CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 8 Jan) – We tend to think of governing as a task performed by people in power (public officials), that it only concerns them while the rest (who are not officials) are mere beneficiaries of government goods and services.
This prevailing thought distorts the correct concept of politics and governance in a democracy, as if only the officials matter. It reduces a citizen into a passive factor in the community—as mere recipient of government favors, services, or goods.
Moreover, not only does it reinforce wrong habits and practices among bureaucrats, it perpetuates apathy and docility among constituents, either reinforcing their tolerance for bad governance or creating disgust and resentment when government fails—a consequence of the wrong belief that officials are the source or giver of all that government dishes out.
Equally insidious is how the attitude denigrates the role of a citizen as a dynamic partner of government—as in fact the source of its power and authority.
To characterize a citizen as a passive beneficiary of government service, instead of as an active partner in governance, makes him out into a subject or ward of the government.
It is misguided thinking like this which causes much of society’s social, economic, and political problems. It drives officials to view their constituents patronizingly, treating them as objects of their kindness or generosity—then expect gratitude in return, gratefully keeping them in office.
As for the citizens, letting their officials get away with this attitude invites victimization, opening themselves to abuse by their putative public servants.
The harm done by such attitude cuts both ways. It encourages impertinent behavior in public service while belittling the role of citizens who are the real sovereign and source of government authority.
The persistence of such misguided attitudes explains why we have such badly performing and corrupt governments on all levels. It weakens the government’s legitimacy; it cannot claim to have unqualified consent of the governed, the underlying principle behind its authority.
To let such wrong notions obtain fosters illegitimate exercise of power, encouraging officials to take liberties with their derived authority, rendering the role of citizens meaningless as it negates the participative and inclusive nature of democracy.
It’s important to point this out in view of the powerless condition of our citizens, an untenable state that prevents our Republic from attaining stability and our democracy from thriving.
Let’s face it: what preoccupies most of us most of the time, although it may not be so obvious, is governing—our lives, our families, our professions, our livelihood, our community. It is so whether in the private or public sector but no one seems aware of it or bothers to acknowledge it.
Governing is what most people do all the time but only public officials get glorified for doing it. Managing the arrangements of living—coping with activities and events that take place around us, confronting problems and deciding what to do, creating harmony—are governing tasks.
Our efforts to avert bad things from happening to us or our family, while nurturing and promoting the good, are also part of managing or governing the circumstances of our lives.
Although we may not be aware that it’s what we’re doing—whether in our household, neighborhood, community, or the larger society—governing greatly preoccupies us.
We are, as a management guru would say, multi-tasking. Especially in our increasingly complex environment, coping with the demands of each sphere of activity—personal, social, economic, political, religious—we are ever engaged in multitasking; we manage our relationships, we arrange or rearrange things, process ideas, and act or react according to our values, attitudes, or inclinations.
In other words, governing is something we do even without swearing an oath of office, even without getting paid for it, or whether we do so consciously, unconsciously, or unwittingly. It is why we can say that government is everybody’s business.
The elite in Philippine Society should keep this in mind so they will outgrow the habit of relegating local politics and governance to undereducated and highly corruptible sectors of their community. They should resist the tendency to focus on national politics while keeping away from the local, especially the barangay level.
It is not right that they are focused on Malacañang and Congress while no one is watching, let alone supervising, the Barangay Hall. At best, they might look in on the municipal/city hall or the capitol occasionally, but rarely if at all do they pay attention to their own community’s governance.
[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]]