WORM’S EYEVIEW: Governing without sense of propriety

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/10 May) — The pork barrel scam is an object lesson on what happens when high officials blur the line between the functions of the three branches of government.

It illustrates the folly of electing people with superficial knowledge of the legislative role vis-à-vis the executive, or the distinction between the responsibilities of national and local officials, or the interplay of public agencies and civil society and NGOs.

That our society would elevate pretentious simpletons like movie personalities, ego-tripping military adventurists, or allegedly brilliant lawyers to high office is a terrible reflection of our primitive state of political maturity.

Yet, despite obvious need, there is no civic education program to promote understanding of the principles and functions of government. Thus the system is bedeviled by general ignorance of the distinction between policy-making and implementing.

Improprieties committed due to this general ignorance bastardize people’s perception of what good governance is and cause them to make serious mistakes in selecting who should govern.

It surprises no one, for instance, that a congressman can freely access the resources of a line department, or that he can belittle the authority of local executives by going over their heads in ingratiating his or even his wife’s pet projects into what should be the local community’s jurisdiction.

The general misperception of what constitutes good governance, alongside ignorance of what’s bad governance, explains why even patently incompetent or corrupt trapos (traditional politicos) get elected and reelected on all levels.

This phenomenon applies especially to the less sophisticated or undereducated sectors of the grassroots; they actually favor trapos for their “generosity” in dispensing “favors” that are funded by taxpayers’ monies.

The more cavalier a trapo is in sharing what isn’t his (funds he diverts or steals from the government), the more desirable he is to patronage-oriented voters.

Such misguided voters don’t really care where the money comes from or whether it’s stolen from our tax collections, as long as it flows in their direction—and never mind if the rest of the community is discriminated against or left out of the shuffle.

In the first place, they don’t pay taxes; and they keep hearing that those who do pay are cheating the government. So the reasoning goes: we might as well get a share of the loot from the plunderers and help ourselves. Selfish, thoughtless, irresponsible citizens!

Meanwhile, upper echelon officials seem unaware that in going over the heads of local officials, they cause instability in the political structure. Their thoughtless behavior discourages autonomy and makes local governments irresponsible.

Those who dispense pork in any shape or version, for example, encourage dependency and render useless the executives and development councils at every level that should be doing the identification, prioritization, and implementation of local projects.

By arrogating the local burden themselves, not only do they weaken self-reliance, they overload their own operational capacity, making themselves and their offices inefficient and under-productive.

This tangle of officials crossing lines across jurisdiction, going over, under, or around the heads of others, is causing anarchy, chaos, and failure of development all around.

Unless the different sectors of the polity understand their respective roles in the system and behave accordingly, there will be no end to societal discord and persistent attempts at destabilization. Even governments need to act with a sense of propriety!

But no one seems concerned. Everyone goes his merry way even when the upper structure of our republic gets unsteady like a skyscraper with a wobbly foundation. The presidency sways to and fro, hanging on precariously as it gets battered by an unfocused opposition and by leftist and rightist adventurers.

Congress is a Babel of posturing demagogues who treat people like the supporting cast of a drama produced, acted, and directed by themselves—in the process, freely adlibbing, stealing scenes, or changing the script to suit their vanity.

When acts of government are performed where they shouldn’t be performed, or done by officials who shouldn’t be doing them, it destabilizes the system as politics becomes a free-for-all game of one-upmanship.

Congressmen wheel and deal to build infrastructure and distribute patronage instead of focus on legislation.

Governors grandstand in the barrios instead of work closely with municipal governments in energizing the province.

Mayors suck up to the president or to congress begging for funds even as they neglect the idle assets, native talents, and unique offerings of their localities.

Even barangay officials have their gimmicks, serving as errand boys of the political bosses instead of tend to their neighborhoods.

And that’s what happens when the trapos govern; no sense of propriety!

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 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]