Thursday, April 2, 2015

Turf and Territory

(published 23 March 2015, MST)

As of this writing, the city of Makati has two mayors. The Ombudsman suspended Mayor Junjun Binay but the Court of Appeals issued a temporary restraining order on the suspension. Thus, Binay claims status quo.
The Department of Justice says otherwise. Before the CA could hand down its decision,Makati City Vice Mayor Romulo “Kid” Pena was sworn into office. Therefore, the TRO was moot and academic. It was not able to achieve its purpose of restraining the Ombudsman’s order. Thus, Pena says he is mayor.
Such turf battles are not at all new to us. How many city hall dramas have we witnessed, where an incumbent official, suddenly suspended or declared not the winner after all, has refused to stand down claiming political persecution? How many “rightful” officials have struggled to take their place?
In all this, supporters have provided the needed emotional touch. These are the people,usually the masses,  who throw their full support behind their leader and are not bashful in their adulation. They love their captain/ mayor/ governor, congressman, they say.  Their leader has been so good to them. He or she has always been accessible, always ready to help in time of need. Look at all the good things he or she has done. Therefore, the official deserves to stay in office.
The politicians themselves feed this hero-worship.  They are grateful for the people’s support. What better way to show their appreciation than by providing free food and drinks?  And some entertainment, as they camp out on the municipal/ city hall grounds. Bring on the Zumba!
(This, while forgetting to tell their supporters to clean up afterwards.)
The fierce loyalty does not just extend to one person, either. Often, the spouse, children and other family members are accorded the same reverence given to the main political figure. Actually, these relatives may already be occupying prominent positions in the administration. 
This is not a commentary on the strength or weakness of the case filed against the Makati mayor, the validity of the suspension order and the TRO, or whether it is a political maneuver of their opponents. We will let the legal experts do that. What I am saying is, as a people governed by the political elite, this is how we roll.
This, too, is not a criticism solely of the well-entrenched family that is the Binays. Oh no – Makati is only one LGU. All across the country, the same thing happens. A family controls or at least wields considerable influence in a certain locality. How else have scions who have no other credential but their famous family names gotten into positions of great importance?
The Constitution on the surface seems to have a low opinion of political dynasties. I say “on the surface” because it leaves the crucial task of coming up with a law to make this possible to the same lawmakers who are themselves products of dynasties. Convenient, isn’t it?
This would not have been a problem if the decision to perpetuate dynasties arose from the people’s informed, enlightened decision. This is, after all, a free country where people can elect whomever they wish to govern them – provided they are given viable options.
Unfortunately, many of the prominent families are well aware that an enlightened voting population may translate to the demise of their “reign”. As it is, they deliberately keep the people in the dark, blinding them with goodwill when all the things they provide are taken out of taxpayers’ money to begin with.  They make the people believe that their families are such royalty that they and only they can lay claim to the right  to serve, when it’s actually a privilege.
We have a term for this – political patronage.
Until when will Filipino voters be taken hostage by the mentality that the best leaders are the ones who do us favors?  When will we realize that the ideal leaders are those who enable and empower us to do things for ourselves?
When will these elite families recognize that entitlement is a vice and that if they wish to impose their last names on us, they should first prove themselves worthy, one family member at a time?

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