Babsa-ay: We, Un-Redefined

HAVING aged at my corner desk that often extends to public consultations, I have found the gall to go public on a matter told in whispers, and which concerns us all.

For one, I owe it to colleagues in government who take their work seriously – and, more so, who report on time – amid the daily grind and occasional bouts with routine. For another, I owe it to the Filipino whose citizenship goes beyond paper and whose inputs are priceless: He who endures the tumultuous traffic to pay his taxes on time. And she who, being the better half, urges him to do so.

I refer to the matter of “people empowerment;” and how, no thanks to very loud people, it seems to have lost meaning, the loudness crowding out intelligence and insight.

It is not often the case, of course. But for the greater part, its essence seems to have been lost in the growing din, redefined – often in the name of “activism.” People empowerment was now made to mean a clingy, annoying presence marked by bullish behavior. It has been reduced to a war of words – the pro this versus the anti that, the government versus the rebel, the troll versus the other troll, etc.

Among the actors, two stand out: first, the self-appointed “activist” on social media and, second, the “lynch mob activists” in the streets and town hall meetings.

The first goes about foraging for blunders in government and feeds them on his wall, sowing intrigue without thought or fact-check. No amount of explanation suits him, thinking himself too cute and beyond reproach. His word, he insists, is the real alternative in his wall layered with “alternative facts.”

The second is the kind that plays spokesperson and savior to the poor: those who call out government’s excesses while using meager resources to litter the streets. Those who rail against injustices while wheedling others to seize another’s home. Those who demand clean restrooms but refuse to pay taxes, and so on.

Both have been known to infect both tambay and PhD. Were you?

Surely, you must have seen a public consultation turned public market. Or a dejected hakot crowd turned lynch mob, threatening a very public hanging Election Day. Their sole silence is the awkward kind. Isn’t that neat?

Being a little less old once (or during the-rebel-without-a-cost days), I too bewailed what I thought was a rudderless bureaucracy.

I read it wrong again, thank God. Decades hence, I know better, having sat behind and in front of that corner desk. Without a small amount of irony, a desk that once meant nothing now means a lot because of the people just across it. That’s what the rows of desks in La Trinidad stand for: Service, replicated all over the land. So you see, how can government be all that bad?

I stand for people empowerment – the real kind. Because government, despite its many failures doesn’t deserve a hit – nay, a strafing - from those who warp its meaning just to muster six “likes” or advance selfish agenda.

An empowered people should not mean a weakened government. It is not subdued officials. It is neither a troll nor a rabid mob. It speaks and it listens. It is able to calmly sacrifice for the greater good. It is the good taxpayer and the keen stakeholder. It is “We.”

It should stay that way. At once, we should leave all the needless wrangling at the gutters and go to that place where healthy discourse is the norm.
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