Thursday, February 22, 2007

Paglaum, Lanang!

Bring Government Back to the People: Paglaum, Lanang!

(A Vision of, and a Statement of Belief in, a Better Lanang)

Election season is upon us once again. This phenomenon which occurs every three years brings with it the despicable spectacle of people transformed into commodities, selling their votes to the highest bidder and turning democracy into cattle on the auction block.

Many of us abhor this practice. In an ideal society, democracy should be the process where citizens are given the opportunity to intelligently choose their leaders. The entablado is supposed to be a place for the airing competing political views and platforms of government so people can choose those who would hold the reins of government.

But the reality of Philippine politics is vastly different. In our country – and Lanang is no exception – politicians seek to be elected not so they can serve those who vote for them. Rather, elections are used as a means to access power and the opportunities to commit graft and corruption that come with power. Thus, we see congressmen whose aims are to fatten their bank accounts, build mansions and air-conditioned cockpits, and collect mistresses for their harems … the roads of their congressional district be damned. And we see national leaders whose sole aim is to preserve themselves in power by pretending to be blind to the plunder of the nation’s wealth by congressmen and local officials.

The Vicious Cycle of Philippine Politics

There is a direct relation between the phenomenon of vote-selling and the intentional neglect of politicians. For the politicians, an “investment” of P500 to P1000 per voter every three years brings with it untold returns in terms of 10%-15% payola from public contractors, as well as the occasional shakedown of legitimate businessmen in the guise of “investigation in aid of legislation”. It is to the benefit of politicos to keep their constituents mired in poverty and ignorance, because they know that progress and wisdom will cause them to lose their grip on power. For the electorate, selling their votes give them direct benefits – if only for the short term – of being able to buy half a sack of rice and a box of canned goods on the day after elections. The benefits are temporary, but they are sought because they know that for the next three years their needs will be forgotten and neglected anyway.

The two principal characters – politicians and voters – thus feed upon themselves in a vicious circle where people sell their votes for temporary relief from the oppression of poverty and politicians buy the votes for access to power and pelf. These vicious circles are found in varying degrees of extent and intensity from the barangay up to the national levels of governance.

This must be put to a stop.

Breaking the Cycle by Confronting the Issues

The solution is to get back to the true meaning of democracy as articulated by President Abraham Lincoln – “Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Kuha-on an pang-gobyernohan tikan han mga politico ngan ibalik ngadto han tawo!

Bringing the government back to the people where it belongs means having a local government responsive to the plight of its people. This will require confronting the following issues head-on:

Economic - The available resources must be availed of to their full potentials.

Coconut farming is the predominant economic activity, and yet we still dry our copra in streets and sell them in Tacloban. In the technological world we live in, this is unforgivable. We must bring technology to Lanang by producing not just the raw material (copra) but also the processed and, if possible, the final consumer product that we can introduce into the national market.

Except for paltry efforts individual fishermen who invoke the image of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” the marine resources of the Pacific Ocean remain untapped. On the other hand, Taiwanese and Japanese poachers are the ones who are raking in the profits. A more organized/collective and scientific approach is necessary so our fisherfolk can effectively and efficiently harness the gifts of the sea.

Perhaps the most overlooked assets of Lanang are its places of incomparable beauty. Bacayawan beach, now marketed through the internet, has been visited sporadically by tourists both foreign and domestic. Still underdeveloped are the attractions of Tongkip Beach. Hidden places of beauty can be found in up the Llorente River, in Mina-anod Island with its surfing possibilities, Balingasag Bay where visitors can jetski and hanglide, and Aronghol where tourists can go cave exploring. With in-depth planning and enough business savvy, the potentials of these places can be utilized.

Infrastructure – Public infrastructure are necessary to pull Lanang out of poverty.

The highways built in the 1980s have badly deteriorated over the years. Between So-ong and Tabok, and from Aronghol to San Jose, the stretch of highway found within the town’s borders has become a tortuous slalom course for motorists. These sungkaans form a searing indictment of the neglect by national and local governments – no funds have been allocated for repair and rehabilitation. This must be remedied: If neither the national nor the provincial governments will provide us with funds for repair and rehabilitation, then we must be creative and find ways to generate the resources to do it ourselves.

A comprehensive infrastructure action plan must be put in place. Based on the needs of the various barangays, developmental infrastructure will be designed. If farmers need roads to bring their produce to town, then farm-to-market roads will be built. If fisherfolk need a port to bring in their catch, then a fishing port will have to be built. To do this, we can have access to national government funds, as well as “overseas development funds”.

Besides the physical infrastructure, technological advances need to be introduced to Lanang. Although both Smart and Globe have already put up cell sites, there is still as yet no respectable internet penetration except for those with 3G cellphones. An internet kiosk can be established that will serve as the gateway for Lanangnons to access the vast information available on the World Wide Web.

Environment – Progress would be meaningless if we destroy our environment in the process.

A balance must be maintained between the demands of development and the obligation to conserve the environment.

The extraction of sand and gravel –necessary in the building of houses and public infrastructures – needs to be properly regulated.

The felling of trees for lumber – also necessary for the construction of homes and furniture – must be approached in a rational manner. A total log ban is unrealistic. Instead, there should be regulatory measures in place, including the replacement of felled trees through a viable reforestation program.

Peace and Order – These twin objectives are inextricably twined with the ethos and morals of a community.

Programs and ordinances – both preventive and remedial – must be set in place to prevent the proliferation of drug and substance abuse, illegal gambling, as well as youthful prostitution. Hand in hand with school authorities and with private sector, the energies of young men and women need to be channeled to constructive activities that will equip them with the necessary skills to face the future.

Rewarding positive behavior and penalizing negative acts is a vital function not only of the family but also of the community. Where windows are broken, we must fix them. Dirty cops, no matter whose relatives they are, must be hailed before the courts of law and face the consequences of their actions.

And when children and the youth see that their elders abide by a code of accepted behavior, they will have stronger characters and not be easily led astray by the temptations of drugs and other criminal acts.

Cultural and Historical – “Ang ’di marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay ’di makakarating sa paroroonan.” So goes the observation of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

The last event of global significance that had a direct affected Lanang was World War II. The veterans – who experienced the war as guerillas or by way of administrative support – are now in the twilight of their years, soon to fade away. Yet no steps have been taken to write down their stories and preserve them not only for ourselves but also for generations to come. The same is true for Lanangnons who have shown excellence, in the local and national arenas as well abroad. It is high time that Lanang give due recognition to its sons and daughters by acknowledging their achievements.

Interaction with the national culture – as well as the effect of intrusions of cable and satellite TV – have also led to the dilution of the culture that was and is distinctly Lanang. We cannot prevent the intermix of cultures – both domestic and international – but we should take steps to ensure that they are at least remembered and honored.

It is important, therefore, that the municipal government initiate the creation of a cultural and historical society that will preserve the memory of what was Lanang.

Only by addressing these issues can government once again be brought to the people of Lanang.

Paglaum, Lanang!

Many of our fellow Lanangnons have chosen to live their lives outside of their hometown. They believe that staying in Lanang would only lead to professional and financial stagnation. Considering the realities of our town (and our country), they have good reasons to leave. And the best proof that they are correct is how well they have done in Metro Manila, in Mindanao, in Hongkong, Italy, the United States … and just about every place where you can find a Lanangnon.

But we also believe that we cannot give up on Lanang. Lanang is, in the words of an old song, “an iroy nga tuna”. It is our hometown, the place where we came from, and the place where we shall return even only in spirit.

If we believe in this, then what we have learned, and what we have earned, in other places can and should be brought back to lift Lanang from the morass it finds itself in.

The task of addressing the issues confronting our town can be made easier if we have political leaders who are knowledgeable of the situation and who have the capability to do something about it.

Thus: --

We need to elect people who will be governed by the principle that to be a leader means to serve.

We need to install leaders who will be guided not by selfish motives of power and greed but by the interests of our people.

We need to have leaders who will bring back hope to Lanang.