WORM’S EYEVIEW: Democratize, Modernize

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/1 February)–Even as we anticipate the inevitability of the Bangsamoro entity’s reign over a great part of Mindanao, we can also deal with unfinished business and invite them to pitch in.

Build Peace

For one, the task of establishing real peace need not wait anymore. Even now there are wrong attitudes and values to confront and do something about, and age-old habits to amend.

Despite decades of “modern” education, exposure to media, and interaction with civilized cultures abroad, feudal attitudes and medieval habits prevail. Thus, barbarism that should have no place in our society anymore persists.

“Rido” is its deadliest form—morally as it feeds on hate, physically as it strikes even innocent casualties, and socially as it cripples the economy and displaces persons. Its perpetrators define it as ubusan ng lahi—the blood-thirsty obsession to kill every remaining survivor of a protagonist family, clan, or community.

This deadly resort to vengeance shouldn’t ever be in the mind or heart of an avowed Muslim, whose faith is proclaimed as the religion of peace; or in a Christian either who embraces love as his core belief.

But rido is still widely resorted to in resolving disputes or personal grudges. Its prevalence is a constant threat to peace; a threat that comes in small or large doses—small if it concerns only a family unit, large if it overflows and blows up into insurgency, rebellion, or banditry.

Do Justice

At the core of rido is an outmoded concept of honor and shame (maratabat)—which becomes an issue where there is no effective mechanism for redress of grievances, or for justice. There is a crying need for instituting an appropriate program for addressing this practice. And it must be conducted alongside measures for strengthening or professionalizing law enforcement and the administration of justice.

Poor law enforcement and sluggish or ineffectual court protocol drive people to take matters into their hands. This should have been addressed long ago, with decisive measures instituted. Now that power is being devolved to the Bangsamoro, perhaps it can be dealt with more resolutely.

Empower Now

It’s high time we take autonomy seriously. There’s no need to await the enactment of a basic law so autonomy can be enjoyed by the Bangsamoro and, indeed, by the rest of Philippine society. People can be empowered even now so they can chart their own destiny and create their own prosperity.

The empowerment of Filipinos on all levels, starting with their own barangay government, is already mandated. In fact it is a decade and a half overdue.

Autonomy was ordained by the Local Government Code (R.A. 7160) when Congress and the President promulgated it in 1991. Had it been implemented forthwith, every community’s development would have benefited from the involvement of its citizens on all levels since then.

One wonders why this empowerment of Filipinos has not been taken seriously, not even today!

It isn’t farfetched to surmise that the autonomy it ordained would have rendered the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) moot and academic. But that’s water under the bridge now.

Do the Little Things

What is important now is to play catch-up and redouble our efforts to institutionalize autonomy starting at grassroots. Success shouldn’t too difficult if we get a little help from the elites of every community.

The elites are the middle and upper classes, the leading citizens. They are essential for success in any community endeavor. A little help from them on this issue will awaken the neighborhoods, impel the people within to effect reforms, and fire up everyone towards progress and prosperity.

But there’s something the elites must do first. They must believe that it’s the little things in one’s barangay that make up the big things in the nation—and perform them. In other words, they must view nation-building as doing seemingly little things that are in fact essential in the larger context.

For instance, addressing disorder in the barangay assures orderliness in the nation, good governance in it buttresses good national governance; eradicating slums in one’s neighborhood precludes the rise of squatter colonies elsewhere, and adequate social services mitigates social problems at the macro level.

These problems arise where there is lack of attention or concern among the people of the barangay, especially the elites. They’re supposed to be part of the barangay government, where they can prod their officials to act on local problems.

But so far they’re largely non-performing citizens. They ignore their role in their community’s governance. And so local development does not benefit from their ideas or standards. They do not democratize or modernize their community, leaving it backward and in thrall to trapo opportunists.

It is time we rouse them and urge them to do citizen duty—especially our Muslim brothers and sisters who will soon enjoy their soon-to-be-elevated-status as the Bangsamoro of Mindanao. (Manny Valdehuesa was former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of the Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at the Development Academy of the Philippines, vice chair of the Local Government Academy, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist.  He heads Gising Barangay Movement as national convenor and president. You may reach him at valdehuesa@gmail.com)