THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: The inroads of traditional politics

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/02 February) — Widespread corruption in our country stems largely from the capture of the political system by greedy, shameless, or corrupt traditional politicians (trapos) who dominate virtually every jurisdiction.

The scandalous extent of trapo infestation of the local governments—and the influence they wield upon the upper levels—is a great embarrassment and a stain on our claim to be a democratic society.

Unfortunately, these blood-sucking, money-grubbing trapos and their dynasties are so obsessed with playing political monopoly that they’ll stop at nothing to destroy whoever threatens their dominance. (Just last month an ambush was staged at the new airport of Lagundingan in Misamis Oriental, reportedly to eliminate a potential rival in Iligan City.)

This trapo game of monopoly is aided by businessmen who are no less greedy, who vie for a share of the returns from corruption, in hopes of landing lucrative contracts or big pay-offs after elections. These political entrepreneurs invest big on candidates, finance their election campaigns, and await the bonanza.

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Consider: it took 50 million pesos or more for those who made it to the Senate during the last election. How they’ve managed to recover their campaign expenses and made good on their campaign debts are today’s intriguing questions.

And to become president, PNoy was reported to have spent at least 100 million to overcome the challenge of Gilberto Teodoro and other rivals.

With elections approaching again, they now face a fresh round of fund-raising and campaign spending. Actually they’ve been at it non-stop, although on the sly, like the disguised provincial junkets of Jojo Binay which are in fact campaign sorties.

What’s sad about the whole thing is the absence of courageous, principled leaders to challenge them and their sleazy activities. We have no champions in the cause of fairness, honesty, or equal opportunity, not even in respect of barangay elections.

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And so corruption goes on and reigns—thriving on the complicity of hypocritical trapo supporters and contributors. It is exacerbated by the passivity of the educated and the professional in the neighborhood that do nothing about cleansing their backyard.

Adding to the corruption-indulgent atmosphere, the institutions and NGOs also assume a tolerant stance—e.g. universities, civic clubs, and churches that dominate their neighborhoods but behave as if corruption doesn’t exist.

All this constitutes the infrastructure that serves to buttress corruption, the undercurrent that makes the culture of impunity flow smoothly beneath the conscience of everyone.

But what’s really insidious is, no one seems aware that this phenomenon starts right in their community—and stays unless someone or some institution intervenes. They live right next door but do nothing about how their barangay officials manipulate the neighbors with services, funds, and budgets designed to keep them beholden to the trapos, big and small, until payback time on Election Day.

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It’s a measure of how detached from the reality of corruption the professionals and civil society “activists” are —including church groups—that they pay no attention to local governance or its dynamics.

Ignoring or not bothering to participate in the governing process of their community, they let corruption run roughshod over its affairs. Their truancy and inattention lets local trapos execute their stealth conspiracies against honesty and decency in their neighborhoods.

This was the case during the last elections when Jejomar Binay’s operatives, unbeknownst to other civil society groups, penetrated and compromised the Gawad Kalinga projects in the provinces—springing a surprise victory over Mar Roxas (who didn’t know what hit him until it was too late).

Political do-gooders keep forgetting a fact of life in Philippine politics: that election campaigns are played out in the barangay’s neighborhood, the grassroots, where all precincts are located, and where every vote is courted, cast, and counted.

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Trapos know as an article of faith that unless they win majority of the votes of the 41, 889 barangays (latest count), they can’t win. They know that the critical field of contention is in everyone’s neighborhood.

It is why they keep on filling the neighborhood or surrounding area with patronage activities and projects, whether it’s games, free services, free TV viewing of Pacman’s bouts, or other neighborhood gimmick.

These are what solidify voter loyalty, keeping people reminded of the “debt of gratitude” they owe for the gimmicks offered to them.

Thus the vital factor to watch and be wary of therefore are the local handlers and ward leaders of the Big Trapos who manage these activities and dispense the funds for them.

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Such activities take place year-round and the trapos, like Satan, never tire of sponsoring and spinning them, dangling patronage or goodies like temptation, day-in and day-out, till Election Day.

To leave them to their own devices, unperturbed, is to enable them to build success upon success until they have total control of the local voters’ commitment and loyalty.

If they’re to be neutralized, responsible sectors of the community must devise ways of intervening, disrupting, or foiling the objectives of such activities. It cannot wait till Election Day, by which time it will all be too late.

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. valdehuesa@gmail.com

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