CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 December) — Does a congressman or senator—or any public official, for that matter—have the right to be re-elected at taxpayers’ expense? Of course not, but this presumptuous attitude underpins the insistence of certain people that funds be set aside for legislators and other public officials to use at their discretion.
In fact, a congressman from Davao Oriental was famously quoted as saying: “If you take away the pork barrel, what would we in Congress do for our districts?” It didn’t occur to him that making wise laws on behalf of his constituents was what he was supposed to be doing, and not only for his district.
Such misguided officials actually think this perverted attitude justifies their misuse and abuse of government funds while engaged in “public service.” So there’s no telling what they’ll think of next to recover lost benefits, being experts at detours and shortcuts.
But what’s really pernicious is how their values and attitudes attract or encourage political freeloaders and parasites to run for office at all levels of the bureaucracy in hopes of taking their turn at the till.
It was, is, the ease in accessing government funds that enables unscrupulous officials to finance the campaigns of relatives, cronies, or sycophants who would then team up with them in looting the treasury. Remember how the Makati vice mayor admitted he profited as a crony of Mayor Jojo Binay back when they were still close?
Such connivance has had the effect of overloading the bureaucracy with unfit administrators, legislators, representatives, or kagawads down to the barangay. They make government a source of livelihood or a family enterprise for their dynasty, even supplying cakes for senior citizens.
This practice started more or less contemporaneously with the introduction of internal revenue allotments (IRA) to all local governments starting in 1992.
Awash with new-found cash, even the lowly barangay started to look like the proverbial Horn of Plenty to the unemployed and unemployable in the neighborhoods.
Thus, even barangay positions came to be hotly-contested in the neighborhoods, wrecking solidarity in the community.
When it came time to file certificates of candidacy, Comelec offices filled up to bursting point as wannabes elbowed each other to get ahead in the lengthening lines of petty trapos.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the DILG and concerned congressional committees took the trouble before or after elections to prime the community on pertinent features of the so-called Local Government Code that enable them to oversee local corruption.
But no one cared about how the new autonomy law was implemented or complied with, leaving the local officials to implement the Code anyway they pleased. No one and no agency bothered to do so elementary a task as explaining the background, rationale, or importance of various features of the Code—especially how it profoundly affected the Republic’s political structure bottom-up.
Consequently, even today people barely have an idea of their mandated role in local governance, let alone the urgency of performing it.
Worse, the elected officials—being inadequately informed or ignorant of the law—simply carry on as if governing is their sole prerogative, the powers of government theirs alone to wield, which explains why they treat their constituents like spectators, and manipulate them as partisan cheering squads.
Thus to this day no one knows how erroneous it is for a barangay chairman to sport the colonial title of “Kapitan.” It isn’t even used anywhere in the Code—the actual designation prescribed being “Chairman” or “Punong Barangay.”
This error persists because no one explains why it is inappropriate, why it causes problems at cognitive and operating levels.
Not even the department of the interior and local government (DILG), or its Local Government Academy in Los Banos has bothered to explain the context behind the adoption of “chairman” or “punong barangay” as the correct title—and not “kapitan” or “teniente” as in colonial times.
They don’t know how inappropriate it is to give a military title to the presiding officer of a democratic community of peers or equal citizens?
Barangay chairmen are the chief public servant of the community, not its commander or dictator. They aren’t elected to give out commands; the constituents who elect them are his bosses.
To let them use “kapitan” fuels the attitude that barangay citizens are their subordinate soldiers and orderlies instead of sovereign citizens to whom they are answerable.
It’s unbelievable that no one in the vast bureaucracy of the DILG has figured out that a “Kapitan” by definition is a dictator—someone who dictates or gives out commands; thus entirely wrong and inappropriate for the “prime minister” of the barangay’s parliamentary 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