The leaders we need at the local level

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

With the official campaign period for local candidates having kicked off on March 29, the political fever is only expected to become more intense and fiery. The battle for more than 18,000 positions in the provinces, districts, cities and municipalities all across the country is more often fought in a fiercer manner than the national positions.

The value of political endorsements for local candidates is always a major issue in every local campaign, and none more so at this time when President Duterte and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte have different choices for local candidates. In Metro Manila alone, there are five areas where father and daughter have conflicting choices. The Davao mayor’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) has forged alliances with different “political bigwigs,” but Mr. Duterte’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) has endorsed other candidates running for the same positions.

The bigger question now is how the HNP or PDP-Laban endorsements will influence voters at the local level. Political endorsements are seen to provide a boost for candidates hoping to create a bandwagon effect, but at the local level, the track record and qualities of each candidate are, in the end, often seen as more important than any endorsement.

Thus, local political dynamics play differently from national political party alliances. For instance, in many places, despite the many electoral reforms that have been institutionalized in the Philippines, the rule of “guns, goons and gold” still prevails.

Also, while the issue of political dynasties has attracted considerable discussion at the national level, it has not been a major deterrent against the rise of a fresh generation of political dynasts and warlords, even now. Most political families continue to pass their coveted positions from one generation to another.

A study covering the period 2007-2016 showed that political dynasties comprise about 75 percent of the Philippine government. The number has, in fact, only increased through the years — from 75 to 78 percent among district representatives, from 70 to 81 percent among governors, and from 58 to 70 percent among mayors.

The staying power of local candidates, especially incumbents, is determined by their ability to serve the parochial interests of their constituents, rather than any long-term efforts to promote inclusive and sustainable development in their respective jurisdictions. That system of patronage and pragmatism breeds widespread corruption, which is rampant among local government units (LGUs) and House representatives. Recent statistics from the Ombudsman show that LGUs rank No. 1 among government agencies in terms of the most number of cases faced at the Sandiganbayan.

And while local politicians enrich themselves by abusing the power vested in them, poverty worsens, the quality of social services decreases, and the people suffer.

Meanwhile, according to a Social Weather Stations survey commissioned by independent think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, the top quality that Filipino voters look for in senatorial candidates is “not corrupt,” according to 25 percent of the respondents. Candidates who have “concern for the poor” emerged as the second top quality (22 percent), followed by “good personal characteristics” (21 percent) and being “trustworthy.”

But these characteristics don’t belong only to national-level leaders. They are needed as much at the local level.

Analyzing a candidate’s credibility, competence and integrity is the primary responsibility of voters, whether they are electing a national or local leader. These qualities can be measured by looking into a candidate’s education, experience, record and advocacies/platforms.

Filipinos always call for reducing poverty, creating more jobs, and fighting graft and corruption in government. None of these concerns come as a surprise, since they affect the daily life of every Filipino. Hence, as we choose our local leaders this May, we need to determine who among the aspirants genuinely possess these qualities and are thus capable of uplifting the lives of our communities through basic good governance.

Local leaders face the challenge of creating jobs, improved basic social services and better governance in their districts. Voters should hold them to that task.

Filipinos deserve more local leaders who are, at very least, competent, trustworthy and not corrupt.



This article was originally published in

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