After a lot of traveling abroad, I have picked up local traveling once more, taking advantage of summer and special events taking place in the Philippines. Last month, I went to four provinces in one week to attend the most spectacular volunteer event ever held in the country, the Bayani Challenge 2013. 80,000 Filipinos (with some foreigners, too) joined the event, most of them for five whole days, at their own expense. The Bayani Challenge invites the participant to be part of community-based activities which range from building homes for the poor, repairing/repainting public school buildings, planting trees, rehabilitating mangroves, medical missions, and giving poor children the time of their lives with games, food and balloons. For five days, Filipinos gave of themselves to prove bayanihan works and should be the foundation of nation-building. 37 sites in 33 provinces hosted Bayani Challenge 2013.
Last week, I went to Cebu, Leyte and Southern Leyte. Now, I am in the middle of a Bicol visit which I hope will take me all the way to Catanduanes if I have the time. These sojourns to many local areas which I hope to increase by the week are a great refresher course to me, a blessing in so many ways because I am allowed to be with people on the ground. Writing can tempt someone to stay in the air, or get lost in the clouds of thoughts and ideas, enough to lose the pulse of those with feet so grounded on the earth. I enjoy the different local delicacies, especially fresh sea food, too, a bonus for traveling that challenges an aging body.
We are in the homestretch of a political season. Somehow, because I have been deeply involved in advocacy work for almost three decades now, punctuated by my commitment to Gawad Kalinga, politics is a serious distraction. It is ironic that a democratic mechanism that is meant to stimulate change by the changing of the guards and old ideas can be so destructive in its competitiveness. Partisanship cannot be avoided in a contest of personalities and priorities, especially where the maturity of candidates and voters alike lags behind the principles and ethics of the theory of democracy. This partisanship can take opens wounds that can take forever to heal. Many people are enamored with anti-dynasty issues; I suggest they look at elections themselves as a bigger cause to reform with all the violence and family feuds they generate.
Wherever I go, deep in cyberspace or the remotest barangay, political season triggers endless commentaries – largely about the shortcomings of politicians and government. I am then reminded that not that many understand the essence and mechanics of democracy, especially the role of citizens in the whole process of governance. Because politicians have been allowed to hold sway over governance, then politicians bear the brunt of the responsibility of our collective lives. But democracy is not about politicians, it is about citizens who carry the accountability for governance – of the people, for the people, by the people. The focus on leadership programs in developing countries can be quite devious and load the priority, or privilege, of governance on the few when nation-building by the direct participation and contribution of the populace is most crucial to grow democracy.
I wonder how many politicians will win if they promise to empower the people instead of promising more projects, more funding, more services. I wonder how politicians will be accepted if they keep pointing out that the accountability of citizens far outweigh that of the public servants. Of course, focus on good leadership more than good citizenship promotes in both the vulgar and the sublime that position and authority are more important than the role of ordinary folks – even if these ordinary citizens are the vast majority of the nation. For over five decades, I have seen this charade of democracy subverted by its own slant towards good governance over good citizenship.
My hope, though, lies in the growing number of young Filipinos – both in the voting class and aspiring politicians. My view is that the shift towards the younger generation in a period of great technological advancement allows an unusually rapid transition from traditional to new leadership. The inability of seniors, who otherwise in the past had held on to power until their dying day, to grasp modern IT tools and systems force the fulcrum of influence surely to the younger generations. Without meaning to, technology aids the natural idealism of the young to actually apply itself into mainstream societal dynamics. A different technology, of which there are new introductions almost daily, ushers in a different ethos and value system. The old is dying with little realization that what takes over will quickly bury their obsolete ways.
What is critical to push the rate of change closer to the tempo and character of young Filipinos, whose majority is only 35 years old and less, is to provide activities through which their idealism can find expression. Volunteering in activities that help community is one powerful way to sustain idealism and change; it also stirs the patriotism so needed in building a new political and more democratic mindset. Active citizenship that contributes to community and nation building is the antidote to traditional politics. The concerted effort of schools, parishes and other religious institutions, civic organizations, corporations and their employees should comprise the “private” in public-private-partnerships – or the bayanihan way.
I accept that partisan politics is part of the democratic process. I do not like it, but the perfect system has yet to be discovered. My greatest consolation today is that I see lots of younger candidates, especially in the senatorial contest. Playing by the rules may open our younger candidates and public officials to traditional compromise, but their idealism and growing numbers may provide a stronger protective shield than ever before. And with the youth of the private sector more motivated to volunteer in different community service activities, there can be, indeed, a future so full of hope.
Let’s get these elections over and done with, vote more young candidates into office, and ride the growing wave of optimism and determination to build the nation of our dreams.