WORM’S EYEVIEW: The lead role of leading citizens in the community

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 24 June) – Ours is a relatively young society surrounded by ancient cultures thousands of years older like China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, even Indonesia.

So it’s understandable that our institutions, especially political parties, are unstable works-in-progress, their behavior erratic, their leaders not always true to their responsibilities.

The elites, supposedly our leading citizens, still have to learn to perform their duty in helping run society and government except for their own benefit. It’s an unseemly failure since they possess resources and privileges that most citizens don’t.

One can only wish they learn to participate unselfishly in the governing process. It is only fitting and proper since they could very well serve as role models for the disadvantaged or less educated among our brethren.

However, their failings often owe to lack of awareness or knowledge of what’s supposed to be done. And they also lack civic-spirit, about which they can’t be relied on to set a good example. Privileged and used to being served, they’re prone to be thoughtless, making mistakes or committing unseemly acts that scandalize society. The indicted abusers of pork barrel funds in Congress are perfect examples of this thoughtlessness.

Then they plead ignorance as their excuse, blaming others or their minions for heinous acts. The last thing they will concede is guilt even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

With so many in Congress implicated in corruption, it’s time our leading citizens speak out loud and clear against these corrupt characters. It’s time they inform them of the importance of taking responsibility for their acts.

To make everyone aware and knowledgeable about our laws and the duty to abide by them, there ought to be continuing civic education in our communities. Everyone needs information-education-communication about proper citizenship. Everyone needs to be reminded about their civic duties and the need to set a good example to the community.

Civic education ought to be a continuing activity of our public institutions. Autonomy or self-governance, for example, ought to be drummed into the head of the citizenry until it becomes second nature. Otherwise, people will never grow up or mature as citizens of a democratic society.

Moreover, it’s important for people to understand the principle of subsidiarity—that any task capable of being performed at a lower level should not be delegated to a higher level, that the residents of a community are primarily responsible for its wellbeing and security, and that it is wrong to be truant or neglectful and expect to benefit from the community’s protection, development, or progress.

Community living requires mutual consideration among members. It is a symbiotic relationship between and among members of the community. People should always be mindful of the consequences of letting others do the worrying, planning, or implementing of programs and projects in the community. Otherwise, a lot of things won’t get done.

People need to be reminded to care for their community seriously. Everyone must learn to tend to their government and its operations as part of their duty as constituents.

Just as social graces need to be practiced by the senior members of a household so that its young and inexperienced will learn how to behave properly in society, the duties and practices of good citizenship need to be exemplified by the leading citizens of the community so that ordinary people will be more civic spirited.

Like social graces, good citizenship cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be fostered, demonstrated, and exemplified so the less knowledgeable and the under-privileged will be edified.

The community’s formal leaders and its leading citizens should exemplify civic-mindedness in the workaday life of the community; they should exemplify good citizenship.

If the “respectable” in a community don’t conduct themselves that way, it will not become the norm, and people with less in life can hardly be expected to behave accordingly.

One way to condition the local government to behave as it should is to make it a point whenever possible to hold meetings in its premises. After all, the barangay hall and its compound is a public facility. To make it the venue of a meeting of citizens will make the officials conscious of their surroundings, keeping the same orderly and clean—an indirect way to motivate careless of non-performing officials into doing their job efficiently while maintaining the premises properly.

This is an important point because it is the usual practice of the affluent to hold their meetings in restaurants or exclusive places in the poblacion while the poor make do with the barangay’s primitive facilities.

As a result, since the planning of community programs and projects takes place in the barangay compound and are managed from its premises, the affluent don’t get to input their ideas into the process. Thus they cannot lend their expertise or share their standards for implementing local programs and projects.

Invisible or uninvolved in their barangay, affluent or better educated citizens have no impact upon the values or outlook of their neighbors. They should be visible in the barangay where they can serve as role models and pacesetters. Their absence from public view and lack of input to local development explains why local offices and facilities are primitive, disorderly, and look neglected.

Try to imagine how barangay offices and compounds would look and feel better if the professionals or businessmen with snazzy offices—the leading citizens whose taxes sustain the community—would make their presence felt once in a while in the barangay’s premises. In the course of doing so, they can express their views on local governance, contribute ideas, maybe share management tips, or donate surplus equipment and other resources.

In a republic, leading citizens set the norms for public behavior and the terms for political engagement—a responsibility that weighs heavily upon those who know more and have more.

In other words, leading citizens should lead. By example! Why else would they be called leading citizens?

It’s their absence or failure as role models that invite petty trapos and corrupt politicos to fill the vacuum and impose their low standards on the community.

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