THE Barangay elections this year, postponed for the second time, reminded me of how I quit politics just right after I started. Eight years ago, I was a young Barangay Kagawad at 22 years old in a community having one fifth of La Trinidad’s over-all population (just like Baguio’s Irisan). Driven by irritation perhaps, to problems in our urban-barangay, I convinced the people to vote for me and “order me” to help address said perennial challenges.
The magic phrase for them perhaps is: "order me." “Order this young energetic kid who knows how to use modern tools and who can help the older officials in crafting ordinances and resolutions, or in in the many community activities and projects.
Just after my second month however, I turned into a disillusioned wannabe who finally understood the word, politics. It is a foul system there where creativity and innovation are abhorred and efforts are mostly underappreciated. Aside from that, and as actual front-liners of local government units, I have to become a public property, addressing various personal solicitations and visits even in our home; from the poor mother needing money for her sick child, poor families asking for money to buy food and pay government fees, and from people asking for donations. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to help people in any way that I can. However, with all the financial assistances and donations that were extracting all the little I have, I was lucky that I was also a part-time college instructor (so I could still feed myself).
After a couple of years on the job, I was re-evaluating my life at the Shamolog Cemetery when some rugged men approached me and “ordered me” to buy them cigarettes. According to them, it is what I promised to the constituency: “order me around”. I obliged to their request, and walked out quietly after checking what is left of my dignity. After an internal battle, and though I won the re-election, I resigned after a year and decided to take my chances at the Municipal government unit to be a regular 8 to 5 employee.
The experience showed me a lot of things; one is the correlation between dole-out politics and corruption, and also a glimpse of the human condition in the grassroots level itself. Dole-out system is perhaps, the language that most people understand because it is the most tangible thing that they can experience – merienda, "tagay," enveloped cash, or what have you. For most, it is how they can finally experience, even for a moment, the benefits of government that they always hear. As one resident told me, "I cannot eat your ordinances and resolutions, just give me a kilo of rice."
Human nature including its frailties were exposed to me by the little peephole I had the opportunity to take advantage of. When you talk to senior citizens all day every week (including their life regrets), and have the front row to daily barangay cases – from physical injuries, to money claims, to abuses – you get older sooner than later, especially when you have the habit of internalizing those experiences and observations.
When I think of why I quit the "political ride," that scene of that "cigarette order" appears in my mind. Nevertheless, the real reason perhaps is because I felt “inadequate” and unprepared. That I have yet to learn or be more, so that I can be what the community needs. It would be unfair to the people who gave me the opportunity if I am not competent enough to serve them. If I cannot give the public their full order, I would rather give other emerging leaders the chance to serve them better.