Beyond voting

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

I was already at the polling place in my barangay close to an hour before the opening of polls yesterday. The line was not that long which suited my purpose in coming very early which was to avoid the crowd on election day as well as the intense summer heat. By 6:15 a.m. or 15 minutes after the opening of the polling center, I already did my sacred duty as a Filipino citizen.

Voting is sacred because it is the ultimate expression of our voice as citizens in a democratic system. Democracy, for sure, is not merely defined by elections. Beyond voting, two other essential factors define democracy. These are the rule of law and social capital.

The rule of law ensures that those chosen by the people to be their leaders and representatives do not take their mandate as a license to just do anything they wish or turn government resources into their personal purse. Rule of law is fundamental to social and political stability. Even if a politician manages to win an election using every trick in the book, he or she governs precariously if the rule of law is weak.

Social capital is another one of those essential factors that make democracy work. Social capital complements democratic institutions. It is defined as “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” It is social capital that builds strong and genuine political parties.

Yet dynasties and a few elite political families dominate our political landscape today. Many of our people see the elections simply as a game of the “wheeler-dealers, crass opportunists, and cunning seekers of power and wealth.” The masses see electoral clientelism and political patronage as their path to survival in an insecure environment where jobs, education, and resources are scarce.

There are, of course, some well-meaning community leaders and reputable citizens who step up to the plate as candidates during elections. Alas, their candidacies are often propped up solely by their self-beliefs of their own strength of character and political fortitude. In other words, there’s no civic or mass movement solidly behind them to compensate for their lack of traditional political machinery.

Even if these good and principled men and women win their races, as soon as they are in power, they can be easily led astray by their own ego and the opportunism that surrounds them. That is because we have failed to build genuine political parties and civic movements that will continually hold our leaders to account during their term in office.

Many years ago, a local leader actually showed us the way to genuine people’s participation in governance --the late DILG secretary and former Naga City mayor Jesse Robredo.

The social capital that Jesse Robredo’s leadership built in Naga City, Camarines Sur, transformed the once-lethargic city into a premier city and model of local governance in the country. His “i-Governance” program was not merely for show but actually engaged citizens in participating in the decision-making process of the city.

In the words of Maria Belen Bonoan of The Asia Foundation, Robredo “was instrumental in regaining the trust and hope of civil society to work with government institutions, while at the same time raising the bar for civil society-government engagement.”

Beyond voting, citizens of Naga City found their own voice in governance and became empowered as important partners in the development of their city. If the late senator Nene Pimentel was the father of the Local Government Code, it was the late secretary Jesse Robredo who gave life to the Local Government Code.


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