I would like to write about local politics today. I would have preferred to discuss national politics again but my interest has shifted dramatically towards the micro-level aspect of the entire political spectrum. I remember what my feisty professor on local government would always say: all politics is local. And there is absolutely a ring of truth about this observation. Certainly, national officials, particularly the incumbents who seek re-election, draw enormous strength from their wards and errand boys in the local level. This is where political parties play an important role for any national candidate during elections, at least ideally. But culled from the premise that all politics is local, are we to say that most local officials or candidates too have little regard for party principles? Conversely, I would like to believe that the deterioration of principled politics in the national level is but a mirror of what is really happening in the parochial arena. It is really of no moment even if you have elected the best presidential candidate come 2010 if in the end, you have just filled the city hall with the worst possible incompetent candidates for public office. I mean let us be realistic in all this. If you happen to be a gullible person and you picture the next president as someone who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent, well you are in for a disappointment. The next president, even with the best possible technocrats and advisers in his cabinet, can only do so much during his term of office. To be able to solve all the deeply-rooted problems in our country necessitates more than just a great chief executive but it also entails a strong and stable foundation of the entire structure. At the end of the day, the progress of your respective hometowns will have to depend with the kind of local officials you have elected and your devout participation in the community. What I am trying to say here is plain and simple: political reforms must come first from the bottom and not on top of the political structure as pundits would like to suggest. Put bluntly, elect principled leaders in the foundational level, which is the local government then translate it up to the national tiers of the political structure.
I understand that as a rule, ethics and politics can never be merged into one. As long as the key players of Philippine politics continue to dominate the game, we can never expect legitimate reforms and genuine transformations for our country. Change must come from the outside not from within the old system. I shall propose the term “outside” to mean the youth sector of society. Indeed, this observation affirms the age-old saying that it is hard to teach old dogs with new tricks. This is especially true if we rely on traditional politicians to make meaningful reforms in the political system I am therefore deeply convinced that the youth can introduce new kind of politics within our corrupted system of government and it is in them I can foresee the reinvigoration of party principles as a democratic way of life. For one, unlike the old-timers of the present political system, the youth sector is not yet a prey to cynical thoughts. They possess purity of principles that will stand the test of solidity amidst the recurring political turmoil in our country. I have put so much faith in the youth of my generation to shoulder the burden and help educate the masses in terms of political education. Or better yet join the political mainstream and gradually infuse youthful idealism to counter the gargantuan tide of corruption and ineptitude that thrive incessantly in the halls of public offices.
The question therefore now is: how best can we determine who amongst the local candidates has what it takes to bear with the constitutional declaration that “Public office is a public trust?” I think the most decisive starting point here is for the voter to look into the candidate’s character. Verily, when I speak of character, the same should not be limited to the examination of a candidate’s public character but private as well. Necessarily, a leader must be whole. He cannot have his public character be honest but on the other hand, have his private character be deceitful and corrupt. The core ethical values like respect, honesty, and the will to distinguish right and wrong amidst over-powering temptations inherent in public office are all ingredients of a great leader. I would like to think, and as I propose in this writing, that young candidates possess the much needed character for public office. This however does not mean that all young candidates running for public office are character-proof. In fact in my hometown Isabela City (Province of Basilan) where politics is as devious as the devil, the reverse is more likely the rule. It saddens me to know that even young candidates, people I grew up with, have not lived up to the expectations of what youthful idealism should be. Albeit there are indications of immense political awareness from the youth sector these days, thanks to the Internet by the way, the political vigor and exuberance inherent in them have not been translated locally. Sadly, the local scene still remains pretty much the same. Most young candidates have nothing but well-sounding surnames, wealth and porma as part of their credentials. Visit their Facebook accounts and see for yourself how they visualize themselves as the next Philippine president when the office they seek to land on is simply that of a city councilor. I have at least one encounter with a pompous young candidate from my hometown who postures himself as the pag-asa ng kabataan. And since he flaunted his candidacy for city council in Facebook, I could not help but asked him some relevant questions about platforms and his ideas on local statecraft. To my dismay, he simply shrugged off the questions and boasted instead his supposed achievements as a young philanthropist in terms of humanitarian and civic projects. What was he thinking? Organizing party events, sponsoring a basketball team, and sitting as a judge for a gay pageant makes him qualified to be a city councilor? Is there a reasonable connection between his purported generosity and the functions of a city councilor under the present Local Government Code? Or is he posturing as gay rights advocate once elected in the city council? Let me remind him as early as now that the august office he wishes to serve is a seat of deliberations. Questions involving his views on individual liberty and the basics of government are not misplaced because as a future local legislator he will encounter these concepts in drafting ordinances. It is best, by way of preparation, that he should browse once in a while the provisions of the Local Government Code and the 1987 Constitution for enlightenment. He could have earned my respect had his sudden itch for generosity came long before the local elections but the timing is really off and the motive is highly suspicious.
