Government by the people, our elections, and Manila Bay

Published March 13, 2019, 12:03 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



J. Art D. Brion (RET.)
J. Art D. Brion (RET.)

We shall once more elect our representatives and local leaders who shall join the government in leading the nation in the next three years.  This coming election is not a novel experience for us, but the complexion of our elections has been changing over the years; our election norms and practices have been evolving, though not necessarily towards our originally envisioned ideal.

Changes have come, dictated by new challenges and issues confronting the nation; by the candidates, their methods and moralities; by the political parties and their supporters; and, very often overlooked, by the people themselves.

Issues and the acceptability of candidates lie at the core of our electoral exercise and are for the candidates, their parties, and supporters to fully explain and justify to the  people. Our freedoms of assembly, speech, and association hopefully ease the way for the full communication of these issues and the candidates’ positions.

Obscured but not made any less important by the election noise are the “people” who exercise the power of choice that the elections embody.  Very few inquire on  who they are; on what they want; and on the direction their collective choice would lead the nation.

Many times, these concerns are simplified into an idealized stock reply: the people aim to elect a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, borrowing President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words.

While this simplified aim is interesting to discuss, this is neither the time nor the occasion to dwell on detailed answers. I find it enough for now, largely due to space limitations, to ask the question:

Do the voters understand that other than voting, they have continuing roles to play and obligations to fulfill to give flesh to the idealized principle that the resulting government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people?

I may be rash in my judgment but I believe that only a very small minority fully grasp the people’s continuing obligations in a working democracy: to vote and thereafter, to continually participate as an obligation. After voting, they cannot simply extend their hand to government in supplication and ask for what is due them as entitlements.

I pointedly verbalize my question for I believe that without the governed doing their part, no government can be effective.  When the government Is not effective, then neither can the nation attain progress however hard the elected government might try.

I cite as example the degraded condition of our once beautiful Manila Bay.  Years and layers of misuse and abuse have reduced the bay to what it is today — a foul-smelling open cesspool that only select and hardy aquatic life can inhabit and that now poses a health hazard to people.

A silent battle now rages for the future of the bay.  The rich among us want to create more wealth for themselves and their kind by further reclaiming and commercially using parts of Manila Bay.  They profess that reclamation would be an economic advancement that will benefit all and should accompany the Bay’s clean up.

Many of the non-rich, on the other hand, largely do not care, happy to enjoy the polluted air at sunrise and at sunset, and their swim at the bay, unmindful of health hazards.  They feel content to simply wait for the results of the government’s clean up and for the promised better times at the Bay.

Between these two extremes, a small but noisy handful argue for the welfare and protection of the bay as a natural resource.  They openly voice out their opposition to reclamation, and their demand for the complete and continuing clean up of the bay.

But this middle group only consists of a very small minority; beyond them are the silent majority – from both the rich and the poor – who simply want to live life as they have habitually done, throwing their filth and unmentionables into their sewage systems and esteros that all empty into the bay.

This impassive group should be motivated to act as a matter of civic obligation; they cannot only choose to vote.

Woe to the nation if the puny voices of reason would be disregarded and further reclamations would be launched to achieve greater “economic progress.”  For, history and experience tell us that such “progress” cannot be without its costs.  The bay, to be sure, would bear the brunt of development which cannot but worsen into further degradation once previously imposed strict measures are loosened as administrations change.

Woe,  too, to the nation if people’s ways would remain uncurbed and unchanged; this can only mean that the easy path to degradation remains open and inviting.

Lack of care for the upstream sources of degradation via the continued denudation of upstream forest areas will lead to the erosion of upstream soil into surrounding waters and waterways, and eventually into the Bay. This is one of the causes of our annual flooding, many of them needless and avoidable.

Continuation of people’s ways in using their sewage systems and esteros means that these waterways shall continue to be the repository of discarded wastes and refuse that have made Manila Bay the open cesspool it is today. These pollutants have killed aquatic life and will continue to lessen the livelihood sources of fisher folks, while leaving the bay waters a health hazard to people.

I do hope that in the coming elections the people shall elect officials with the courage to halt bay reclamations and support the continuing clean up of all our water resources. I hope, too, that  the government shall apply measures that will lead the people, rich and poor alike, to change their ways in dealing with the bay and with our other natural resources.

I do hope that these changes, if they happen, would become our new and customary ways of protecting our natural resources and the environment. In short, I pray for a cultural change that will stay with us despite changes in administrations.

I am sure that – given the political will it has demonstrated at Boracay and in combatting illegal drugs – all these the present government can do through reasonable measures consistent with the ways of the law.

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