By May Zuleika Salao and Michael Henry Ll.Yusingco
EVERY Filipino has been taught that bayanihan is the indigenous cultural phenomenon of community solidarity. It is the “bayan” demonstrating the will to work together to achieve a task.
Bayanihan is the manifestation of an individual’s innate capacity to see himself as merely a part of the larger whole. Indeed, it is the spirit that pushes one to freely act for the benefit of the group.
The most familiar illustration of bayanihan is the image of a bahay kubo being carried by the village. However, we think that a more authentic representation would be the Banaue Rice Terraces.
This wonder of the world is testament to a community singular in its goal to thrive. The mastery of the mountains is a result that no single individual can lay claim to. