THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: What if we empower the grassroots?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/22 Juy) — If we empower the grassroots or the masses, really empower them, it would be a good thing for the local governments.

The masses don’t care much for macro or large scale ideas; they’re better with the nitty gritty of things. Stark reality, not abstractions. Reality they can touch and smell and taste. Not the future, but the here and now; not tomorrow but today; and not the national but the local.

If they have a sense of ownership of their community, they would be more particular about their surroundings, more sensitive to official acts and decisions that affect them and their neighborhood directly. And they would be watchful about threats to peace and order, including incursions of traitorous insurgents.

So it would be good to get them truly enfranchised, aware and knowledgeable about the tasks of local governance. Then they will have a greater sense of ownership of the local government, as they ought to have being the people from whom all government authority emanates.

If they’re aware of the large amounts of money earned and collected by their barangay government—which belongs to the community but held in trust by the officials—they would be more concerned about where and how the money is invested. After all, the money, especially the IRA (internal revenue allotment), is really the barangay’s capital for investment but which the officials spend as if it’s a spending allowance. So they will want to be updated on the expenses and raise questions about local conditions are improved by spending these, especially what difference it makes in their own lives.

If they’re truly empowered, they would know how to punish or remove unreliable or corrupt officials without waiting for regular elections to take place. They would be active in the local governing processes, actually contribute ideas or suggestions on what problems to address and what programs or projects to undertake for their neighborhoods. And they’ll also want to know who are benefitting or not—and why.

Since they would be engaged in addressing the concerns or needs of the immediate community, they would be less preoccupied with Malacañang or Congress—whose activities interest them more like teleseryes do, as engaging bits for neighborhood discussion or marketplace gossip, a distraction to spice up their boring existential reality.

To be empowered means they can create their own prosperity within the framework of the community, enfranchised and not taken for granted as the officials presently treat them.

To be empowered is to be infused with the confidence of one who feels he is master of his fate, engaged in the task of governing a community, a sovereign citizen enjoying the blessings of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Such a government enables every citizen to focus on his quest of a better life, for a fruitful occupation, and a community-based livelihood that earns real dividends. (An empowering motive for striving).

To be empowered means having a voice and a say on the disposition of the community’s wealth, seeing to it that everyone gets a share according to his needs, while also contributing according to his ability.

What a great undertaking it would be if our bureaucracy can focus on efforts to empower the grassroots, turning our government into an empowering institution. Our people would then be at their resourceful best, able to express and apply their talent, turning idle or unutilized assets productive, and assuring earnings for poor.

A barangay of a few hundred families putting their heads together—collaborating to develop the local assets and spaces, mobilizing trade, services, cooperatives, and commercial opportunities within the jurisdiction—can expand the local economy, increase the gross barangay product, and produce benefits for everyone.

Too bad the idea isn’t being tried. We have the people, the technology, and the resources to do it. There are senior citizens with a wealth of experience and skills the community could benefit from. There are women handy with arts and crafts and culinary creations. There are youth and the still unemployed eager to employ energy and imagination to challenging pursuits including sports, the performing arts, technologies, and crafts.

All of them deserve opportunities for useful involvement. They have brains and imagination as sources of ideas, technology, and enterprises. But no one bothers to call on them, to organize, motivate, or challenge them to leave a lasting legacy.

What is lacking is leadership—expansive, imaginative, creative leadership. It’s ridiculous to think that there’s no such leadership in a community of hundreds of families. Our society needs them to induce the elusive progress and prosperity for our barangays.

Many of them lay hidden and anonymous in the barangay. There are educators, working or retired. There are architects and engineers. There are doctors and other health professionals, even scientists and technologists. There are artists, craftsmen, beauticians, assorted service providers. There are lawyers, entrepreneurs, accountants.

If local leaders would only try, they will find a host of other skilled, talented residents in their neighborhoods. But they might as well not be there, because they are ignored or unappreciated. They need avenues of service to open up. And there are more than enough of them to fire up a local volunteerism program for a barangay.

Many of them—retired, pensionado, well-off—don’t even need to be paid; they’ll work merely for the satisfaction and pleasure of doing so. But there they are, idle, at home or in obscure neighborhoods, unrecognized for what they can still contribute to community and humanity.

At the least, the best and outstanding among them should earn recognition and thanks for their services at the peak of their careers. But no official takes the initiative.

Is it because volunteers cannot be relied upon to play the game of partisan politics—the favorite game of the officials? Is it because officials prefer “paid volunteers” who then feel indebted and become grateful campaign workers and supporters at re-election time?

Too bad for the community in its need for role models. Too bad for society in its yearning for excellence. And too bad these potential but unknown heroes!

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. He heads Gising Barangay Movement Inc as National Convenor.