COMMENTARY: Wanted: Community Leader

MELBOURNE (MindaNews/19 March) — A presidential candidate promising a hard-line approach in combatting criminality is certainly most welcome. We are all sick and tired of criminals, both petty and bigtime, ruining our dreams of living the good life.

From the “rugby boys” snatching bags in the streets, to the akyat-bahay degenerates pillaging our homes, to the sickening laglag bala syndicate in our airports, to the PDAF trio and their cohorts plundering the public coffers─ all these villains are in everyone’s cross-hairs now. Furthermore, none of these disgusting felons will be missed if they disappear from the face of the earth tomorrow.

However, to think that this aggressive and unrelenting mindset can only be expected from a Presidentiable is a mistake. In fact, I believe voters should be more demanding of this particular governance paradigm from their local candidates.

Let us all remember that the fundamental purpose of keeping the peace and maintaining pubic order is to preserve the health and harmony of the community. We want to get rid of criminal elements in our society because we want to go about our daily lives as worry-free and unafraid as possible.

While we all appreciate talk of crime rates going down, what we ultimately want is to be able to confidently walk the streets, alone or with friends, at any time of the day. We want to go to work, have fun outside with family, and engage with what life has to offer without feeling threatened all the time by unsavoury characters lurking in our midst.

Therefore, keeping the public safe and secure should rightfully be treated as a significant local concern as well. In fact, local governments can do more in maintaining peace and order than we possibly realize.

It is not that difficult to understand that anti-social behaviour is fundamentally the result of a self-centered mindset. People who do not see themselves as merely a part of the larger community lack the propensity to act for the benefit of the whole. Prime examples here would be littering and counter-flowing.

Crucially, when left unchecked, this me-first paradigm can evolve into a complete lack of respect for the common good. The logical end of this progression would be a pervading culture of impunity.

Some will argue that this eventuality is now firming up its grip in the country as manifested by two kinds of Filipinos: the perpetuators of criminal acts and the by-standers who do nothing about them. The seemingly unstoppable plundering ways of public officials would be an extreme example we can all relate to.

Clearly, the lack of community empathy in the consciousness of some people makes the complete breakdown of our society a very real and frightening possibility. Therefore, any proposal on how to keep the nation safe and secure has to include first and foremost a drastic move to stem this wave of individualism and selfishness growing in the minds of Filipinos.

It is worth noting that in Australia, the most hated scourge of our time, terrorism, is generally viewed as a “community issue”. Meaning, the people play a significant role in the prevention of terror attacks as well as in the capture of perpetuators.

Moreover, one of the critical learnings of the 2015 Paris terror attacks was that the perpetuators communicated amongst themselves the old-fashioned way. Meaning, they passed on messages through their links within the community thus slipping the on-line dragnet of state security agencies.

I know enlisting the help of assets within the community is already implemented in an ad hoc basis by our security forces. The bottom-line here is, there has to be measures and mechanisms in place to facilitate the active participation of the general public in maintaining peace and order in our communities.

Clearly therefore, only a public safety framework underpinned by a deep allegiance for the common good (aka the bayanihan spirit) can produce the outcomes we all desire.

So voters have to pose this critical question to their local candidates─ How can the local government strengthen the camaraderie and cohesion within the community?

I must reiterate that the community solidarity referred to here is that sort of neighbourly love which sustained the deep level of cooperation and commitment to one another necessary to create the Banaue Rice Terraces. So obviously giving away birthday cakes and free movie passes are not enough.

One strategy that can be pursued is expanding the use of the Barangay Assembly mechanism. From personal experience, we all know that frequent get-togethers can forge a strong bond amongst a group of people.

To conclude, bayanihan is a tradition from ancient times. According to historians, the head of a pre-colonial community was expected to preserve the solidarity of the group and protect their way of life.

More importantly, a datu’s ability to retain his high station depended heavily on his performance as a leader. Meaning, when warranted by the circumstances, he could be replaced by the community with a challenger proven to be more capable of delivering the needs of the barangay.

Nostalgia over this indigenous power arrangement is timely as the campaign period for local elections is about to begin. Therefore, if we really want to keep our community safe, let us strictly apply this indigenous way of thinking when assessing candidates for local posts. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Micael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer and a legislative consultant. He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism)