WORM’S-EYE VIEW: Trapos trash the political system

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY(MindaNews/12 August) — Let’s hope effective steps will be taken against the pork barrel scammers, enough to stem the rising anger and lessen public agitation.

If public anger or disgust reaches scandalous levels, society’s malcontents can exploit it to sow confusion and mayhem as the MNLF did in Zamboanga City. Or military adventurers can ride on the opportunity to pole-vault their careers to high political office, as two sitting senators today can attest.

But however firm or willful the administration is in pursuing its alleged anti-corruption campaign, however determined it may be to clean up the system, the effects are bound to be transitory unless enough people are awakened and empowered to do what it takes to enforce transparency and accountability in government.

The trouble is, we don’t even have a Freedom of Information Act. Malacanang and Congress have been keeping us in a state of helplessness, unable to check venality or plunder in their ranks. The ruling clique keeps society helpless, allowing abuse to take place with impunity.

Delimiting the People’s Sovereign Role

Not only that, for the longest time now, we have allowed traditional politicians—trapos—to confine our role in the political process to a narrow one that serves their purposes. This role, on which they focus everyone’s attention and through which they manipulate elections, is the simple act of casting one solitary vote every three years.

It has been a great disservice to our society that trapos make our people believe three wrong notions about voting.

One, they make people believe that the exercise of sovereignty consists mainly of the act of voting on election day. This makes simple folk believe that merely to vote fulfills the duties of a citizen in a democracy; leaving the interval between elections unguarded.

Two, they make people believe that it matters little whom they vote for as long as they vote and, if they can, to do so even more than once; which is what flying voters do.

Three, they make the poor and the undereducated think it’s all right to support a candidate who buys their vote; then, having made the point, they proceed to buy up all the votes they can afford!

In fact, voting is merely the minimum that a citizen of a democracy can do; it does not embrace the totality of his duties. It is only one of many.

There is the duty is to ensure that those who win an election proceed in conjunction with other winners to establish a government that protects and not betrays the public trust.

There is the obligation to ensure that government enhances and not diminishes the common good; then to do all other tasks that make democracy vibrant, government receptive, and the Rule of Law prevail.

Voting alone does not fulfill the affirmative acts a citizen must perform in order to sustain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

People Power, Consent–of-the-governed

Essential to such government is people power and its role of ensuring that official behavior accords with the principle consent-of-the-governed. Corollarily, people must support what is right, reject what is wrong, and withdraw authority that is abused or misused.

To make governance responsive, citizens have the duty to contribute to the give-and-take of ideas and acts, especially at the primal base of the republic—the barangay—where all the people are and where direct democracy operates.

As members of the Barangay Assembly, the community’s legislative governing body or parliament and its highest authority, everyone is duty-bound to take part in local governance—just as citizens do in the direct democracies of Switzerland and everywhere else where this system operates.

Only in the barangay is it possible to convene an entire community to undertake the business of governing. From municipal to upper levels, it would be unwieldy to convene the entire constituency, which is why they are governed by a representative democracy; officials (proxies of the people) do the governing.

Active people power or the exercise of citizen sovereignty is important to ensure consent-of-the-governed, especially during periods between elections. And it is needed in times like today—when the public trust is being sorely tested.

In the wake of the general outrage provoked by the pork barrel revelations, restoring trust and confidence won’t be easy. No less than a revolution in our attitudes may be called for.

Thus we would do well to perform citizen duty and keep all trapos at bay and under advisement. The abuse and the corruption must stop.

Mannyis former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Pane; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]