public Forum in one of the campuses, after which she entertained questions from the audience on a variety of topics. A lively question and answer period ensued, an exchange of views in which even students eagerly participated. There were academics, media people, and assorted professionals.
It is through such open exchanges as well as discussions over media, including public debates, that public opinion is formed on various issues in advanced democracies. Through these freedom of expression acquires more meaning and depth.
Filipinos who have lived in the U.S., or still do, can readily appreciate how Hillary’s gathering (and the manner it was conducted) conjured up the image of a Town Hall Meeting in America.
Molding Popular Will
What Secretary Clinton did was in keeping with tradition in democratic societies dating back to Ancient Greece with their open air exchanges in the Agora (marketplace) and other clearings.
In London, Hyde Park with its “soap box” advocates of citizen causes traces its tradition of free speech to ancient times as well. There, one can expound on an idea or proposal, raise a grievance to win public sympathy, or get passersby to sign a petition.
In America, Town Hall Meetings play a vital role in forming the will of the people. Town halls brim with debates and forums on burning issues of the day—especially during the Primary season, the period before the nominating conventions of the Republican and Democratic parties when candidates jockey for the attention of Hometown America.
That’s when U.S. politicos court voter support in as many communities and states as they can cover. Open exchanges attract voter support, strengthen their party system, mold public opinion, and affirm the popular will in American society, sharing, exchanging, debating ideas.
They enable Americans from all walks of life to ask questions, express views on vital issues, and make up their minds. It’s a tradition that makes the will of the people at the grassroots resonate among their leaders vertically and horizontally throughout their democracy.
One wishes we could have our own version of such open and mind-expanding exchanges, presentations, and community debates.
It would promote intelligent appreciation of public issues, improve the quality of voter preferences in candidate selection, and invigorate our political system.
More on this next time, especially as it concerns the Banghsamoro.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa among others is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of Philippines, member of the Philippine Mission to the UN, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. You may email him at [email protected])