Let me integrate the term “character” with party loyalty for it is here where a young candidate either manifest signs of conviction as a future leader or the tendency to emerge as a sure-fire traditional politician someday. In my writings, I have always been critical with the multi-party system as structured under the 1987 Constitution. From the democratic vantage point, apart from the fact that it is incompatible with a presidential system, such mechanism has greatly contributed to the demise of principled politics in our country. Worse, down in the local level, political dynasties continue to gain sturdy support from their constituents who are immensely benefited by patronage politics. As a result, political families have effectively replaced political parties as key institutions in the democratic polity. Again I wish to remind the readers that political parties are essential components of a functioning democracy. Without a strong party system and in the absence of political watchdogs like the academe, we can never expect political maturity from the people especially the masses. And following the bottom-up approach I mentioned earlier, it seems that the light at the end of the tunnel remains long in sight. To be sure this is not to say that under our present system there are no respectable political parties to count on during elections. In fact, despite my own misgivings on Senator Noy Aquino running as president, I have always respected the Liberal Party for having strong and reform-oriented programs of government. But because of the multi-party system and not to mention the party-list system, political parties in our country can hardly be seen as a reliable institution to bank on in terms of principled politics. Thus, elections in this country whether national or local elections, are personality-based contest rather than an issue-oriented democratic exercise.
It is therefore an imperative for the young candidates especially in local politics to understand the rudiments of the entire system so that they may be able to assess how to effectively infuse “youthful” reforms in government. Local statecraft entails more than just noble ideals or intentions but more importantly how to implement it as well. In other words, candidates must both possess pristine motives to serve the people better and a firm grasp on the basic mechanics of government. This two should always compliment each other. It is best then to join a well-entrenched political party composed of men and women with impeccable reputation and with a solid track-record on governance. However, if you find these political parties too “political” in the sense that the people who composed it are so ruthless to hold the reins of government then by all means take the road less traveled and run as an independent candidate. And stay independent at all times. It is unfortunate that in my beloved hometown some of our young candidates for local positions seem to show early signs of political opportunism if not arrogance. As I said it is fairly within the judgment of a candidate whether to join a political party or not. But to play safe and engage in double-talk do not speak much of a promising leader coming from the ranks of the youth sector. Take this young local aspirant for example, while pledging his undying loyalty and commitment to his party he also secretly supports the ruling dynasty. Rumor has it though that this young aspirant was recently fired from the party not because of disloyalty but due to fluctuating childish behavior during sorties. Some I presume opted to run as independent candidates because they feel that most political parties do not have definite programs of government other than motherhood statements. If you are neophyte, or a perennial loser and you happen to run as an independent candidate I must say that I praise your courage not to join the circus despite the odds of running without a racehorse. However there are also those who, young as they are, have already mustered the art of cunningness at this early point of their political careers. These young vultures either run under the banner of a well organized political party or run as independent candidates but nonetheless joined the bandwagon as guest candidates. There can be no logical reason for this tactic other than wanting to play both cards safely. But surely, I don’t see any principled politics here let alone the makings of a great youth leader. In times of never-ending crises, a potential leader must always takes sides on issues that define convictions no matter what the political consequences are. There is no middle-ground in the face of a power-hungry administration, either join the opposition or stay truly independent. We have had enough of these fence-sitting trapos in the halls of government. To run as an independent candidate while at the same time appearing as a guest candidate of a potent political party will certainly mislead the voters. I challenge these young candidates who are “semi-independents” if not binabae, to bolt out from these parties as guest candidates and once and for all make a firm stand on issues that will help the voters decide intelligently. These reasons make me very skeptic to take our chances on these young politicians.
After all what has been said, the bottom line is: taking the big leap towards change and reform in our government, starts in our hands, the youth. While traditional politics may have robbed some of these youth candidates/aspirants of the innocence and pristine motives, the voting youth has a duty to ground them back to where they should be. The malfunctions in our political system while largely attributed to the players of the system, we too are partly responsible for its failures. And so this coming May 10 elections, let us start a youthful revolution by choosing the right candidates for public office. The bottom-up approach as proposed above is designed to push the youth sector to take the lead on matters of governance. Again if we want meaningful reforms, change must come from the outside not from within the present political system. Simply, these new breed of politicians must not keep abreast with the old and traditional “public servants.” They, as youth, must recreate, reform, if not give breath to a genuine new breed, unbitten by the dangerous bug that brought our country into malady.