During the past week or so, friends have been constantly asking my views on what is happening on the political front in Lianga and its province of Surigao del Sur. It seems that the tumultuous events that played out in the world news media concerning the recently concluded presidential elections in the United States and the proximity of the scheduled 2010 local and national elections here in the Philippines have whetted the appetites of would-be political pundits and observers in Lianga who would like to get the jump on the latest local political developments.
The truth of the matter is that I have become somewhat jaded about the thought of becoming involved whether directly or even indirectly in the next elections. Almost all of my adult life I had, both by choice and circumstance, always been heavily involved in the game of politics. I studied it, breathed it and toyed with it while in college. I practiced it on the streets as a student activist during the years of the Marcos dictatorship. And when I got back to Lianga I had to get involved in it big time because I had relatives serving in local government.
All those years, despite the natural cynicism that tends to develop in those who get sullied and dirtied by the more unsavory aspects of the way politics is practiced here, I have managed to continue to hold on, unlike many of my contemporaries, to much of the idealism with which I had always viewed democracy and the democratic process.
To me, empowering the ordinary people and giving them the tools, knowledge and motivation to actively and aggressively participate in their own governance remains the heart and soul of true democracy. A healthy, growing, evolving democratic system has at its center and nucleus a constituency and people who are confident of their voice and say in their government and who are not afraid to speak out and act when they have to.
In Lianga and more particularly in Surigao del Sur, as it is in most parts of this country, local politics has become, as the decades pass, more and more intrinsically tied up with the fortunes of well-entrenched political families and dynasties that so dominate the local political landscape that they have essentially co-opted and corrupted what passes for the democratic process in this part of the world. Thus members and relatives of the same family and their extended clan or their surrogates hold all the key elective and appointive positions in the local government from the provincial to the municipal and barangay or village levels.
The result , at least in the context of Lianga and its province, is practically a pseudo-aristocracy or oligarchy clothed and disguised in the form and rhetoric of democracy. Political parties, interest and pressure groups as well as other citizen organizations do not function as they should but have been subverted and serve only to prop up and protect the status quo and the power elite.
In the case of Surigao del Sur, for example, the powerful Pimentel-Serra and Ty clan has controlled provincial politics for more than a decade now. In alliance with the former Congressman Prospero "Butch" Pichay , Jr. and his brother and now incumbent representative of the province's 1st district, Philip Pichay, they have built a political machine unequaled in the history of politics of the province. All that may be in preparation for another rumored clash between the Pimentels and the remnants of the once powerful Murillo clan that dominated the provincial government in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
In the adjoining Agusan provinces particularly in Agusan del Sur, the Plazas and their cohorts reign supreme while in Agusan del Norte the same family is locked in a battle for dominance with the Amante clan. The Barbers family used to be uncontested in Surigao del Norte but now is fighting it out with the Matugas-Romarate tandem. In 2010, the electoral contests in these provinces will remain colored by struggles for dominance by these competing political families.
Lianga remains also a perennial battleground for locally based political families and clans. The Sarmens, Laynos, Pantaleons, Morenos and, only recently, the Lalas have fought for control of the town for decades. The fact that these families and clans are often interlinked by intermarriages and common interests often complicates issues. Alliances are common and usually temporary while the ultimate goal remains the ascension of the family and clan to political dominance.
Under this situation, the ordinary people are the victims of a corrupt political environment that promotes personalities and family interests rather than the general welfare. Elections are basically travesties of the democratic process where vote buying, voter intimidation, cheating and fraud are justified as legitimate means towards insuring the victory of the family's candidates and maintaining its hold on political power.
So what voice does the common man have under such an aberrant political condition? The answer is obvious. He has none. He is merely a pawn in the political chessboard for the giants to play around with. His role is to be used, abused and ultimately discarded when no longer useful or relevant. He is paid lip service to during elections. He is fed, entertained and paid for his vote. Then when the brouhaha is over, he returns to what is he has always been: voiceless, powerless and forgotten.
So when when friends ask me what is the latest political news from Lianga and Surigao del Sur, I tell them all the same thing. Whether you like Barak Obama or not and whether you followed the U.S. presidential campaign or not, marvel at how a message of change and renewal, of people empowerment and standing up for what you believe in coming from what everyone considered a political neophyte and underdog have resulted in one of the most remarkable and historic election victories in American history.
The look at Lianga and Surigao del Sur and the mess we have dug ourselves into. Change and change we can believe in were the catchphrases that have catapulted the first African-American to the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth.
That is something we, ourselves here, have to admit that we need today more than anything else in the world.