CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/28 July) — Like the electricity situation in much of Mindanao and the country, the empowerment of the Filipino remains a pending issue, an unaddressed item on the agenda of EDSA ’86.
No State of the Nation Address (SONA) or any such report—SOPA (province), SOCA (city), SOMA (municipio) or SOBA (barangay)—even bothers to mention the status of people empowerment, or even to the need of empowering them.
The talking heads delivering the state-of-whatever address don’t really care whether other people or the community is empowered; they’d rather consign the issue to the category of unmentionable. It’s understandable. To mention it will draw attention to its absence, to its state of being taken for granted, or to their cavalier practice of circumventing it.
Mere mention of it may bring up the question of why they’re claiming all the credit for all the progress resulting from all the investments and sacrifices of the people.
But what is perplexing is the passivity of the people; they seem stuck in the embrace of powerlessness—unquestioning, unassertive, indifferent to official affronts to their sovereign role as the people from whom all government authority emanates.
Yet everyone continues to claim that ours is a democracy. Is it democracy where people power is suppressed, arrogated by the few who acquire power by the grace of the people? Is oligarchy analogous to democracy?
Given the statistic that over 90% of our towns and provinces are governed by political dynasties, no level of our political structure can be said to be ruled by a government of the people or by the people.
Yet, President Aquino in his 5th SONA is not likely to bother referring to our state of (dis)empowerment; he probably believes Filipinos are already empowered because he calls them “Boss”.
Our officials generally seem to believe that empowerment is not a real issue. They’ll cite the increasingly millions that take to the streets in protest rallies as indicators of powerfulness.
“They defiantly march, even call the president names,” they’ll say, “Isn’t that an exercise of their empowered status?”
But of course, they’re wrong. People don’t walk or march outside if they’re comfortably inside, able to express their plaints, and getting a sympathetic ear.
And they don’t yell or thrash about if they’re engaged in civilized conversation and earnest dialogue with people in office. But all they have for a democratic space is outside on the street surrounded by troops.
They don’t rise in anger, either, if they see that their plaints and petitions are gaining traction in the bureaucracy.
Do PNoy and his cabinet understand the implications of seeing poor landless farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon, in Mindanao walk through rain and heat across the archipelago to get to Luzon and Malacanang; there to follow up on promises made years ago to grant them the land they tilled for generations?
In their wretched state of powerlessness, voiceless in their corner of Bukidnon, they do the only thing they can do to assuage their powerlessness: walk using the power of their blistered feet and hope their lungs don’t collapse from all the panting and huffing before they get a chance to speak out!
Practically everywhere in the 42,000+ communities that comprise our republic, powerlessness is writ large. It is indicated by the obeisance sovereign citizens pay to their barangay leaders. Unable to assert their sovereignty or authority in their own community, they take to addressing the chairman or Punong Barangay “Kapitan” or “Kapitana”—a throwback to the days when our communities were headed (and commanded) by imperious Captains of the Guardia Civil.
In towns, cities, and provinces, citizens are routinely taken for granted, virtually disenfranchised except for their exercise of suffrage, which is blithely violated by vote-buying traditional politicians, trapos, who prevail over them, using the political and financial power they only hold in trust.
Powerless to correct dysfunctional governance, the people are sidelined by ruling dynasties who win election after election, then suppress the citizen’s right to participate and exercise supervision over them.
Even PNoy belittles the people, denying them their basic right to information which is constitutionally guaranteed—an empowering right. It has been years since the Freedom of Information Bill was up for passage, but it is stuck in Malacanang’s bureaucratic maze. PNoy can hardly do better in his SONA than to announce that he is endorsing this empowering piece of legislation.
Manny among others is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Pane; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org