CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/27 October) — There’s always polling and surveying on assorted issues for a variety of purposes; and people mistake the findings to be public opinion or, worse, consensus.
Such polls have their uses but it’s wrong to view their findings as consensus; they’re simply statistical summaries or tabulations of opinion held by individuals.
Consensus is shared opinion, a position commonly held by many. And it arises from general agreement, one that emerges from exchange of ideas and opinions on an issue or set of issues.
Discussion or debate is part of the process of consensus building—exchanging perspectives, crystallizing, resolving, agreeing, taking positions, formally or informally.
And it’s unfortunate that no such discussion or debate ever takes place in our commons. Its absence prevents us, as groups or communities, from developing political will.
Without consensus, political will has no leg to stand on, no common position to cite, no social or political goal to pursue, no clear objective to attain.
Consensus-building is essential in public affairs, especially when unity and cooperation are needed. It is why in mature democracies they always make room for “deliberative conversations” or debates and public hearings as part of the process of policy- or decision-making.
In our case, although we have the mechanism, the venue, and the process for forging consensus on any issue—right in our community’s Barangay Assembly—our leaders either don’t believe it to be important, don’t know how to go about it, or just don’t care.
As a result, although it is now nearly three decades after the extraordinary show of affirmative action and unity we displayed at EDSA in 1986, we can’t really claim to have consensus on any issue.
Even in the small barangay community there’s no exchange of ideas, no sharing of opinions—if only to define local priorities, identify common problems, or do group problem-solving by formulating measures that promote the common good. Thus, little or nothing is done according to the community’s wishes.
Even when an obviously desirable idea or line of action is necessary, it doesn’t get done for lack of harmony, cooperation, or unity. The community perforce has to rely on the initiative of traditional politicians (trapos) who exploit the absence of consensus by substituting it with their selfish designs.
On a larger scale, the absence of political will prevents effective cooperation and concerted action among barangays—of which a great number are fractured by discontent and insurgency in the face of poverty and want.
One-fourth of all barangays are reported to be controlled or influenced by insurgents and the people in them can only cower in fear for lack of political will. In Israel, it is consensus and solid political will that makes the nation impervious to determined efforts by barbarous forces to wipe them off the map.
Without consensus, there is little or nothing on which to base public policy, decision, or action. People become easy victims to predatory trapos and warlords who trivialize People Power and democracy by imposing their own perverted will. By manipulating the mendicant sectors, they can simulate public support that pass for “consent of the governed.”
And they get away with it every time. And it’s because issues are not ventilated, not accorded the gravity they deserve, and not processed in orderly fashion. So the will of the community cannot be ascertained and no sense of priority or purpose animates its governance.
Consequently, the public agenda just keeps shifting, dictated by exigency. People have to be content with reactionary governance—reacting only to pressing necessity, coping only as crisis after crisis rises, always wondering what to expect next or where.
And because there’s no lack of cantankerous groups in our restive polity, we have to pick our way around circles that are by turns angry, strident, rebellious, murderous, or numb from being traumatized by the near anarchy and confusion around them.
Consider the issue of the Maoist NPA in the countryside. They’ve been playing cat-and-mouse with our armed forces for half a century already, the cost in lives and property and morale rising by the year, and no end in sight. No political will.
How about the murderous Abu Sayyaf: which the military now admits to have neglected during the past eight years (when no units were deployed to challenge them in their jungle redoubt). No political will.
Is it right that our mighty—and expensive—Armed Forces should move only if two German hostages are in imminent danger of being decapitated?
And ponder the long-standing energy crisis that’s triggering a sense of urgency only now. Malacañang cries out for emergency power—now, right away! They didn’t know it was coming?
Filipinos deserve better than a reactionary government!
(Manny 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 Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org)