WORM’S EYEVIEW: This election, remember: Graft and corruption starts from below

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 9 Oct) – Graft and corruption refers to the dishonest use of one’s position to gain advantage, favors, or illicit wealth. It involves abuse of public assets or public authority for personal gain, a malady said to infect persons of dubious morality, weak character, expensive habits, and corrupt inclinations. It is an affliction unique to people in public office, local or national.

That’s why one must choose honorable, reliable, and principled officials for one’s barangay.

It all starts with a misguided or corrupt vote in the barangay precinct – a vote importuned by patronage. The vote confers an undeserved honor to a candidate, rewarding an unworthy aspirant the authority to control the resources of the community. This gives him or her access to all possible sources of power, pelf, and pageantry.

Wooing this vote, the candidate invests enormous sums and incurs political debts, big and small. It doesn’t matter from whom he or she incurs the favors—from ward leaders or supporters, from warlords or insurgents in bandit territories, from big capitalists and business buccaneers who expect to cash in on the pork barrel bonanza and other patronage.

On attaining victory, the winner will need to recover his “investment” and repay his debts. He or she will resort to imaginative ways of raking in the money—from the treasury, from suppliers, from public works contracts, from selling influence and dispensing favors, or from the Lord of the Rings, i.e. the gambling and drug rings.

That’s how the community’s wealth—cash or in-kind—gets dissipated while the grafters’ treasure chests overflow and runneth over. This has been the legacy of traditional politicians (trapos), notorious for their unscrupulous cupidity. Conscience, integrity, or honesty have nothing to do with their undertakings, which is why trapos are often referred to as the undertakers and morticians of Democracy.

Once in office, instead of focusing on expanding opportunities and services for everyone in the community, especially for the needy or impoverished, trapos are distracted by their need to create opportunities for themselves. They need to be able to repay their creditors, supporters, and cronies.

And that’s the genesis of graft, which starts in the community, infects the political system, and thumbs its nose on society at large.

If “civic minded” people would only bother to reconnoiter the political play in their community, they will be shocked to find that the front-page features about corruption are not just in the capitals, that in fact 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” one hundred thousand pesos or more just to be included in the slate of a popular candidate for chairman. They call it “pot money”—a term derived from the language of gamblers, cockpits, vice dens, and shabu joints.

Consider: if it costs that much to invest in a barangay post, how much more does one invest in order to earn big returns on investment at higher levels?

But trapos aren’t daunted by the enormity of the amounts. They know there’s lots of money and sources of money in our economy, local, national or external (deposits salted away in foreign banks). They also know how big time corruption drains away much of it; so they figure: might as well do some of the draining! Ask Janet Napoles or Jinggoy if you need to verify this.

In fact, the rivulets of corruption in the barangay are the tributary streams 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 huge barriers or gigantic dams? Simple: stop those rivulets or contain them at source before they become rivers and flow into the ocean!

These rivulets in the community are the decisive arena for eradicating graft and corruption—and they originate in the 42,028 barangays of the nation, which is why everyone must be in on the act. Otherwise lots of barangays will go unnoticed.

It doesn’t even have to involved everyone of us because there are over 90 million Filipinos. We just need enough of them, particularly the responsible ones in the barangay, to be attentive to their community’s undertakings, sensitive to and alert against local corruption.

Oversight or vigilance is 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 where 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.

Remember: no candidate, local or national, gets elected unless he corrals the votes in these obscure corners.

Let’s do a good turn for our own barangay this Election period and minimize, if not entirely prevent, corruption!

(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.)