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Friday, January 25, 2013

Do We Not Know Our Own Power?

I love election years.

It is a time when politicians of all stripes are forced to kiss our asses - whether perfumed or, er, smudged - be beggars waiting for any scraps, and act like contestants on American Idol, dancing and singing onstage on various sorties to woo our votes. (I predict lots of Gangnam and Call Me Maybe covers this year, with matching choreography that is painful to watch.)

It got me to thinking why anyone would practically debase themselves so publicly, and this is a rhetorical question, of course: after they have been voted into office, it becomes a little club, all to themselves, using our money, wielding might through laws, enforcement or plain intimidation.

I don't know about you, but I've had enough.

It is time to turn around this cultural acceptance that politicians are our superiors, that they deserve respect by virtue of their positions, and that we should tremble, scramble and practically bow our heads whenever they deign to go where the rest of us mortals tread.

They should be kissing our asses every single, frigging time.

It's not called public service for nothing. It may take some retraining of thought, but it is high time we reclaimed the very essence of democracy, that power in politics emanates from each and every one of us. They serve us, not the other way around.

The recent teleserye playing out in the Senate has underscored one thing we are missing: a substantial discussion on public funds, how they are utilized, and how they are being accounted for.  It has now degenerated into a discussion of family loans, illicit affairs and even accounts for someone asking the Senate President about erectile fitness. Yes, television writers could never come up with the mouthwatering gossip levels that the Senate has plunged our country into, and I also forsee politically themed teleseryes now being conceptualized over at boardrooms that can smell a fortune for this venture.

Like most teleseryes, this one misses the forest for the gossip-covered trees.
(Courtesy of

The Senate President has maintained that the discretion of how to dispense of the body's savings is provided for by law, and the Commission on Audit has concurred. It does not make it right, it only makes it legal.

Here is an example that is more domestic in scope: my mom used to have some supplies bought at the  neighborhood stores, things like washing detergent and other household items. She would give our helper a certain amount, and she'd estimate the price of the detergent and give an amount that is beyond that "just in case".

Through the years, more and more stores opened up, thereby giving consumers a choice. If our suki sold it at, say, 30 pesos, and a new store sold the same product for 28 pesos - which our helper would naturally choose since it is lower - is she not obligated to return the extra 2 pesos to my mom?

The rationale is, obviously, because the money was not our helper's, it was from my mom. It doesn't matter that there was a savings of two pesos, it does not mean our helper could pocket the difference, since my mom was under the impression that the detergent still cost 30 pesos. What matters is that you should be returning money that is not yours.

It is, therefore, striking for me to see our legislators claim savings for themselves. Savings from our money. And that they have used laws - isn't it a kick that they are also our lawmakers? - to justify it, as well as appealing to tradition, saying things like "it's always been this way".

I've never been too keen on traditions. They promote stagnation, and are the opponents of change.

And it is time to make a sea change in how we view our public officials: they serve us. You may think that this is a simplistic approach, but it is rather obvious that this is not how it plays out. They have acted insulated, entitled, and above us - some even threatening to take our freedom to criticize them taken away.

To paraphrase the line from a cartoon so popular in my childhood, He-Man: it is we who have the power, and it is time to wield it, in our electoral exercise this 2013. We have seen the same positions filled up by the same people and the same family names, over and over. Let us begin using our power to make important changes, because we are accountable to the generations that will come after us.

It has been said that insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results - if that is the case, then this country has long played out its' insanity card.

Our power begins with our vote and it doesn't end there - we make our officials accountable each and every day.

We have the power.

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