WORM’S EYEVIEW: Why bad governance persists below and all over

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/11 Oct.) — We’ve mentioned on other occasions the failure of the middle and upper classes to participate in their community’s undertakings; that this is a major cause of bad governance and corruption in the barangay—and therefore in the rest of the political system. Our political leaders on all levels are elected by barangay voters in barangay precincts.

Good governance requires checks and balances. When the better-educated sectors—as well as the devoutly religious—pay little or no attention to local governing processes, they deprive the community of their ideas or guidance on matters concerning its development. And they cannot neutralize ill-motivated elements that exploit the community or seek to control and manipulate it.

This drop-out attitude among the more knowledgeable citizens partly springs from ignorance about the nature of the barangay, i.e. that (a) it has a full-fledged government with regulatory or police and taxing powers as well as power of eminent domain; (b) it is a corporation with appurtenant assets and powers; (c) it is an economy—with land, labor and capital; and (d) that all these need to be planned or managed for growth with everyone’s participation.

It’s bad enough that most people are unaware of the income of their barangay, that it enjoys revenues greater than most Philippine corporations. It is worse that the professionals among them don’t play a part in deciding how these are budgeted, spent, or accounted for. Thus, misuse or abuse goes unnoticed and unchecked. Lacking oversight or supervision, the barangay’s resources—for neighborhood development, for increasing the gross barangay product, or for generating livelihood—are wasted or dissipated by corruption and mismanagement.

Without the presence of its leading citizens and role models, the community is left wide open for traditional politicos (trapos) to manipulate it and exploit its resources for political gain or worse. The trapos’ dominant presence enable them to implant their twisted values into the barangay’s political culture, which of course is the building block of our republic’s political system.

Consider the following:

Item A: Because all elections take place in the barangay’s precincts, what determines their outcome are the inadequate knowledge and the corrupted values of the cockpit crowd in its neighborhoods.

Item B: Because the educated classes are largely invisible in the commons and do not interact with the larger community, their attitudes, values, or outlook do not influence their neighbors—especially those who are easily swayed by demagoguery, bribery, or vote-buying.

Item C: Because they’re not seen or felt, they are viewed as aloof, uncaring, selfish, and without sense of community.

Result: The masses, misguided by patronage, just go along with whoever has money and seems popular regardless of track record. And that’s how patently incompetent, utterly ignorant, or thoroughly corrupt candidates rise to power on all levels. All they need to get grassroots votes is to appear friendly, likeable, generous, and easy to approach. The masses don’t know any better.

No one tells them that candidates are applicants for management positions—aspiring to be CEO or director of the community’s most important enterprise: its government. They have little or no sense of what it takes to manage a unit that is all at once a government, a corporation, and an economy. The complexity of managing the communal resources of these entities—economic, social, cultural—is lost on them.

Who else but the educated classes can make the point that governance is just another term for management, that voting is another term for selecting or hiring a public servant, and that choosing a candidate is, in a real sense, hiring him for a government post.

The masses cannot readily discern the connection between competence and good governance. To leave them alone, to rely on their vote or judgment, is as disastrous as letting an ignoramus screen, interview, or recruit the executives of one’s enterprise.

Educated Filipinos already know this, but there is a wide gap between knowledge and its application. Like nominal Christians or Muslims, their beliefs and behavioral patterns do not necessarily coincide. Being also nominal democrats, while they know that vote buying is wrong, they buy votes anyway. They may feel deeply about their nationality, proud of their sovereign status, maybe even quick to take offense at an imagined slur on the nation’s honor. But they won’t hesitate to betray the principles that underpin this honor. Split-level values, says Fr. Rodolfo Bulatao, S.J.

These values are enshrined in the Constitution and affirmed by rules and regulations. But only a very few bother to read or know the Constitution except to pick out a provision or two to fire up their rhetoric and demagoguery. The principles are there, all right, but that’s about all. The action part, the acting out in accordance with principles, is missing. It bespeaks—sadly for our collective ego—a basic lack of integrity.

Perhaps those judgmental foreign journalists are right about ours being a “damaged
culture,” after all. Certainly, we have a lot of growing up to do; a long journey to political maturity.

Until the educated and the well-off (and church devotees) learn to tend to the governance of our primary level, our society’s destiny will always determined by people whose concerns rarely go beyond their basic needs. Without solidarity with the masses in the community, we might as well be resigned to the idea that our leaders will always come from the party with the most number of swashbucklers, coup plotters, entertainers, plunderers, and other sordid characters. (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])

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