WORM’S EYEVIEW: Barangay elections can civilize community

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 13 Aug) – In just 10 weeks, on October 28, elections will once again stir up the barangay neighborhood, home of every sovereign Filipino. Two sets of officials will be chosen: one for the youth of the community (sangguniang kabataan), another for the adult citizens (barangay government). Collectively, they will be the caretakers of the grassroots—the primary level, the foundation—of our republic.

True Leaders or Mere Dealers?

The welfare of the 42,000+ barangays that comprise our republic will hinge on the leadership of the winners in these elections, youth and adult. Question: Will they be true leaders or will they be mere dealers—of local votes, trapo dispensers of local patronage and dole-out?

Even in supposedly tradition-bound and values-based cultural communities, tribal dealers have largely replaced the true leaders, which is also true of many civil society and church-based circles in many barangays.

The crucial consideration must therefore be: Will the election winners be loyal to the community, from whom they derive their authority and place of honor? Or to politicos who use them and their poverty to exploit and manipulate the electoral system? These are questions the well-off and the comfortable in the barangay should ponder and act upon.

Importance of getting involved 

If the well-off and the professionals leave the selection of candidates to others, as has been their habit, mostly the ambitious but incompetent will run for office, and so will the pretentious but downright corrupt, or the jobless and unemployable. Then whatever is shabby, disorderly, or vice-plagued in the community will remain. Squalor and neglect in many places will bedevil the grassroots of our society. Local amenities and facilities will remain substandard or unsightly. And there will be little if any to brag about or be proud of in our community.

Think of your municipality or city: is there a barangay you can show off or point to as particularly lovely, orderly, and an object of pride? You know, like the nice villages one finds in Europe or Japan or America? If there is, chances are it is maintained by the private sector and not by the barangay government. A statesman in England once explained the importance of an orderly and pleasing surrounding: “If you want people to love your country, your country ought to be lovely!”

There is no way we can make our country lovely except by doing it barangay by barangay. So we must learn to get involved in its political process, for it is this political process that determines what we want our community to be: whether it will be orderly and lovely, whether there will be honesty, decency, or efficiency in its governance, and other things that natter.

In other words, it boils down to choosing our local leaders. They have a great deal to do with everything in our community and our way of life. If they are sloppy or careless, we can’t expect neat streets, clean public toilets, prompt garbage collection, and so forth. If they are venal, there will be vice, crime, and corruption in the neighborhoods. If they are selfish, their political dynasty will rule and exploit the community and its resources.

Bad voting habits cause corruption, crime

People should be made to see the connection between their voting habits and the occurrence of crime and corruption. For example, the billions of pork barrel allocations that end up in the accounts of bogus NGOs are made possible by congressmen and senators who win elections because they are supported by the wrong barangay officials. They can afford to pay huge allowances to barangay leaders and produce expensive campaign materials to flood the neighborhoods because of the huge kickbacks they receive from bogus NGOs and the gamblers, vice lords, and smugglers they protect.

By paying unscrupulous barangay officials to be their vote-dealers and precinct manipulators, they are able to corner the votes of the community. No one should forget that every voter in our republic lives in a barangay and every vote is cast in its precincts.

Straightening out politics

If the professionals and other leading citizens of the barangay would only take the trouble and devote a fraction of their time, they can spearhead political reform in their own community—and succeed as no other group can. They are the credible stockholders of the barangay as a corporation and as an economy in its own right. They are the community’s large taxpayers and influential role-models, and are often the employers of the working class.  Along with the church, civil society, and educational institutions, they are in a position to make the masses listen to good sense and sound electoral choices.

With improved visibility in their community and a voice in its affairs, they can prevent corrupt practices and reform politics. They can help provide proper criteria for political decisions, explain how everyone especially the poor would benefit from honest politics and public administration, and thereby bring about solidarity and political will against corruption in the grassroots community.

Leading citizens should lead!

Everyone should look to the forthcoming barangay elections as an opportunity to straighten out the politics of the community. With a coordinated drive, the neighborhoods can keep politics and campaigning within the bounds of legality, decency, and propriety. The accent should be on applying the standards of good governance in choosing our community leaders.

Reminders to keep the campaign non-partisan in accordance with Section 38 of the Omnibus Election Code would help. Insistent admonition that candidates be on the side of the Common Good, not the personalities, not their selfish motives, nor their ambitions. No vote-buying. No hakot. No pork barrel supporters. No political dynasty adherents. Let dynasties step aside and give way to fresh leadership. Restore equal opportunity for all. Let democracy flourish again! And that’s one way to civilize the community effectively.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com.)