CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/23 August) — Hardly a day passes but that a community in some part of Mindanao is threatened or, worse, trespassed, terrorized, or vandalized.
Whether it’s done by the New People’s Army, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, the Abu Sayyaf, or some other bandit group, how is it possible for an armed band the size of a platoon or even a squad to move around in barangays, municipios, or provinces without being noted by functionaries of their local governments?
This has been happening too frequently. But reports on them usually deal with what army or police units say or do about them. It is poor reporting, insufficient coverage. It’s the community that’s being threatened, trespassed, terrorized, or vandalized—not the army or the police.
Part of the reporting ought to be about the effect of the occurrence on the community—its inhabitants, what they say or do about it, and what the officials do since they have charge of the community and its welfare.
The army and the police are a great help but they are mere auxiliaries to the community and its officials. The officials are the civil authority. (Think civilian supremacy and all that.) They have the primary task of securing the jurisdiction—seeing to the people’s wellbeing and safety, day-to-day as well as long-term.
If the jurisdiction is breached, the officials ought to be in central position working with security units—alerting and mobilizing everyone, marshalling logistics and support. They have as important a role as that of security units.
But from the usual reports, they seem to have a peripheral role only. They’re not even heard from. They seem subordinate to the security units. This is not right. It shows a community without leadership in an emergency, the people leaderless or disorganized at a time when they need guidance, motivation, and coordination.
Hundreds of barangays are victimized by intruders, insurgents, or bandits for lack of capability to organize, mobilize, or even just to react rationally to contingencies.
It reflects badly upon a community and its officials to be resigned to threats helplessly, passive while people in its neighborhoods are shunted aside, intimidated, terrorized.
It is why dynamic leadership is essential for public office, why public officials must be carefully selected, for there are times when resourcefulness and even heroism are urgently needed. It is also why a leader must be capable of making good decisions, undertaking decisive steps in response to emergency and, not least, inspire the community to be in control of its circumstances.
In other words, courage, discernment, and decisiveness are essential in one who aspires to be a leader or who wants to remain one—qualities that must be matched by ability to recognize leadership in others, and self- confidence that does not feel threatened by the emergence of other leaders. In other words, what’s needed is leadership that inspires citizenry to take charge, to get organized in order to secure the neighborhood, liberate it from threats, or rescue it from hostile forces.
Such leadership, along with a citizenry that’s aware of its sovereignty, is what every community needs to enable it to proceed confidently to its destiny. Under such a people-powered dispensation, a community need not be beholden to anyone who purports to be indispensable or irreplaceable as its leader.
Self-reliant communities with discerning leaders are the mark of a civilized polity. Anchored on the rule of law and an abiding sense of order, they are virtually indestructible.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to establish this ideal social order. People Power is still weak, prone to brownouts when intimidated. Like a battery, our communities need charging, such that neighbors develop capability to act autonomously, connecting and networking to found a truly people-powered community, able to mobilize spontaneously in an emergency.
At the least, learning from the intermittent threats and emergency situations that arise, local leaders should be initiating regular drills and neighborhood-vigil routines. The initiative for doing so lies not only with the officials—civilian, police, military, civil society—but also with the citizenry so insurgency and banditry may not run roughshod over peaceable communities.
It wasn’t too long ago when armed insurgents blithely entered Claver town in Surigao del Norte and took over several barangays, destroying property and equipment. They herded the people like cattle in a holding corral, in broad daylight on a working day, disturbing the peace in the barangays of Taganito, Cagdianao, and Cabugo. It wasn’t the first time this happened in Caraga but it seems no lessons are learned from such incidents.
Any official who fails to react to such threat or does nothing to prevent destruction to life and property is unfaithful to his duty and oath of office It is betrayal of the public trust.
It’s time to send a strong message to all aspirants and incumbents that public office carries serious duties and responsibilities, not just privileges—and that it may require heroism.
No one should escape blame or accountability for not performing a sworn duty especially in a time of emergency or danger to a community. And citizens should not tolerate non-performance!
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asian Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Phil. Permanent Mission to the U.N.; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org