CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — Most people think they know what good governance is. From the way they talk you’d think they know all there is to know about government and politics.
If they do, or if they know even half of what they claim to know, the state of politics and governance in our society wouldn’t be so bad. They would know the role of government as well as their role as citizens in making the government behave as it should.
First of all, it is important to keep in mind that officeholders must respect the principle of “consent of the governed” and be sensitive to public opinion. It is the proper role of citizens to make sure officials conduct themselves accordingly—and to rid the government of those who behave otherwise.
A citizen must insist that officials be fastidious about the law and firm about enforcing it. Good governance requires that they consult the people on vital issues—by holding public hearings on important policies, programs, and projects, consciously seeking public approval for official decisions.
Good governance respects the popular will and seeks to satisfy the people’s expectations. Officials may not act presumptuously. They must avoid acting unilaterally, mistaking their personal preferences for the popular will, disregarding the will of the people.
Their style of governance must be democratic, transparent, and respect accountability for their performance; for they are mere stewards. Officials are in charge of government only in the sense that a tenant-farmer is in charge of a farm: everything he does must be in accordance with the owner’s wishes. Applied to government, the people are its “owners;” as P-Noy puts it, they are the Boss.
On the other hand, a good constituency—the electorate—must be attentive to governance. It must actively participate in the governing process, alert to developments, and make its views known. Doing so guides the direction of government and helps it adjust its policies and practices.
It is by being attentive and assertive that the popular will moderates the behavior of officeholders, letting them know what the public approves or disapproves.
Dynamic interaction between officials and constituents is essential to the operations of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
However, this interaction is often denied or violated by both. Truant or lazy constituents don’t bother to get involved, not even attending community meetings. They leave governance to the discretion of officials, spoiling them and making them believe they are the ultimate authority instead of just PUBLIC SERVANTS and executors of the people’s mandate.
This is wrong. It belittles the principle of consent of the governed and encourages officials to take the people for granted.
On the other hand, officials who act unilaterally forget that they have only limited knowledge, that they cannot know everything needed by the citizenry unless the latter are consulted widely.
Both the people and the officials should always be mindful that governance in a democracy is as much a responsibility of the leadership as of the constituency.
Both have important roles, which are complementary. The dynamic interaction of their respective role is what brings about good governance.
It takes competent, properly motivated leadership to orchestrate the forces in the community, to keep them balanced and focused in the right direction. And it takes a competent, attentive citizenry to keep the leadership responsible and focused on their mandates.
There is nothing like people power to effect change in the community and society as a whole. People Power aimed at a specific purpose, just like at Edsa in February 1986, complemented by government, is irrepressible and compelling.
The People Power at EDSA was purpose-driven power, unmistakable, relentless, awesome.
But it is not necessary to go to Edsa in order to effect change in society. Social change can start right in one’s own community. One can just as well energize people power in one’s barangay or community in conjunction with the neighbors to act and demand reforms.
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, South East Asian Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Permanent Mission to the United Nations; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org