CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/03 July)–If you voted last May 13, good; it was the minimum expected of a responsible citizen. But if you thought voting was enough to fulfill your citizen duty, not good enough; for it was merely one of a series of duties and engagements necessary for achieving the purposes of elections.
A really responsible citizen is expected to do much more than cast a vote—especially in Mindanao, home of undying tradition, rabid trapos, pretentious oligarchs, and legendary practitioners of guns-goons-and-gold politics.
A voter who wishes good governance for his community and the rest of society must take care that his vote and of people around him (family, neighbors) are cast freely and honestly, not exchanged for money or motivated by misguided gratitude or obligation to a political patron.
Even then, the vote would still not be enough to achieve the purposes of elections. It may be good enough to renew the mandate of an incumbent or his team, but it still won’t produce good governance and its benefits.
A vote does not effect change or improvement. It merely makes way for either to happen. The change or the improvement would still remain to be done—the time for which happens to be now (after elections). And, as they say, it takes two to tango: on one hand, the elected officials, on the other, the citizenry, dancing in harmony, both knowing what steps to take now and in days ahead, and both doing their respective role.
Bad governance and corruption in our system often occur because of inaction or apathy. Faced with inefficiency, we do nothing. Irregularity or abuse arises but we let it pass. We spoil our officeholders by making them think it’s all right even if it’s not.
Manny Pacquiao wanted to keep a vanity seat in Congress and Sarangani gave it to him; never mind that he’s brain deficient and won’t even warm the seat unless there’s a break from the boxing ring and he feels like posing for the media. Vicente Emano ran for vice mayor in Cagayan de Oro while Constantino Jaraula warmed the mayor’s seat for him—only to turn out that he didn’t know how to preside over a City Council and never did except once to bang a gavel and declare it open. The Dutertes indulge their royal pretensions and indispensability to Davao City’s governance and Davaoenos mawkishly let them, turning democracy into a monarchic oligarchy.
When impropriety invites no rebuke, wrongdoing no penalty, impunity is encouraged and presumptuous leadership is rewarded. That this happens especially at local levels, where intimate relationships obtain between those in power and those that put them there, is unfortunate. It impacts badly upon our culture.
It promotes tolerance of impropriety and bad conduct at the grassroots—the base of our political system. Encouraging such misguided tolerance between officials and voters, friends and neighbors, among members of the same community or family even, doubles its impact upon societal values.
It underscores the imperative of the Rule of Law at the grassroots, the local level. Unless people are aware of the law here, fastidious about its mandates, sensitive to its impact, and law-abiding, corruption will endure at the primal base of our system. It’s from the barangay that bad habits and careless morals spiral up and spread across the regions until it informs the character of our society.
Our national culture is but the sum of the attitudes, values, and practices obtaining in our communities.
Intimacy in wrongdoing, an accommodating friendship, drives people to excuse nepotism or favoritism, which is a subtle form of graft and a step away from corruption.
It takes uncommon statesmanship or a developed moral sense to distinguish between improper and illegal conduct. To look benignly at a borderline case where it involves a friend or relative is human. That’s why the law is needed to guide citizen behavior and interpersonal relations at the neighborhood level—where morality can melt to the plaintive strains of Sapagka’t Ako’y Tao Lamang among barkada.
Conditions for Good Government
Good governance and the quest for benefits accruing to it cannot be delegated or entrusted entirely to the discretion of officeholders. No one can rely solely on the conduct, style, or substance of a leader, especially one with autocratic tendencies. The role of the citizenry must come into play. And it must start with knowledge.
Knowledge is power. To be aware of the duties and responsibilities of those voted to office, as well as one’s role as a citizen, is the first condition for assuring good governance; so that every initiative will flow from knowledge and understanding.
The second condition necessary for good governance is attentive participation and engagement of all concerned. Governance must be dynamic. Information must flow freely between government and people. Activities must result from mutual cooperation, backed by active collaboration.
The third condition necessary for good governance is Assertive Sovereignty. The people must make known their expectations. They must insist that officials respect and bow to public opinion. And they must learn to assert the popular will.
In the event of defiance or official neglect, citizens have the right to withdraw the authority they delegate to their officials. That’s why the law gives them the Power of Recall, whereby the community may call for new elections to replace officials for loss of confidence. (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 protected])