CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/09 June) — Elections are supposed to produce a new covenant between government and people, renewing sovereign mandates on what directions government is to take, and reconciling serious contradictions in society—in the process, heal the cracks that hinder progress or advancement through the new consensus.
With the less-than-satisfactory conduct of the elections, the Commission on Elections, the politicos, and the bureaucracy had better learn to be more attentive and take the people more seriously from here on. For there is a palpable sense of dissatisfaction or disconnect between government and people.
One can sense this in exchanges with the leading lights and drivers of local institutions, events, or ideas, including barbers and taxi drivers. I am struck by the cynicism, the air of resignation, even of hopelessness, about politics and governance, i.e. traditional politics and trapos.
It’s not a nice mindset for our polity. It drives people to seek satisfaction in trivial pursuits, in vice, or in daydreams about living abroad. But for our macabre, self-deprecating humor about politics and politicians, we would be a very unhappy society. Humor is helpful. It enables us to face adversity with equanimity. But it also distracts us from serious discernment and delays action, which partly explains why Filipinos tend to act only when a crisis occurs, or when matters are already in extremis—as in the two Edsa upheavals.
Unfortunately, this trait also plays into the hand of traditional politicians. Trapos. They figure that since we love to laugh even in a crisis or joke no matter how much we’re hurting, they don’t need to take us seriously. And true to their calculus, just as housewives lap up telenovelas, we laugh off their antics or joke about their wrongdoing and elect them nonetheless—or all over again! – regardless of our misgivings. So the political situation keeps worsening despite frequent elections, which are, or ought to be, occasions for renewal or change.
Confronted by the public’s unhappiness with government performance and persistent corruption, trapos have the effrontery to claim that it’s the political system that should be blamed—as if the system were a disembodied entity operating independently of them. Then they make noises about wanting to change the system by amending the Constitution.
It’s time we clarify this matter. The trapos have been governing through the years. They insisted on being in charge—operating the bureaucracy; collecting/allocating/spending our money; using it to manipulate the system and control the community, even the Comelec has “intelligence funds!”—and they’re not to blame for misgovernance and corruption?
Our government is like a vehicle with faulty wiring: chugging along in fits and starts, unable to sustain momentum or stabilize because it is poorly connected to its power source, the people. It is presumptuous, opportunistic governance. It behaves badly because it is fueled not by the people’s mandate but by the ego or pedantry of trapo officials who mistake public service for self-service and livelihood. It wouldn’t be so bad if they have sense of responsibility and accountability to constituents, whom they blithely bypass.
Overriding the System, Defying the People
A case in point is the insensitivity of the Comelec leadership in not heeding the clamor for adequate safeguards and verifiable results in the elections. To this day, no one can corroborate the Comelec’s basis for proclaiming the winners. The gathering storm on this issue could lead to their impeachment.
In 2005, the House of Representatives attempted to railroad a bill calling for its members to convene—unilaterally!—as a Constituent Assembly. There was general outcry against it but in a gross display of arrogance, they tried to defy it.
To compound matters, they did so as a national emergency caused by successive killer typhoons was in progress. In other societies, such emergency would have precluded debate on political issues and drive politicos to rush to the scenes of tragedy and destruction. But no, the congressmen betrayed their insensitivity by holding marathon sessions, arguing over technicalities all night, in hopes of hastening the vote.
Done in full view of TV audiences, the self-serving sessions caused increasing public agitation. Television watchers were aghast at the sight of thousands of storm-tossed constituents in Bicol without a pillow to lie on or a house to sleep in while their congressmen indulged in verbal skirmishes about a non-issue.
Fortunately, the ringleaders sensed an impending political storm. To forestall upheaval in the streets and around them, and to save their skin, they backed out just days before what would have been the mightiest surge of people power ever. For never before had the entire ideological spectrum—from farthest left to farthest right, including church groups—been arrayed on the same side against a willful congress. Had they persisted, it is very likely that the luck of the 13th Congress would have run out and it would have been the first legislature ever to be toppled by People Power-Filipino Style.
That unprecedented alignment of forces showed what happens in attempts to override the system and short-circuit its power source—the people. Like any system, unless a political system is properly “plugged” into its source of power, so it cannot operate properly, provoking disruption.
At the outset, instead of listen and obey the popular will, they sought to superimpose their own, arrogating the people’s power. And with appalling impertinence their leaders even boasted that they would do so without seeking the Senate’s concurrence—as required by law.
Consequently, as they tried to shunt the people aside, they provoked a menacing surge of People Power as the outraged citizenry made known that they would shut down the system altogether and put a stop to the proceedings, forcibly if necessary! The Commission on Elections should view that episode as an object lesson and a warning against defying the sovereign citizens. (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 email@example.com.)