THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Setting norms, firming up our Republic

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/12 November) — The base of the pyramid that is our Republic needs fixing. We the people—its foundation—need to be aligned and attuned, to perk up and wake to the call of our society for heroic service.

There’s a lot of cleaning up to do, corruption to eradicate, laws to enforce, standards to live up to. The trouble is, we don’t hear each other out; we don’t listen to one another; we don’t even compare notes. And our grassroots parliament (Barangay Assembly) is a joke.

Worse, we ourselves make it difficult if not altogether impossible to harmonize and synchronize our aspirations. We’re not coordinated; we’re vulnerable to the divide-and-rule tactics of traditional politicians, trapos.

They sow intrigue and we fall for it too readily. We let them cloud our perceptions. Distracted, we don’t notice how they help themselves to our resources and misuse them for self-serving purposes.

Just look at the antics of senators who cannot distinguish between investigating-in-aid-of-legislation and extracting a pound of flesh from someone no different from the grasping way they climbed to the top.

It’s quite a task trying to clean up and install good government. For one, we’re disconnected from our community, inattentive and unfocused. Instead of mobilizing to assert our sovereignty, we cede everything to officials that know no better play politics.

Thus, what spirals from our level (our barangay, the grassroots) to the upper levels are apathy, inefficiency, and corruption.

It doesn’t help that if we do pay attention we’re distracted by the big picture—the national perspective which is the aggregate of local conditions. Naturally, as a mere summary of problems at our level, the picture is unsatisfactory, and we pin the blame on the officials at the top.

But of course blaming doesn’t help. Top-level officials are not directly affected; they’re not concerned with barangay affairs. They’re several levels removed and they don’t deal directly with the community, only with the clusters of communities under the supervision of larger entities like cities and provinces.

As a rule, we should be concerned with our community, the grassroots level where the concrete details of social and political problems are. In other words, the reality, not just its representation or summary.

If it’s an unwanted reality, direct action by us will change or reform it. It’s our community; we’re its constituents; we have authority over its officials, resources, and powers. We have but to take the initiative and act directly—right in our neighborhood.

It won’t do to let the problem-solving be done by upper-level officials. They’re at the abstract level, preoccupied with statistics or generalities, mere summaries of local conditions, or survey figures.

So if problem-solving is called for, the ball is really in our park. Good governance lies with us. We are the people who can institutionalize it and compel its establishment all the way to the top—or throw out the rascals who can’t or won’t comply.

It’s we the people, the sovereign citizens, who must set the terms of political engagement and the norms to govern social and political relations.

But in order to do so, we need to learn to stigmatize candidates that buy their way to election success or defy norms of fair play and equal opportunity such as dynastic oligarchs.

We must also learn to keep the unfit and the corrupt from vying for the rewards of democratic or open and free competition.

Enforcing such a regime, however, requires that we be responsible citizens—people who ostracize instead of lionize exploiters and corrupters of the system. And do so heroically and selflessly—meaning, at the expense of family or personal ambition if need be.

We can do it if we’re earnest about reforms. Are we willing and ready to participate in the governing process of our barangay to install good government at grassroots? Will we help plan and implement community programs and projects, even volunteer gratis to demonstrate responsible citizenship?

What do we do about nepotism, favoritism, or graft and corruption in our community? It victimizes the capable and favors the incompetent or inferior. Will we insist that ordinances be observed, no exceptions? It’s the way to promote civilized behavior, social discipline, and peace and order.

Unless we set ethical standards in our community, corruption and bad governance will persist and prevail in the municipality, the city, the province, and the state.

It is in setting ethical norms, then complying and exemplifying them, that we institutionalize a culture of efficiency and excellence in our Republic.

The initiative has got to begin in the barangay if it is to animate society-at-large—firming up our Republic’s foundation, solidifying the citizenry’s political will, stabilizing the social order, and gearing the Republic for long-term stability and progress.

Then will our Republic be anchored on a base of 42,000+ barangays propping up the intermediate levels of power (1,700 municipal and provincial governments), and tapering to a narrow crown at the top. A symmetrical structure conjuring up the majesty of Mayon Volcano!

(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 Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.