Public participation and political dynasties
Was it just a week ago that we trooped to the polling places, patiently waited for hours and endured the oppressive heat to participate in the process of choosing candidates whom we hope are deserving of our trust, at least for the next three years?
For many, Election Day was the only time they were able to exercise their right to be involved in decision-making that affects them and their community.
Those who did not know any better were lured to sell their vote. Vote buying is an abhorrent practice that takes advantage of a citizen’s lack of knowledge of his rights, financial depravity, gullibility and jaded perception that no one in government can possibly improve the quality of his life and those of his family, as none had done so since eternity.
Vote buying has no place in a system that supposedly upholds human rights. It maims and emasculates the already voiceless among us of their dignity and honor and their right to craft their future. It is stunning how one, by allowing such a dehumanizing act to persist, can still manage to live with his conscience.
Not many realize that the right and responsibility to be fully engaged in governance is guaranteed by the Constitution to each one, and not just during elections. It is never the exclusive domain of public authorities, although some try their utmost to mislead people that it is so.
The advocacy to protect our ecosystems and the species that they nurture and for a sustainable tomorrow is anchored not merely on the rights to life, health and a healthy environment and also on this crucial right to participate in decision-making.
The prohibition against the filing of harassment suits, also known as the strategic legal action against public participation (SLAPP), against enforcers of environmental laws and defenders of Nature is a recognition and mechanism that such empowering right of citizens to participate in governance should not be stifled but should in fact be encouraged and protected.
The much-welcome policy of the Department of Budget and Management to mainstream participatory budgeting is a recognition of the right of the public to be involved in each step of the policy-making process.
Civil society organizations realize that the right is not delivered on a silver platter. It has to be asserted and claimed, especially against people who erroneously believe that they are the Law, by merely being holders of public position.
I am awed by the reflection, made by Rudy Alix, one of the stalwarts of the Movement for a Livable Cebu, when he shared the group’s enriching experience, lessons and the fight for the right to participate in decision-making to be respected, and the role and Rule of Law, before the members of the law profession during the Continuing Legal Education Seminar held at the University of Cebu last March. He said
“We had to bring them (politicians) to the arena of Law, Logic and Truth…We had two arenas before us: Public debate and the Courts. . .Lies will be exposed by Truth. The Law and the Constitution are clear in regard to requiring prior consultation with stakeholders for projects, processes which were not done. The courts, if ever resorted to, will always reach a resolution for conflicts, and the Law will always be the basis for the decision.
“Our urban planners and heritage advocates presented clear and professionally done opinions about the uselessness of flyovers, and offered technically and socially sound solutions. Until now, those politicians cannot defend their proposals with sound data.
“Those politicians were in strange territory… They avoided public debate, would not answer our questions and challenges.
“Not seeing any decent response from the flyover proponents, we later explained our advocacy to the decision makers in Government: the Cabinet Secretaries, Regional Directors of Government agencies, and to the President himself. We got the responses we needed from the… officials …who simply made sure the Law and the Constitution are followed.
“Now, we have bottom to top budgeting as a policy, flyover projects were deferred pending a master plan, and it is now the policy in DPWH to involve Civil Society Organizations in its planning activities.”
Rudy adds: “Our premier strategy, however, was, and continues to be, Prayer. We were heard. If your cause is honorable, you will never be alone.”
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The 2013 elections were astounding as substantial numbers of long-entrenched dynasties were booted out of office. The electorate dared do what their representatives in Congress so far had refused and miserably failed to do for decades – that is, to craft the much-needed law to implement the constitutional mandate banning political dynasties.
The highest priority should now be accorded the statutory ban on political dynasties. It is worrisome that elites are adding more relatives to the political arena, relying solely on their name, resources and audacity, despite the apparent lack of experience and skills to handle sensitive positions in government.
Yes, the right of suffrage involves the right to elect and be elected to public office. But, it has its ethical moorings and in our existing legal framework, constitutional limitations. The Constitution clearly declares “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
Our country has a tremendous reservoir of young committed leaders who are already contributing in enhancing the quality of life of our people. But, for as long as political dynasties exist, their opportunity to serve the public in a bigger role is severely hampered. The doors are simply shut.
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