WORM’S EYEVIEW: Lessons from traditional politics

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 28 April) – Today’s PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund, or pork barrel allowances) scandal firmly establishes the pandemic scope of dishonesty, shamelessness, and corruption that obtains in our government, politics, and parties on all levels. It is so ugly and grievous like mortal sin.

Not that this was entirely unexpected; just that, already awash and surrounded by traditional politicians, we have been so dense as not to learn the lessons from experience.

Lesson No. 1: It is wrong to take our leaders at face value; we must learn to distinguish between true leaders and the misleaders.

It is fatal for a citizenry to accept unquestioningly the avowed motives of their putative leaders. Records show that because they are human they are vulnerable to temptations and prone to commit sins of commission or omission.

Their departure from the straight and narrow path reminds us time and again of the maxim: Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Martial Law years taught us this but not them it seems.

Thus we must learn to question their motives and firmly insist on transparency and accountability.

Jarred by persistent efforts to manipulate it, our system has become so addled that in order to reorient it, we need to put our leaders back in their proper places—as public servants. Too long have we indulged them their pretensions. Too long have we tolerated their posturing as overlords and dispensers of the public wealth.

The ballooning of Pork Barrel allocations went unchecked until it became absolutely tempting to steal from it. The cavalier spending of public funds must be curbed.

Unless the corruption is stopped, the miscreants are reined in, and justice is meted out, Philippine democracy will continue to malfunction and good governance will remain a quixotic quest.

Lesson No. 2: Only the people, guided by Rule of Law, can stop graft and corruption

No statute, no regime of checks and balances, no moral considerations, nor political promises, can curb graft and corruption unless the people are truly enfranchised and the politicians are made truly accountable.

If the popular will is to prevail, the citizenry’s exercise of sovereignty must be freed from the machinations of vested interests.

Already, the trapos have succeeded in delimiting our exercise of sovereignty to the solitary act of voting on Election Day.

Voting per se does not provide the brakes on abuse or the dynamism required by a democratic order. The people’s active participation in defining the public agenda or the government’s priorities is imperative. Occasion to influence official acts and decisions, are what make for a vibrant democracy.

Events have proved time and again that leaders are prone to be presumptuous, taking liberties with the public trust unless challenged and held accountable.

Moreover, their custody and control over billions in pork barrel and other discretionary funds enable them to buy public approval for any self-serving policy or measure.

Thus, the imperative of public hearings and community gatherings is essential. The people should convene their Barangay Assembly often and ignore the importuning of the DILG to do so at controlled intervals.

Lesson No. 3: There is no substitute for assertive sovereignty or People Power.

The force of people power is needed in one’s community even more so than at EDSA. It may be less dramatic at the local level, but it is the effective way to induce reforms even if applied in small doses.

What professionals in the field of communication term as the “feedback loop”—in which back-and-forth messages, responses, expectations, and reactions interact constantly—is essential to assure good governance.

It is the loop that assures understanding, coordination, and cooperation between the people in government and the constituents—mutually correcting misperceptions, rectifying miscues, reconciling differences, evolving consensual agreements, resolving issues.

This dynamic process keeps governance oriented properly and in the proper spirit especially in the barangay, the grassroots level. That it has not been institutionalized is a measure of how bereft we are of statesmen and true leaders and enablers.

[Manny among others is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at Development Academy of the Philippines, member of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. [email protected]]