WORM’S EYEVIEW: Addressing corruption in the barangay, Part 4

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/17 January) — Considering the level of development we have attained as a people, the portrait of corruption in our respective localities—our barangay, the grassroots level—is unsightly and unbecoming. It needs to be reformed or made right so we can have a proper and true democracy.

By “proper and true democracy,” I mean one in which honesty and decency during elections has a fighting chance against greedy trapos, while competence and integrity can challenge selfish dynasties—and win honorably.

By “win honorably,” I mean being able to vie for public office, campaign on one’s merits or track record, and have an even chance of winning without resorting to guns, goons, or gold.

Defaulting Citizens

But none of this can happen unless leading citizens of the community stake their claim on government, assert their right to good governance, and zealously (jealously!) see to it that in their own barangay no one dares to break the law and get away with it.

By “leading citizens” I refer to the upper crust of society whose education, social awareness, and integrity are above average but who lack sense-of-community and are in default of their citizen duty by not participating in local governing processes.

By “above average” I refer to professionals and degreed practitioners including educators and church functionaries—citizens with ethical values higher than the level of voters who view elections either as a popularity contest, as a chance to cadge a day’s meal from corrupt candidates, or as a lotto draw that can win a reward.

The Unreliable

It’s sad that we cannot rely on the good sense of “average citizens” (who seem to think only of themselves or their family) to establish a responsible government for their own community, much less for the nation.

Their reckless values keep the level of civilization in their neighborhood very low and the quality of its governance very poor. Their irresponsible attitude towards politics and politicians has caused the deterioration of democracy to an untenable level.

With no qualms or compunction about selling a vote, supporting corruptors or criminals like drug lords, siding with gambling or immorality, or rewarding low-life with high office, these “average citizens” overload the political system with opportunists that pander to their misguided expectations.

It is they who fill the halls of congress and the different levels of government with spoiled soldiers-turned-coup plotters, do-nothing demagogues who thrive on patronage and nepotism, ill-motivated-leftists with dubious loyalties, and assorted political parasites and hangers-on.

Something needs to be done to neutralize the dominance of their distorted values and wrongful political practices.

Wake-up Time

No less than the nation’s integrity is at stake here. Unless grassroots democracy is cleansed and rid of its aberrations, we cannot hope to develop self-respect as a people, much less attain respectability in the eyes of others.

That Philippine Democracy is a put on is a perception that gives foreigners a reason to be patronizing or condescending towards Filipinos. It is bad enough that the term “Filipino” has entered the lexicon as meaning “domestic servant” – with emphasis on its negative connotations. That we are viewed as a nation of sheep ruled by wolves pretending to be statesmen debases the memory of Rizal, Bonifacio, and the rest in our pantheon of heroes

We must wake up. We must shake off the apathy and cynicism that make our community tolerate corruption. It is for us to arrest the corruption that festers in our dysfunctional political system.

And we must do it community by community, barangay by barangay, until a new ethos at the grassroots transforms our political culture.

It can be done if enough of us get involved in our respective barangays. Everyone of us lives in a barangay, but we leave the task of governance to others—who then take advantage of their monopoly on local leadership.

Affirmative Action

Those who truly care about the fate of our society should pay attention to his community and help govern it. Reform needs affirmative action in every neighborhood, especially by citizens who are not perceived as activists but who command respect by virtue of their station or calling.

The initiative need not be spectacular or entail extraordinary means. Sometimes it suffices to just be visible or present in community affairs. Simply showing concern about local governance and its problems makes society sit up and take notice. It alerts neighbors that something important is afoot, that something momentous could happen.

The visibility of the middle and upper classes is very important. They are looked up to as the movers and shakers of society, its pace-setters. They can do a lot to improve local standards of service and prevent corruption—subtly and gently maybe, but persistently.

Let Others Know

It is very important for decent people (unhappy about corruption in our society) to know they are not alone. There are many out there who feel the same or worse, and wish they could do something, to apply the brakes, or even just to sound the warning bell.

But they may not know how to go about it. Others who do may be too timid, too discouraged or too intimidated as to even try. Perhaps they are paralyzed by the enormity of the task. But they will act if shown the way by a credible leadership.

To participate in the governing processes of the community is one way to provide leadership—leadership by example. It doesn’t even have to be the up-front, take-charge kind of leadership. Just quiet, low key, affirmative presence.

The unaccustomed presence of one who is not ordinarily in on community’s affairs gives a clear signal that this is serious business, not business as usual, that it is time for change, time for crossing over from indifference to involvement.

It will encourage others who are not used to seeing principles or convictions acted out to stand up and be counted. It may even embolden them to be assertive and insist on good governance.

Or it will drive them to challenge the status quo, to stake their claim to decency and good government…. perhaps, because no one can guarantee they will. But the first step needed to break the cycle of corruption would have been made.

And that is how reforms begin. (Manny was former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, director at development academy of the Philippines, vice chair at Local Government Academy, and 2004 PPI-Unicef awardee for outstanding columnist. He heads Gising Barangay Movement as national convenor and president. [email protected])