Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Local politicians often complain about the duties they are expected to accomplish as public servants. Professor Alex Brillantes explains the situation at the local level: ‘For many people, local governments ARE the government. They are the frontline, the firing line. People go to them for help, advice and assistance from womb to tomb.’ And as described by one local official, ‘During occasions of baptism, confirmation, wedding, fighting, death, burial, they go to you.’

The local official is not exaggerating since politicians are really expected to shoulder the financial burden of their constituents. They are supposed to donate a small or big amount of money every time they receive a request for financial assistance. There are members of Congress who are afraid to go home to their districts because they have no more money to give to their constituents.

That people seek monetary assistance from local politicians is an indicator of the failure of the national government to provide adequate social services at the grassroots level. For example, if there was an efficient universal health insurance system as was promised by the president, there would be no relatives of sick patients begging for money inside the offices of local politicians.

But politicians are also to blame for people going to them for financial aid. The precedent is set during elections, when politicians distribute small value items like clothes, food, school supplies and even cash gifts to buy the votes and loyalty of voters. Other election giveaways include movie tickets, eyeglasses, hats, kitchen aprons, shoes, graduation medals, water pumps, health insurance cards, scholarships and free burial services.

Politicians also often claim credit for the construction of various government projects even if public funds were used for the implementation of these programs. They plaster their faces and names on giant billboards to remind voters of the services and free items they have given to the community out of the goodness of their hearts. During campaign rallies, the beneficiaries of numerous social service programs are identified by politicians.

Instead of encouraging individuals and groups to be self-reliant, politicians are ready and willing (and even happy) to offer financial responsibility for the everyday needs of their constituents during elections.

The practice of asking politicians for money should be discontinued because it promotes mendicancy. Worse, some politicians justify corruption by citing the need to provide assistance to their constituents.

If gift-giving is the preferred tactic by politicians who want to win in elections, then only the rich and super rich candidates will win every three years. Rich politicians who won in 2010 will be defeated by richer candidates in the future.

Politicians should offer good governance and not their pockets. Let other groups and individuals practice charity. Politicians should not be distracted from their real work. Besides, distributing gifts to voters during the campaign period is a form of vote buying and it is illegal.

Politics versus Pork

But why discourage charity? Because solidarity is the better approach if we are sincere in helping the oppressed. Eduardo Galeano reminds us that “unlike solidarity, which is horizontal and takes place between equals, charity is top-down, humiliating those who receive it and never challenging the implicit power relations.”

If giving “pork” is to be dissuaded, what will legislators distribute in their territories? What “bacon” will they bring home to their constituents? The answer is simple: Politics. Distribute politics. Bring home politics. Promote politics. Practice politics.

Politics has a negative meaning since it is associated with power-hungry leaders and corrupt politicians but it should have a broader interpretation and value. Politics should not only refer to elections and to the persons who hold public offices; it should also involve the continuous but often tenuous interaction between leaders and citizens of a polis.

Politics is not something that only few people can enjoy; it should be familiar and useful to everybody in the community. Politics that truly empowers the oppressed; politics that promotes genuine democracy and solidarity in society. Politicians should bring politics, not Pork and monetary perks, to the grassroots.

Politics is more powerful than Pork. Infrastructure projects do not last forever since they can be damaged by natural elements and the next administration can order the destruction of these structures. If there is budget deficit, there is no Pork. After ten years, the people will forget the pork barrel initiatives of a politician. But politics is infinite since its source of strength is the inexhaustible will of the people. Through politics, the people can assert what programs and projects should be prioritized by the government. Through politics, the people can become the government.

The principal task of politicians, especially those who claim to be servants of the poor, is to create and enhance opportunities for the people to practice politics. Adopting the popular concept of good governance is part of the agenda but it is insufficient. Politicians should not just strive to be moral public servants, they must also believe in the primacy of political actions. Otherwise, performing personal acts of kindness will continue to be misinterpreted as a function of politics and this distorts the radical potential of politics.

A politician who renounces politics and concentrates on pork projects is a dangerous political creature. This is someone who deliberately obscures the political field which deprives citizens a better chance to engage in politics. The motive is to weaken and distract the political fighting capability of the people. A politician who rejects politics is a politician who is afraid of his constituents. He abandons the political project in order to embrace the politics of pork, whose sustainability is dependent on the personal generosity of the Mafia Master in Malacanang. In this case, the porky politician’s source of confidence is not the politics of the people but the violent machinery of the ruling State.

Practicing politics should be enough. Legislative performance can be easily measured by using various quantifiable indicators but how do we measure the “political” performance of politicians? It is the community who will judge the “politics” of politicians but History will give the final verdict. Let us include “politics” in the debates and we can begin by reminding the people that through their activities they can jolt politicians into action. It means politics is alive as long as the people are active and interested in creating a political event.

In summary: dump the Pork, practice Politics.

One Response to “From womb to tomb”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by mong palatino and RTpolitics, Ang Mungo. Ang Mungo said: RT @mongster: new blogpost: politics versus pork – […]

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