All politics is local
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa () - March 21, 2009 - 12:00am

They can gnash their teeth, stomp their feet, point their fingers and make all the faces they want, but if President GMA’s enemies think they can dislodge her through national media, hiring surveys, or getting some churchmen to threaten her with damnation, they may be on the wrong track.

She has said that she does not mind if she was said to be the most ‘unpopular’ president, she will just continue with her work. Well, that may be true but only in a manner of speaking. Like any leader, she aspires to greatness and does mind if surveys say she was the most ‘unpopular” president.

For some time now, she has cultivated politics focused on local authorities. It does not lend itself to sensation or anything world-shaking. It is about the daily grind. That is not incompatible with a political theory she has taken very seriously — that all politics is local — since the first attempt by a motley group of oppositionists and Hyatt 10 tried to dislodge her.

Political analysts, among them the writer Patricio Abinales, have known this for sometime. She is dedicated to local authorities. It is time she reveals the source of her staying power despite everything that has been thrown against her.

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Some are puzzled, even disgusted that ordinary Filipinos are unmoved by senate investigations or issues of graft and corruption, that have remained accusations. They certainly are not going to EDSA.

It was an American speaker Tip O’Neill who said it best: “All politics is local.” This is a political truism that has been so often quoted few know that the source was a dyed in the wool American politician. It is still not understood by some of our more astute politicians. They may appear on the front pages, yak on television but what have they done for their own neighborhoods? For the lowly barangays?

That is where real change happens as far as the constituents cum voters’ lives are concerned. It has everything to do with immediacy and closeness not possible in national politics.

It will take time for politicians to realize that everything happens in local communities. While media had focused on national concerns, President GMA was really doing her work. She was in Pampanga to see the road-widening from the steel flyover in Barangay Dolores to Barangay Sta. Cruz in Lubao recently. She was in Barangay Makilala, North Cotabato to see the work on the new Malaan Bridge and La Union for the engineered sanitary landfill, etc. etc.

What did make news, but not the headlines was her recent move to give even more money, some P40 billion more to local authorities.

As she gave the money she said “making the IRA top priority was her way to show she was the ‘best friend’ of local government units.”

“I realize that the IRA is your primary tool to serve your constituencies.” She said the money come from increased value added taxes so often criticized by big business in Manila and aspiring presidential candidates. “The money will go a long way towards ensuring that our people will get the kind of local government they want.”

Of late, President GMA has been criticized for pitching for federalism which simply means bending down to local authorities as her constituency and source of power. She does not need to enunciate what she is already doing. Still there is a limitation to what a President or any single national official in huge populations like we have can do. I think she has come to realize that by first hand experience. This kind of politics by contact can only be realized through federalism which subdivides the powers of government.

Without knowing it by name, the masses, the inhabitants of barangays already know that it is federalism they aspire for. Aspiring presidential candidates who do not care for it should not begrudge the President if it is the path she has taken. She has discovered the true virtue of power – if it can be cut up and divided into efficient and effective portions. No one is saying it could and should happen overnight.

But as I had mentioned earlier in this column the debate should not be so much on its viability as it is by its principle. Its viability will be worked at for the sake of the principle. That principle is about regional self-determination within a national polity. It does not mean independence or secession. Regions and the provinces, cities, municipalities and the barangays within them must be harnessed not by making proclamations from a pedestal in Manila but by rooting our politics within the grassroots arena. The view from this arena is different from the megacenter.

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Here’s a funny story that says a lot about the disenchantment with massing as protest for overthrow. “Shortly after government forces tear-gassed their way into one of Manila’s finest hotels on 29 November 2007 to flush out 30-odd “rebels” and their civilian supporters, Philippine-focused e-groups began debating the significance of what became known as the “Makati stand-off”. Among the most popular messages was a joke patterned after American late-night host David Letterman’s “Top Ten List”. Purporting to be an “Intel Info” released by the government’s National Intelligence Security Agency, it lists the “Top Ten Reasons Why Lieutenant and Senator Trillanes and Company Packed Up” and surrendered: 1. Not even his mother joined them. 2. Oakwood the plush apartment complex Trillanes and comrades took over in an aborted 2004 coup had a better lobby. 3. CNN was not there to cover it. 4. The hotel had run out of ice cubes. 5. The armed personnel carriers (APCs) were parked in the lobby, not in the parking lot. 6. Trillanes realized that being tear-gassed was not part of his mandate as senator. 7. Former Vice-President Teofisto Guingona was a civilian participant.”

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