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THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Feeling powerless in Mindanao

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/09 August) — A Mindanaon today is increasingly hemmed in between forces no one seems able to control or contain.

On one hand are rampaging marauders from the extremes of the political-ideological-ethnic divide.

On the other are manipulative politicos and their dynasties who rule like monarchs backed by tradition and patronage.

Except for the well-connected, the moneyed, and the well-armed, hardly any Mindanaon can avoid feeling dominated, helpless, powerless.

With the next election just 16 month away, with political dynasties consolidating well in advance of it, with the parties regrouping, maybe also rearming, a challenger would hesitate to join the fray or lock horns with the ruling clique.

Yet Mindanaons are not really powerless. It’s just that, like most Filipinos, Mindanaons ignore the power they already have, power that has always been with them but never got to invoke or to assert effectively because it has been ceded by others to the trapos.

Even ordinary Mindanaons have political power; but it’s a measure of the colonial influence on them that they still believe a citizen’s duty is to obey rather than to define his government and demand that it serves his interests.

As for the officeholders—who continue to act as if to be elected is to rule rather than to serve—they suffer from a pathetic case of colonial mentality.

The effect of these mutually reinforcing and wrong-headed attitudes has been a weakened popular will, which strengthens trapo dominance and turns public servants into overlords.

Thus, although our society professes to be a democracy, it is one without substance—a situation that doesn’t bother the conscience of trapos who, in the first place, are out to exploit its weakness by emasculating People Power.

Trapos cannot comprehend how democracy is an empty boast without People Power. People Power is democracy. (Demos: people; kratus: rule.)

But People Power exercised only sporadically, as in Edsa I and Edsa II, is just explosive power, like a fart, not a propulsive one, one that can effect reforms and sustain them; one that can renew values and institutions; and one that can drive the engines of development and progress.

At Edsa in 1986, and again in 2001, the explosive power we managed to detonate merely uncorked pent up resentments and threw out an unwanted leader.

But neither explosion renewed our values and institutions. The deposed one was soon replaced in kind, leading to still more frustrations and still another build up till it exploded in the Oakwood mutiny.

It was not the People Power we needed, and neither was the upstart Trillanes for the Senate. The Oakwood incident was merely a tempest or a tantrum, but not a motive force for society’s forward movement.

People power becomes a motive force only if it impels social change, not just regime change. The motion our society needs is towards genuine democracy, where citizens rule and elected officials serve with consent of the governed, accountable, transparent, dutiful.

The democracy we need is the one which enables citizens to set the societal agenda, where political parties represent and not dictate the agenda, and where citizen power is supreme.

Our society deserves a system in which, if officials deviate from their mission, the citizens throw them out and replace them.

And we need parties of principled citizens committed to a platform, not of co-conspirators or rebellious malcontents united by lust for power or the desire to feed on the government’s bounty.

Such a society must have the people as its driving force, not self-appointed leaders; having a system in which there’s no room for autocrats who reduce the people to the role of a cheering squad, a heckling opposition, or an indifferent mass.

To form said society, we must reach deep into values and aspirations and proceed with conviction that citizens must be the prime determinant of political behavior, of whether a political party deserves to exist, and who shall rise to high responsibility.

Unless or until citizens learn to harness or deploy People Power effectively, all the initiatives of a few do-gooders won’t amount to much. And only people with vested interests—who allow themselves to be used as pawns by big-time trapos—will reap most of the benefits in our republic.

Failure of People Power is failure of democracy.

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 Pane; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. valdehuesa@gmail.com

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