CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 16 Oct) – As a republic, our social order still has quite a long way to get its act together or, as some would put it, to political maturity. Citizens and officials alike still behave like the colonial society our founders and heroes fought and revolted against.
As in colonial times we still look to the central government and its local extensions for instructions or guidance in conducting our local affairs, along with handouts and trickle-down benefits.
So autonomy or self-governance continues be a meaningless concept, as is the principle of subsidiarity, even at the most basic level of the polity, the barangay.
We pay taxes but have no say in how these are spent and, as if this isn’t bad enough, officials don’t take transparency or accountability seriously.
But neither do the citizens chide them for it, even when it concerns their immediate community or neighborhood. So it’s a symmetrical failure.
Just as before, our officials are picked or designated by the people at the top, doing so as if handing out personal favors or as part of patronage and party favors.
If royal favors were dispensed in colonial times to buy support or loyalty, so also do today’s politicians parcel them out personally and for personal reasons. Or else, they look for the highest bidders and deal. That’s why those who win public office view it as something they own rather than owe to the public.
When the Americans took over, they sought to implant their concept of democracy on the Filipino sensibility. They tried to demonstrate how democracy works, even introduced universal education so people could participate intelligently.
Unfortunately, three and a half centuries of Spanish imperial rule effectively conditioned Filipinos to believe that public office is a franchise held by traditional politicians, or trapos, and that to aspire to public office one must have political pedigree or powerful patrons.
Thus we never really learned what it means to have a government of the people, by the people, or for the people. Or rather, we never got to exemplify or practice it because the trapos never gave us a chance.
Consider for instance how we take no offense when elective officials—our public servants!—scold us for “Interfering” when we speak out or express disapproval of their crooked ways. Huwag kayo makialam…mag Mayor muna kayo! Or, as Erap was wont to exclaim: “Mag Presidente muna kayo!”
This misplaced arrogance in an autocrat exemplifies what discerning people mean when they refer to the central government as “Imperial Manila.” We’re supposed to be the sovereign citizens to whom such impertinent officials are responsible and answerable, but we take their improprieties sitting down!
It’s appalling that this primitive mentality, a Neanderthal attitude characteristic of the trapos, persists to this day; unbecoming to a nation that has claimed to be a democracy for more than a century already.
In other words, despite over a century of public-private education, human resources development, vigorous political exercises, and 66 years of membership in the United Nations, it is ridiculous that we are unable to apprehend the essence of a republic—of which we were the very first to declare our society to be in all of Asia. When will we learn?
There have been well-meaning leaders, civil society groups, and institutions that tried to make democracy work (demos=people; kratus=rule).
But entrenched trapos with tradition-bound habits, dynastic sensibilities, greed for power, and utter selfishness made our polity highly resistant to reforms or modernization.
We tried decentralization, then devolution, then autonomy, and even People Power literally. To no avail. But the initiatives all came from the top, and that’s what was wrong with them.
Like trickle-down economics, none of them worked out. The power did not, has not, trickled to the base and the grassroots remain essentially untouched and unmoved by reforms. We Filipinos are powerless for the most part.
Although we are the source of political power and authority, it is co-opted by political brokers and power players at the top who bastardize elections, the party system, and democracy itself. It is why our society is basically passive, apathetic, or cynical. This is not supposed to be the way democracy works.
For all our claims of being a democratic republic, in reality our country is ruled by an oligarchy dominated by political dynasties from top to bottom; the subdivisions of power down to the barangay but extensions of the national oligarchy.
And so what we have is a nominal democracy, just as we have nominal Christians, nominal Muslims, and fake democrats.
Trapos engage in demagoguery when they use “democracy” and refer to democratic processes, intoning them like a mantra that makes them sound like they’re talking sense. When will we learn to abhor, stigmatize, and exorcise them from our society?
(Manny is 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 Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected])