WORM’S EYEVIEW: Political Corruption Starts With Misguided Voters

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/26 October)–A vote importuned by patronage, cast in exchange for money or goods, or obligated by favors or political indebtedness is a misguided or corrupt vote. Such a vote confers an undeserved honor to a candidate with misplaced or dishonest ambition. It rewards him with something he doesn’t deserve: public trust

Unfortunately, once this vote is cast, it bestows a leadership role, along with authority to manage or oversee the resources of government and society. And it grants him access to all sources of power, pelf, and pageantry; a sort of winner-takes-all bonanza.

This bonanza is what makes politics attractive to the mercenary-minded, the power greedy, and the dynasty-builder, otherwise known as traditional politicos, or trapos. It is what drives them to spend enormous sums to get elected, even to the extent of incurring debts, big and small, from capitalists and crime lords, and from political entrepreneurs who expect to cash in on his future bonanza.

Naturally, on attaining victory, this trapo will need to recover, first of all, his own “investment” and his family’s. Then he must repay his debts, which is impossible to do if he relies on his official salary and allowances. Thus unless he is a wealthy and generous philanthropist, he has no choice but turn to unofficial sources and resort to imaginative ways of raising the money.

And when he does this he crosses the line which separates good and bad, clean and dirty, honest and dishonest.  And it is at this point that he becomes a danger to the safety of public funds and to the integrity of public service.

In a word, he becomes corrupt. And the corruption takes many forms and permutations—from selling influence to dispensing favors, from protecting crime to assigning turf to Lords of the Ring, i.e. gambling and drug rings.

That’s how the community’s wealth, cash or in-kind, gets dissipated while private treasure chests overflow and runneth over. Remember when a sitting president could build a Boracay Mansion in New Manila, or, lately, how a senator builds a P130 million Wack Wack mansion, and another senator’s wife is caught red-handed trying to smuggle dollars to the U.S., while congressmen and governors and mayors do their own things….and so on down the line stretching from the uppermost reaches of politics to Janet Lim Napoles’s bathtub?

Conscience or integrity has nothing to do with these undertakings, which is why trapos can be tagged as the undertakers and morticians of Democracy.

Meanwhile, it should surprise no one that, once in office, instead of doing their job rescuing society from poverty and privation, trapos focus on their need for enrichment opportunities through graft and corruption; they have creditors and cronies to satisfy or repay!

And that’s the genesis of graft and corruption and the urge to plunder.

It starts with misguided votes in the barangay, fueled by vote-buying, bribery, and all sorts of mayhem. It gains momentum as votes are pocketed and leveraged by trapos at upper levels. From there it spreads contamination throughout the political system and cause decay to our society.

If “civic minded” people would only bother to reconnoiter the political play in their immediate community, they will find that the front-page spectaculars and shockers about corruption are not unique to the capitals; that in fact they are the pus that issue from the stinking boils that rise from the primary level of government, the barangays whose governments are left unsupervised by their constituents.

Corruption subsists in all but a few barangays, eating away at the foundation of the House of Democracy like the termites in our homes.

Few “civic leaders” know, for instance, how even a candidate for barangay kagawad invests hundreds of thousands for his campaign. In some barangays of medium size cities like Cagayan de Oro, an aspirant for kagawad is expected to “invest” up to one hundred thousand pesos just to be included in the slate of a popular candidate for barangay chairman. They call it “pot money” – a term derived from the language of gamblers, gambling places, cockpits and shabu joints.

If it costs that much to secure a barangay post, how much more does it cost to earn large returns on investment at higher levels? Does anyone question why, according to the Comelec’s tally of senatorial campaign expenses, victory went to high-rollers spending P50 million to over P100 million? No wonder even Miriam admits that people want to spit at them!

Trapos aren’t daunted by the enormity of amounts entailed in graft and corruption. They know there’s a lot of money and sources of money in our economy, local, national, or external (deposits salted away in foreign banks). They also know that big time corruption drains away much of it. So they might as well do some of the draining! Twisted minds, political perverts!

In fact, the rivulets of corruption in the barangay are the tributaries that form the rivers and oceans that sustain flamboyant lifestyles in Congress, Malacañang, the Courts, and the rest of the bureaucracy, including the military.

How to check the onrush of rivers or slow the ocean tide without erecting gigantic dams? Simple: stop those rivulets or contain them at source before they become rivers that flow into the ocean! These rivulets are the decisive arena—and they’re in the 42, 028 barangays of the nation, which is why everyone must be in on the act.

It doesn’t even have to be everyone because there are almost 100 million Filipinos. We just need enough of them to be attentive to the undertakings of their community’s undertakers and under-the-table dealers.

Oversight and vigilance are needed in every barangay, especially in the neglected or little-noticed sitios and puroks where the most vulnerable sectors live. It’s in those neighborhoods that patronage is dispensed, where ward leaders operate and prowl the households, where votes are bought wholesale, and where the hakot of flying voters begin and end. No candidate, local or national, gets elected unless he corrals the votes in these obscure corners.

But unless every concerned citizen tends to his own barangay, who will?  (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.)