P-Noy said we, the people, are his boss. That is really nice to hear said so simply and directly to all of us in his first speech after swearing in as president. In truth, democracy had always put the people as the boss of public servants. The people as boss is central to the very philosophy and principle of democratic governance. Somehow, though, democracy has been less a reality and more a theory in the Philippines. The Filipino people have never been boss except in short spurts of time when, in clean and honest elections, their votes dictate who sit in public office.
Democracy in the Philippines, then, has largely been interpreted and practiced as people voting for their officials. Democracy as a form of governance carries with it a very partisan color because it is understood most of all as an electoral exercise more than anything else. This understanding puts people in a voting position occasionally, and as the ‘governed” after elections. Democracy, then, is about elected officials holding positions of authority for three or six years and about Filipino voters being boss for one day in those three or six years. No wonder that the most popular cry is “good governance” in Philippine democracy.
How can the Filipino people be boss only for a day and elected officials, including the bureaucracy they manage, be the boss for three or six years? That makes the people-as-boss principle of democracy rather shaky, even farcical. To have the right to vote every three or six years, Filipinos accept being governed the whole period in between elections. Boss for a day, governed for three years by local officials and congressmen, six years by the president, the vice-president and the senators.
Clearly, governance has to be placed in the hands of a few for obvious reasons. That should be just functional because practicality dictates it. The principle of people-as-boss should always retain its authority and primacy over governance. If people are the boss, then the boss is served, not governed. Good governance should not be the cry of the day; instead, it should be good citizenship.
Good citizenship reflects the people as boss. Beyond that, good citizenship places in the hands of the people responsibility and accountability in the management of the country. Democracy’s “for the people, by the people, of the people” principle becomes alive only when citizens accept the responsibility and accountability of participating in governance – which makes democracy a most dangerous principle for those who have long understood, and used, public office to have authority over others. To many politicians and bureaucrats, democracy stands in their way to power and wealth. That is why democracy remains a theory more than a practice.
If the simple pronouncement of P-Noy that the people are his boss made an impact, it is because people have not been the boss of government. The statement of P-Noy made people sit up because it was strange when it should have been most ordinary in a democracy. Filipinos have become so used to being ruled than being served that when their president says, “You are my boss,” it startles them.
I wonder how P-Noy differentiates or ranks the people as his boss. He knows he cannot please all of them at the same time. He knows that the differing priorities and needs of the people could even clash with one another. In being public servant number one, P-Noy has to rank his priorities according to the most important sectors. Who, then, is the boss among the many bosses?
The majority, of course, is the first boss. Democracy dictates so, and democracy is the value system the Philippines has adopted. From his presidential vantage, P-Noy must sense the priority aspirations and needs of the majority. These are what he must address daily, with courage and effectiveness. That he rates very well in approval and trust by this majority is a clear affirmation for P-Noy. This rating is according to the first boss, the majority of the Filipino people. And his critics can scream until they are blue in the face but cannot change the reality of a president being regarded highly by his primary boss.
The majority, though, has many sub-categories and nuances. Who among them should P-Noy give first priority to?
Clearly, it must be those who are suffering the most. It must be the hungry, the sick, the weak and the innocent. This priority is a given if we consider the Filipino as a family. Whatever may be the various aspirations and needs of members of a family, the immediate attention belongs to the suffering, the sick, the old who need care and the innocent who need protection. And this is not only P-Noy’s concern but also that of the boss – we, the people, as well.
Good citizenship as the boss of good governance takes on the same priority of attending to the most immediate need. That is why the spirit of bayanihan, today reflected in the growing acceptance of volunteerism as the most effective expression of Filipinos in participative governance, should be an urgent concern of P-Noy. The traditional mindset of governance which places power and accountability in the hands of a few will demand that P-Noy will do these all. Unfortunately for democracy, this mindset is a throwback to the authoritarian and dictatorial history of Philippine governance, from the Spaniards to Marcos.
The approval and trust of the boss for P-Noy is also influenced by the fact that he remains open to them, not just by listening to their sentiments but also by encouraging them to be part of governance. P-Noy will meet the first opposition to participative governance from many within his own chosen appointees who will appreciate power and perks more than engaging empowered citizens who want to do their share in building a nation. After all, many of those who hustled for their appointments were not primarily interested in serving a people they had not tried to serve selflessly before their appointment.
Citizens, then, must cross the line of indifference, leave their comfort zone, and give democracy a chance by taking on the responsibilities of being the boss.