CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 August) — We’re going through a period of voter anguish these days, frustrated about the erratic behavior of the leadership class, angry with plunder on a scale previously unimaginable, and sick of Epal (credit-grabbing) and other unchecked venality.
Faced with this frustrating drift in the national condition—about which there’s little or nothing we can do as plain citizens—the least we can do is mind our immediate jurisdiction, our barangay, which is the primary unit of our government and the foundation of our Republic.
To do so will strengthen and improve the dynamism of at least one of the 42,078 barangays that make up the basic foundation, the pillars, of our Republic. If enough Filipinos do the same in their own community, society’s stresses or problems will be mitigated if not solved entirely.
Practically every one of these pillars of our Republic is unstable and unreliable now for lack of tending by its constituents: the wrong people are minding its affairs while the rest neglect its governing processes, making it susceptible to hostile infiltrators and out-and-out traitors.
The enemies of our Republic are many, known and others yet unknown. Their depredations are exacerbated by well-meaning but incompetent functionaries of barangay governments that milk their resources for selfish ends.
How is it, for instance, that as many as one-fourth of all barangays are reported to be rebel-influenced or controlled? And why are the rest of the barangays blithely trespassed by Communist insurgents, outlaws, and bandits, especially in Mindanao?
Too many Mindanaons are beleaguered by insecurity, disorder, or displacement because of this runaway situation.
Of the more than 11,000 barangays in Mindanao, how many are secured by their inhabitants? And how many are in disarray, incapable of coping with threats due to disorganization, neglect, or lack of leadership?
No community or barangay should feel helpless. It has its own government, plus reinforcements at its beck and call—if not from the poblacion, then from the province or the region or the national capital.
But it seems armed marauders—of every persuasion, ethnic or ideological—can freely move into or around them without clearance, consent, or a squeak from the constituents.
And yet every barangay is properly the concern of its constituents—with the right to manage and control its affairs, to oversee its security, and to assure the welfare of every man, woman, and child within its jurisdiction.
The constituents are the stakeholders of the barangay’s economy, the stockholders of its government (which is a public corporation), and the citizens in whom reside the sovereignty of the state and the authority of the government.
But as I keep repeating, no one except trapos with vested interests are paying attention—exploiting its economy, free-riding on the community’s share of national taxes (IRA), manipulating its neighborhoods, especially the voters during elections.
All this takes place under the very noses of supposedly educated “concerned citizens” and “cause-oriented” civil society including churchmen. Are they blind or simply don’t care that their community is being bastardized and gutted by malcontents of their own community?
This frustrating, pathetic situation obtains in practically all of the nation’s barangays that collectively make up the base of our Republic. It is a dysfunctional base for a democracy because only the people who know little or nothing about governance are attentive to its operations while the rest take matters for granted.
It is so wrong that the citizens who constitute the backbone of our economy—taxpayers, the majority stockholders of the public corporation we call government—are remiss in their duty to mind the governing process of their community at the grassroots.
As a result, the policies and operations of the community are determined by its dependent sectors—mostly undereducated, mostly non-payers of income taxes, mostly under-productive, and many squatters—who account for much of our Republic’s overhead burden.
Thus the primary level of our Republic is weak, unstable, and ill-equipped to cope with the complex requirements of self-governance and local development. Worse, this weakness is exploited by political predators (traditional politicians, trapos) that thrive on the misery of the poor and ignorant, manipulating them while subsisting on communal resources, treating the barangay government as a sinecure or family enterprise.
This terrible situation persists because those who can check or neutralize their depredations surrender local governance to them, letting trapo devils corrupt the masses and turn the rest of society highly corruptible.
Given this grim portrait, it’s a cinch that less than two years hence, when the results of the 2016 elections are tallied, there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth about the onerous condition of our trapo-dominated democracy.
And it will all be due to the truant, neglectful behavior of the pedantic sectors of the community who think the Republic will do fine under the management of the less educated and badly motivated masses of their neighborhoods.
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee, most outstanding columnist. Today he is President, Gising Barangay Movement Inc firstname.lastname@example.org