CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 13 June) — Celebrating a century of independence is a historic benchmark for any nation or society. So much water has passed under the bridge, so many trials and tribulations surmounted, so many thousands of citizens come and gone, so much progress achieved.
For us Filipinos, it’s been 116 years since we claimed independence; but the record is mixed. For our leaders, it can’t be a source of pride, individually or collectively, past or present, to see ample testimony to wasteful spending of the people’s money and the ugly effects of plunder, greed, and betrayal.
Neither can it be a matter of self-satisfaction that what they contribute or have contributed, large or small, are less than well done or adequate. The scale of underdevelopment and privation persists. Substandard infrastructure. Roads without curbs…highways without shoulders…an overpass here or a flyover there that serve vanity or re-election campaigns more than public convenience. Behold streets without sidewalks or canals without covers.
All bespeak how political convenience, vanity, corruption, or hypocrisy overpower concern for development, duty, or public service. Then there are the squatter colonies in the interstices of town and city oozing with poverty and want. The sight of wretched shanties, garbage foragers, and the homeless cry out for good governance, compassion, charity, service.
This blighted state of affairs in much of our communities, urban or otherwise, pollutes the social atmosphere, poisons the environment, and depresses the decent, law-abiding public’s mood.
Are we the happy people that foreigners think we are? Somehow something is amiss about being happy yet resigned to substandard leaders and inferior governance. It’s perverse to be forbearing, tolerant towards abuse, or supportive of official hypocrisy.
Matters are all the worse that officials (public servants daw!) leave things as they are except for a cosmetic gesture or so. Too busy enjoying their privileged positions, they seem to say, “I can’t be bothered by poverty, public convenience, or inefficiency!”
For sovereign citizens to tolerate such public “servants” is abnormal. To let thieving legislators corner huge pork barrel funds for themselves and wallow in ill-gotten luxury is worse.
What kind of society have we become? It’s bad enough that we let a bully like China carve out parts of our territory like the Spratly Islands and Ayungin Reef unchallenged; it’s worse that we let “servants” fool us with claims that pork barrel takings are not really for themselves but for their districts. How stupid they must think we are to believe this.
Still, it’s not too late…and Independence Day is a fine occasion to assess our leaders, to hold them up to standards, to shine a light upon their performance, account for corruption, reckless behavior, impropriety.
Those who scandalize instead of edify us have no business being in government. They should be shown the door; ditto for those who insist on staying on parasitically although clueless about governance. The same for those who indulge in childish pursuits like making B-Grade movies instead of laws, grandstanding instead of serving society, or philandering while playing to the gallery.
At this point in our life as a nation, we should already outgrow our naiveté and be discriminating about politics, weeding out ambitious trapos that seek to exploit it. Bad politics is a festering sore upon our society. It doesn’t heal because of the maggots that feed on it.
No more should we tolerate those who exploit the simple-mindedness of the undereducated or the deprived who make up the greater part of our electorate. Cynical schemes to extract benefits from public service by frying the constituency in its own fat should be rooted out. How many so-called party-list pretenders are in this category of scammers?
Any parent knows the folly of giving large allowances to kids or to the immature; they’ll only squander it or waste it on unworthy causes. As with parents, so should our society be, a relatively young polity whose institutions are very much still a work-in-progress.
We should avoid the folly of letting our society’s stewards handle large sums of money—not especially in an age of “palusot” where impunity is fashionable and filosofos are celebrated for being clever. They cannot resist temptation or safeguard the public trust.
Our country needs more seasoning to produce enough sons and daughters who can be trusted to uphold societal values, enough leaders who will honor and not easily deviate from its norms. We need moral leaders who will resist the wiles of injustice and dishonesty, and be resolute in denouncing malefactors. The dominance of trapos and dynasties has already institutionalized greed, nepotism, shamelessness, and dishonesty; they and must be dismantled.
We must also stop entrusting government to military adventurers; their resort to mutiny as a short cut to political power betrays their shallow sense of duty. No one who is entrusted with the nation’s armory should be awarded a congressional seat for using his lethal charge or for mounting a coup. No soldier should may dare to challenge civilian supremacy.
Anyone who steals from the public treasury must no longer roam free, or enjoy the luxury afforded by his loot, to revel in the company of honorable folk. And no one who abets official thievery or abuse should be accorded honor or respect. Betrayal of the public trust is treason. And dishonesty is abhorrent as it is shameless.
As a nation, we need to mature with a keen sense of what is honorable or dishonorable—and not confuse one for the other. We need experience to govern ourselves responsibly—starting with our modest community, the barangay, basic unit of our republic, whose neighborhood is the workshop and wellspring of our culture.
We need to learn how to keep our atavistic impulses and those of others in check—like the Abu Sayyaf’s in their uncivilized and barbaric ways. We need experience in civilized living. Our relatively young civilization is too susceptible to the effects of irresponsibility. We must remove contaminating, corrupting, offending elements from our social fabric and discard them.
Not least, we need to forge consensus and political will—the essential elements for solidarity—and deepen our sense of community. These are what impels a citizen to rise above self and family for the sake of Common Good.
As the sovereign people to whom even trapos and dynasties and other corruptors are accountable—and against whom they conspire—we need solidarity to strengthen our ranks and secure the foundations of our Republic.
Let us therefore call on our fellow citizens—Lumad, Muslim, Christian—to stand up and be counted, to cry out and resist those who pursue personal ambition and dynastic interest even at the risk of weakening our Republic and compromising the survival of our democracy.
All these we must do. If not us, who? If not now, when?
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast 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 and Development Panel, and PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist awardee. [email protected])