WORM’S EYEVIEW: The imperative of hands-on democracy now

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 21 April) – We’ve had over a century of democracy and electoral politics but real democracy and inclusive development—its putative by-product—continues to be elusive. All the public rituals, the sermonizing, and the verbal admonition to foster the democratic spirit or practice has not made a dent on our society.

We have yet to institutionalize true representative democracy or good governance. The people in charge remain presumptuous, autocratic, and manipulative.

There is no statesmanship. The public service has transmogrified into self-service. The laws are circumvented or openly violated.

Criminality with impunity reigns on all levels. Putschists or coup plotters are rewarded with senate seats. Corrupt or notoriously immoral politicos are elected or re-elected. Thus money politics and demagoguery prevail.

But our electorate remains passive. If it acts willfully at all, it chooses autocrats and oligarchs, or enthrones dynastic rulers.

In light of all this, it is unlikely that our political values and institutions will mature anytime soon, let alone attain parity with those of progressive nations.

For Filipinos to learn the ways of democracy, it is not enough to preach the principles or the spirit of democratic practice. Verbal motivation does not suffice.

What is sorely needed is actual experience in the ways of democracy, not ineffectual slogans and sanctimonious advocacy by do-gooders who themselves are not exactly paragons of responsible citizenship.

And now, in Mindanao, our second largest island, will be added another layer to the dysfunctional system: the so-called ministerial form of government—one that the MILF itself characterizes as “asymmetrical” to the present structure and process familiar to everyone. Not a reassuring term; it means irregular, lop-sided, uneven, unbalanced.

A century of attempts to make the current system work has been difficult enough; how do they propose to make an unaccustomed asymmetrical system work? The truth is, the areas contemplated for MILF hegemony are notorious for scuttling democracy and turning electoral politics a travesty.

But I’m still for going along with the Bangsamoro Agreement, for giving the formula a chance, and pray that it breaks the mold of undemocratic, ugly politics. And I urge all concerned to do their homework and rehearse their game plan even now.

For one, it’s time to clarify the concept of a “ministerial form of government.” Will it be a system ruled by ministers taking their cue from a powerful prime minister? Will the prime minister be a de facto king or a primus inter pares? Skeptics are already wondering whether minister will be a mere euphemism, a substitute to the well-established protocols of claimants to royalty and command positions of yore.

In any case, what’s important all around is to accept that the best training for democracy is hands-on experience in its processes. Is it acceptable to all concerned that one must participate in the democratic process—without pulling rank, without brandishing weapons, without using money, etc.

The MILF, along with its adherents and allies, need lots of practice in the ways of peace, especially in the non-violent art of gun-less persuasion.

Will all parties now move in the direction of good governance start with the 3,000 or so barangays of the contemplated Bangsamoro areas? Will the president get going now on what he means by MATUWID NA DAAN and what it means to the Bangsamoro and the rest of Mindanao? Or will he leave it to activist devices, letting everyone decide what problem-solving/peace-building template to choose?

As for the MILF and the ARMM, will they now go for full-throttle to democratize the region and construct the defenses of peace? Will there be an information-education-campaign on the role of citizens and their community; how they make government efficient and responsive; how they influence it through affirmative action; how they assert their sovereignty and ensure their supremacy over a government of the people, by the people, and for the people starting with their own community or barangay?

It is one thing to tell Filipinos to vote wisely, quite another to have them define and express what they want their government to do, to ensure that candidates they elect are true to their promises, to punish them if they betray their mandate, or to replace them through the power of recall.

People need hands-on experience through actual participation. They need to get used to speaking out, to undertake affirmative action, and actively ensure that their wishes are integrated into government programs.

Values or principles are worthless unless they are applied in the concrete. “Example moves the world more than doctrine,” a famous author once said.

To prepare them for the new dispensation, there ought to be a stock-taking of the issues and citizen-based actions needed in the area. Do they attend and participate in sessions of their sanggunian or barangay assembly? Do they bother to follow up with their barangay chairman or the mayor on pending issues or projects? Do they attend or speak out in public hearings? Do they know how to write letters or petitions on public issues?

Rather than be lectured and seminared, they should be enabled to act out whatever principles or ideals they have about their own government through meetings of their Barangay Assembly. And they should be motivated to do so in ways that actually influence the neighborhood, the barangay, the municipality or city and the larger society. More on this later on.

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