CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/14 February) — Government and media reports on police and military operations in Mindanao’s localities and other regions rarely mention the role, if any, of the local governments or the people in them.
This is bad; it belittles the local governments and the people to whom national agencies are answerable. And it discourages the notion that constituents and their local administrators are primarily in charge of arrangements in their own community, including its security.
Local governments have primary jurisdiction over local affairs; it’s their constituents that are affected. It’s not right that external authority—civilian, military, or police—take over their jurisdiction at will.
It’s bad enough that the local governments are not adequately capacitated to react to emergency, disaster, or armed threat. It’s worse that no program keeps constituents in a state of readiness for any contingency.
There should be measures to minimize harm to persons and property in case of emergency or assault like the one staged by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) over a year ago. Civilians ought to be oriented and trained to mitigate damage and disruption to their lives.
This need is all the more important in view of the fact that more and more people are getting marginalized or displaced by natural or man-made disasters, scattered and reduced to disarray as conditions keep getting worse. It accounts for the rising population in slums—increasing stresses in the community, adding trauma, discomfort, and misery all around.
Local governments, especially barangays, and their constituents should be assisted so they can cope better with emergencies.
The grassroots need appropriate training and orientation. They need to be empowered and ushered into the proper ways of political involvement so they can more effectively manage their community and mitigate poverty and privation.
Take what happened in Tacloban City when Super Typhoon Yolanda struck. Scores were killed, lifeless remains of victims of all ages lay scattered on the streets. But neither the officials nor the constituents reacted in a disciplined, organized manner. Ill-prepared and taken by surprise, they were stunned, paralyzed into inaction.
Many of them could only stare at the sight of unexpected devastation, uncomprehending, unable to act. They didn’t know what to do. If a similar tragedy strikes again, will they act the same way?
It’s a valid concern, because there has been no mention of preparedness training or organizing for disaster so far. Nothing has been heard about local mobilization systems or models for coping with the unexpected. Not even a citizens’ orientation on their role in assuring good local governance, no drills or simulation exercises for communities or barangays.
Then there’s what happened in Mamasapano in Maguindanao, a municipality consisting of 18 barangays where close to 30,000 people live.
The “misencounter” between the elite police units and the Moro forces took place in two barangays—Tukanalipao (population: 1,605) and Pidsandawan (population: (1,167), each populated by several hundred families.
Reports from the government and media made no mention of the local officials in them, or their constituents. It would seem that the officials and their constituents played no role in the operation. Nor were precautions reported on what were done to ensure their safety.
It’s as if the affected municipal and barangay governments were insignificant or irrelevant when in fact they have primary claim to their community’s security and wellbeing. After all, they are the sovereign citizens there.
The impression given is that neither the officials nor the people matter, that they can be taken for granted and simply shunted aside, left to their own devices as they face dangers from cross-fire or worse.
This is an all-too-familiar scene when police and military operatives overrun neighborhoods in Mindanao. People are left to fend for themselves, scattering in all directions, displaced as chaos disrupts their lives.
What hurts to contemplate is when such predicament results from badly planned, badly executed, or poorly-led operations. And now they make a big deal out of investigating what really happened, to discern what lessons can be derived from the debacle.
What this tells us is that the decades of turmoil, trauma, and displacement of hapless Mindanaons have not taught the authorities how to handle predictable disasters caused by violent encounters and botched initiatives.
The biggest fallout from all this is the damage to attitudes of officials and constituents. Conditioned to being taken for granted, to be blithely manipulated, they cannot cope without dictation from above. The idea of autonomy, self-governance, or self-reliance, is lost on them.
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 chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org