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Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Ogres in our political system

There was once a city mayor who made an errand boy out of a local Chinese businessman. Visiting the mayor in his house, the businessman would be asked by the mayor to fetch him his slippers and place them on his feet. Such ridiculous servility is a contortion of decent public service. But it happens.

Mayors and governors control smaller territories. In a smaller terrain of operation, a culture of fear can be created without effort. The “chinelas” master, for instance went around town in three convoys of armed bodyguards, one a police SWAT vehicle, even if there were no threats against his life. Spewing expletives on radio in his booming voice gave him the image of an iron fist angry at government corruption. The narrative is recognizable.

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When Ferdinand Marcos was already deep into martial law fascism, he had posters distributed all over the country directed at government workers with a tender message. Displaying his face, the message was affecting: “I want you to feel the impatience of our people.”

Fear yet compassion — doesn’t the narrative ring a bell? Tapang at malasakit. Yet it programs minds that this governance is not corrupt. Have we not stopped to ask why the Maguindanao massacre by the ruling Ampatuans happened? The Ampatuans are not an incongruity in our politics. The system itself is a breeding ground for tyranny and despotism. Yet many benefited from the Ampatuans’ “kind” beneficence.

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Money and killings are powerful cocktails reinforcing the supremacy of local government executives. Away from the glare of a national check-and-balance media, they can easily pay local radio stations to be their attack dogs, a fair warning to critics.

Where does the blame lie? On elite dominated politics? That, but also that local government is most too often an effective route itself to elitism. The chinelas master was not a dynast when he started in politics. When he died, six family members had been safely ensconced in political power. After 20 years in office, the family properties flourished. It had bought the franchise of a local newspaper. Chinese businessmen were at his behest by making sure they won all bids and awards for local infrastructure projects. Political office is a source of graft and corruption. And that is why we have dynasts. And that is why we are a country with abject poverty.

One area that begs a serious scrutiny and reconfiguration is the so-called intelligence funds that are not subject to audit. The name itself is synonymous with graft and corruption. Unlike regular budget items, confidential and intelligence funds are liquidated using the sealed envelope system, making them difficult to audit. The fund scam that implicated Gloria Macapagal Arroyo with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, for instance, involved the agency’s intelligence funds. The relaxed controls allow conversion and fund transfers possible. Mayors and governors have become powerful because of so much public money at their discretion.

To be rich, one simply runs for public office. What happens next are mansions and vote-buying cash galore.

There is this Mindanao political family that owns all outlets of a famous convenience store brand. Where did they get the money for such investment? Before politics, they were never into business. There is this local political family that asks for a percentage cut from all business companies opening up local branches. There is this local political family that has established construction companies in the name of dummies. It is these companies that bag all construction projects of local government.

The Philippines is not a democracy but a fake semblance of it. We merely go through the motions of the democratic process.

A monster who easily ruled by terror in a city cowed by it and who loves sycophancy of whatever form it is, be it fake, is now in the halls of national power, thanks to his false narrative. No big surprise if the daughter gets elected as the next president. It is not about public service. It is all about entrenchment. And getting duped by a false message.

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On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: Antonio Montalvan II, Kris-Crossing Mindanao, political dynasties, public service
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