WORM’S EYEVIEW: Lessons from traditional politics, bad politicians

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/14 September)–What more do we Filipinos need in order to learn, be chastened by, and do something about the way traditional politics and bad politicians lead our society down the path of perdition?

The culture of corruption and impunity rages on around us. It runs rampant and envelops at every level from the barangay up. Even the youth are badly compromised as they apprentice for political office in their community. Meanwhile, we face yet another appointment at the polling place for barangay elections in October.

What is it that we have to do to cleanse our society, to repair the wear and tear in our politics, to secure the future for the next generation? Will manifestos and marches do it? How do we deal with all the vote-buying and vote-selling that even now the trapos are banking on to keep them in power? Is the community so helpless in the face of all this?

Let’s face it: much of the corruption springs from our wishy-washy attitude towards politics and politicos. We think we elect the officials; actually we let others do—others who outnumber us and who base their choices on stupid criteria like popularity or money for a vote. Once the winners are sworn to office, we leave them alone to do as they please.

It doesn’t help that we’re lousy at performing our oversight role as the citizens responsible for their selection. We leave them free to abuse the power and the authority entrusted to them. Even in the most flagrant cases, we tend to let bygones be bygones. We let venality pass; we let venal officials get away.

When they seek reelection and employ corrupt campaign practices, we let them get away with it again. Thus do small transgressions pile up, institutionalizing impunity; They become bolder and commit more and more indiscretions. Then they move on to larger violations and crimes. They go Big Time.

One day we wake up to horrendous headlines such as the ones that have been screaming at us day after day since Janet Lim-Napoles burst upon the nation’s consciousness. Only then do we realize how venal things have become, how our senators and congressmen have turned public morality and the public trust upside down, and how easily manipulable are our institutions that fake NGOs can be contrived to serve as conduits for big-time plunder and aggrandizement.

Then all we do is scream or curse or scratch our heads and wonder how things have come to such a pass. When do we learn? One thing I know is that we must learn three lessons.

Lesson No. 1: It is fatal for us and our community, in our present state of social development, to
accept unquestioningly the avowed motives of anyone who seeks to be a leader. The record has
shown that because a candidate is human, he is vulnerable to temptations attendant to power,
prone to commit sins of commission or omission.

Their acts remind us time and again of the maxim: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts
absolutely. The Martial Law years taught us this but not ambitious people it seems. We must learn to question their motives.

So addled has our system become, jarred by persistent attempts to manipulate it, that in order to reorient it, it is necessary to put back elective officials in their proper places — as public servants.

They should no longer be indulged in their pretensions. We must not tolerate their posturing as overlords and cavalier dispensers of our common wealth that they have come to believe they are. It is such presumptuousness, aided by our naivete or passivity that made possible the ballooning of the Pork Barrel or PDAF. We forget that good governance requires checks and balances, of which the basic ingredient is citizen vigilance.

In other words, unless we rein in and stop the abuse and the plunder ourselves, starting at the primal base of the republic—in our own barangay—Philippine-style democracy will continue to malfunction; good governance will remain a quixotic quest.

Lesson No. 2: No statute, no regime of checks and balances, nor any moral consideration, nor
political promises, can curb graft and corruption unless the people are truly enfranchised and the
politicians are made truly accountable.

If the popular will is to prevail, we the citizenry must learn to assert our sovereignty and exercise
our dynamic role right where we are—in our neighborhood in the barangay or community. And
we ourselves must learn to resist the machinations of vested interests.

Already, the trapos have succeeded in delimiting our exercise of sovereignty to one solitary act: casting a vote on Election Day. Voting per se does not provide the dynamism required by a democratic order; citizen participation/involvement does.

The people must participate in defining the public agenda and the government’s priorities. There is no substitute for their right to sanction or approve official acts and decisions. What makes for a vibrant democracy is active participation and involvement of the citizens. Citizens must have a hands-on experience of democratic processes.

Short of these, as events prove time and again, leaders become presumptuous. They take liberties with the public trust; they cannot resist the temptation to help themselves. The urge to privatize public goods and services overcomes any latent desire or ideal to ennoble public service. Such is the temptation to plunder.

Lesson No. 3: The force of people power is needed in one’s community even more so than at
Edsa. Although it is less dramatic at the local level, it is the effective way to induce reforms even
if applied in small doses only.

What professionals in the field of communication term as the “feedback loop”—in which back-and-forth messages, responses, expectations, and reactions interact constantly—is essential to assure good governance.

This loop assures understanding, coordination, and cooperation between government and constituency—correcting misperceptions, rectifying miscues, reconciling differences, evolving consensual agreements, resolving issues.

This is the process that keeps governance oriented properly and in the proper spirit. It is what
keeps the Social Contract between public servants and citizenry ever fresh and every strong. (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 [email protected])