WORM’S EYEVIEW: As the grassroots heat up, tend to your barangay!

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/26 June)–With barangay elections scheduled on October 28 this year, there’s a stirring at the grassroots now.

Parties, politicos, and their operatives are prowling the neighborhoods for candidate material. New groups are being formed, old alignments regrouped, campaigns being planned, while alliances are being forged.

As campaign talk heats up, even the youth are awakening, especially those in power, have tasted power (as SK chairman or kagawad), or awaiting their turn as surrogates of entrenched officials and political dynasties.

All this is happening in political circles—at the level that now constitutes the “political class” in every community: people already in politics as officeholder, as candidate, as patron, as supporter or contributor, as campaign operative. They know the privileges and entitlements that go with being in politics, how profitable it is, how sweet it is, and how much more they want from it.

Middle and Upper Class Unconcern

This stirring however has not touched the barangay as a whole. If at all, only the bottom half of the community usually perks up at this point—or later as election draws near. That’s when electioneering gains high intensity and momentum as patronage and money begin to flow and trigger frenzied rivalry.

But the upper half—the barangay’s middle and upper classes—will remain unconcerned about what the local leaders and candidates are up to. With few exceptions, they aren’t even concerned about how the barangay’s candidates are selected, let alone what their qualifications or motives are. And that’s how opportunities for mischief and mayhem arise. The educated circles, the leading citizens, aren’t concerned, with no one interested enough to pay attention.

This unconcern among the elite is what enables the traditional grassroots leadership (traditional politicians or trapos) to dominate and control politics in the barangay—and by extension, the nation’s. Elite unconcern is a major cause of 1) the rise of political dynasties on all levels; 2) bad governance throughout the bureaucracy; and 3) the spread of corruption from the grassroots up.

Contrary to general impression, corruption does not trickle down; it spirals up from the community and spreads vertically and horizontally, infecting the body politic. Barangays are like the tiny cells of a human body.  All it takes to weaken the body politic is to let one barangay be infected and neglect it or leave it untreated.

Failure of the Elite

We refer to the elite of our society as the leading citizens, the role models and pace-setters. And they are that in many ways. They are sticklers for excellence in their fields—achievers. They are the captains of industry and commerce, the executives and managers of our institutions, educators and trainers, professionals and service providers, marketers and distributors of what we produce, producers and multipliers of the community’s wealth, and so on. They are the leading citizens and the big taxpayers as well. But, in many ways, they are non-performing citizens.

Sure, they subscribe to social causes and support them, including religious and prayer groups. They have industry associations and all sorts of advocacy, giving generously of their time and treasure. At times, they make a big fuss about wanting good governance, eradicating corruption, or inducing progress through anti- poverty programs.

But then they elect or, through their inattention, allow to be elected incompetents and charlatans to lead their own community—who then support demagogues, clowns, and corrupt trapos to run the municipality, the city, the province, and the nation at large. The elite don’t seem to know that it is their barangay’s votes that elect ALL officials at ALL levels, that therefore it is essential to pay attention to the activities, open or closed, in their neighborhoods—especially activities that condition or dictate how their neighbors vote.

What’s worrisome about the stirrings in barangay politics today is the ignorance or defiance of the officials with respect to the law. With impunity, they do whatever serves their purposes. They violate the law which partisan activities. But no one draws their attention to the Omnibus Election Code, Section 38 of which prohibits partisanship in the barangay in no uncertain terms.

Impunity and lawlessness will continue to be the norm in barangay politics unless and until the elite residents pay attention and check anomalies in their own neighborhoods. They are the leading citizens of the community, but their leadership s not felt in the local sphere; they do not assert their leadership to effect reforms and keep local politics legal and democratic. And so the barangay today remains the soft underbelly of our republic instead of its strong foundation. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com.)