Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Virus of Politics

Last March 5, 2007 I celebrated mass for the organization of concerned citizens of Taytay, Rizal Province. It was a reunion of friends and allies in the peaceful struggle for clean, competent and conscientious governance. I met this group of concerned citizens in the months leading to the 2004 elections. They were more than concerned, in fact very indignant about the state of governance of Taytay under its previous Mayor.

The issue then was the illegal attempt of the former Mayor to force market vendors to close their shops occupying the front section of their properties. The local government officials headed by the Mayor have argued that residents should not and cannot transform the front space of their properties into market stalls since their area is classified as residential and not commercial. Meanwhile, as the vendors and property owners were being harassed, the former municipal market was being demolished and the area cleared for the construction of a Mall. According to local sources, the Mall project belongs to a person closely associated with the former Mayor. The official act of harassing the townsfolk into closing their stalls makes sense in the light of the semi-official construction of a private mall.

Locals cannot be blamed for concluding that the on-going construction of a Mall is not a gratuitous favor of the local government officials to the one who owns the multi-million peso project. The town folks accused the Mayor and his council of corruption and pressured them to stop the project. A groundswell of support grew around the efforts of these concerned Taytay residents. Since elections were just around the corner, the concerned citizens turned the issue into a political campaign. They campaigned against the former Mayor and openly supported an alternative candidate.

This candidate won and is now the Mayor of Taytay. There was euphoria but it was short-lived. In no time the present Mayor busied himself with putting his family and friends in place. In no time, the Mayor acquires several new vehicles. According to rumors, the Mayor’s father is now in-charge of the popular but illegal home-styled lottery called “jueteng.” Early on, the concerned citizens organized dialogues with the Mayor they supported and elected into office. Gradually, the Mayor became more and more insensitive and deft to both advice and criticism. In no time, the initially clean and idealistic leader develops into a typical “trapo” or Traditional Politician whose only and primary concern is self-promotion, self-enrichment and self-preservation.

The “trapo” is not a person but a virus that pervades the system. More than political, moral and spiritual immunity is required to fight this virus. There is hardly no where in the system that one can move or hide without being touched and eventually contaminated by the virus.

Within the corridors of power lurks the virus. Not content it spills out into homes, streets, market stalls, offices, farms, construction sites and shore lines, schools, churches, malls, TV stations, radio stations, newsrooms, etc.

For many years now people of good will and clean consciences have organized themselves to fight this virus. They have even tried fielding their own candidates as alternatives to “trapo” (corrupted, polluted, contaminated) politics. This the people of Taytay have done and seemingly failed. But are the people of Taytay failures?

During the Mass, I stressed the importance of organization and more importantly the spirit behind it. How can the sick heal the sick? A thorough process of personal and collective cleansing and healing is necessary before, during and after joining the political fray. Rather discouraged, a number of the concerned citizens of Taytay wanted to give up the struggle altogether. But as we reflected together after the mass, it became clear that it is one thing to avoid the virus and another to arm ourselves against it. Just as disease is defeated by a strong immune system, so too is the “trapo-virus” to be defeated by a stronger immune system.

The concerned citizens of Taytay have started moving in this direction. They have organized themselves. They regularly meet to discuss, reflect, pray and even fast. Prayer and fasting will now be a regular component of their lives. For the last three years since, I started working with these inspiring concerned citizens of Taytay, I have been continually invited to celebrate Mass. During all these time, I feel the presence of something stronger and truer, the Spirit of God that never fails to give them wisdom, courage and strength to fight, to serve and love.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 20, 2007


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