People Power for Congress

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

President Noy spoke before the United Nations last week and gave the bold message to the community of nations – use global People Power to achieve equitable progress. P-Noy obviously referred to the energy that catapulted, not just him to the presidency, but his mother to dismantle a dictatorship.

Dialogue, solidarity and communal responsibility are an effective pathway which defines Private Public partnerships. After the Edsa I and Edsa Dos experience, people power revolutions did remove sitting presidents who became symbols of corruption and abuse. Yet, the administrations which people power ushered in did not harness the same energy to fuel societal change and progress.

Lessons learned and another bout of scandalous corruption caused people power, this time manifested in a volunteer-driven presidential campaign, to again bring a new administration to Malacanang. This time, the president it voted into office, Noynoy Aquino, wants early on to engage the spirit of volunteerism to guide, maybe even define, governance. It is a good moment for participative democracy to actually happen, and it is not only P-Noy who must take advantage of the moment but all Filipinos who can contribute to nation-building.

The Gawad Kalinga movement has used both the term and the process called People Power Over Poverty in its belief that a multi-sectoral approach is the only comprehensive and sustainable pathway for the poorest in the country to rise above their pitiful inheritance. I am referring to over 5 million families, landless, homeless and often hungry. There is no current intervention that will take them out of poverty, not from government, not from business. Only the radical community development program of Gawad Kalinga answers fundamental requirements – material and psychological.

It is not that government does not recognize its shortcoming; it does. What government does not recognize is its strength, its resources and influence, as catalyst and not only provider to a seemingly bottomless pit of needs. With 50 billion pesos a year, for ten years, 5 million families will have security of tenure, small but decent homes, and enough land to plant food for the table. I hope that government, meaning politicians, bureaucrats and economists can appreciate the impact of the weakest, poorest, most marginalized thirty percent of our people finding basis for hope and a new mindset largely rescued from fear.

Poverty is severe scarcity for the fundamental needs of man, starting with security of tenure for a home, a sturdy house which can protect its inhabitants, and plots of land where vegetables, fruits, poultry and livestock can be grown by a community. Poverty is also a harsh condition where the victim is treated as less than human, forced by his landlessness to have a migratory attitude rather than a rootedness for growth and development. If society can intervene with small pieces of land, build decent homes, and areas where food can be grown for the families, with government fully adopting the program as a flagship for justice and progress, it is possible that a miraculous transformation can occur in less than a decade.

For those who are overwhelmed by a community building budget of 50 billion pesos a year, that is just slightly over $1 billion which will benefit 500,000 families or about 6 million Filipinos. But the benefits here are permanent and sustainable, visible in land and homes in a village setting. This level of money has been spent, overspent and stolen many times over every year. With a determined anti-corruption program, 50 billion pesos can easily be raised.

The Gawad Kalinga formula was first expressed with land, homes and food because those are basic human needs. What was not so pronounced although it had been a key feature of the community building effort was the fact that the intervention was multi-sectoral. It is the multi-sectoral spirit and manner that pushes any effort to become very collective and rebuilds our bayanihan culture. Bayanihan dismantles the ugly pattern of divisiveness even as it naturally forms a sense of community on the way to a sense of nation.

For corruption to be weeded out as a frightening cancer eating our national soul, leaders must protect, not rob, its wards or the Filipino citizens. But the perspective of leaders protecting rather than exploiting is grounded on a more fundamental understanding of nation where families are not only those related by consanguinity but by race. If Filipinos can look at themselves as one family, as brothers and sisters, it becomes more possible that leaders protect instead of exploit.

Progress is not a new reality. An elite sector has been progressing for hundreds of years. Affluent families have enjoyed the abundance of the motherland but have never considered the poor as also family and equal members of the Filipino nation. The chasm separating the rich and the poor is not just a statistical or economic one, it also provides the environment for exploitation and subservience.  A people with an awful gap between the haves and have-nots develop all sorts of other gaps.

I believe that P-Noy intuitively senses that the moment is ripe for a very divided people to find commonality in the desire for meaningful change and greater hope. The number of volunteers who campaigned and voted for him is a loud message that it is not he, but the people, who must pull themselves by their bootstraps. When he said “No Wang-Wang,” he was effectively taking away perks that divide the powerful from the ordinary.

Yes, lessons learned in the Philippines point to people power as a primary mechanism for progress. On P-Noy’s shoulders rest the mantle of leadership. He must make himself and government as catalyst for progress. On our shoulders rests our future.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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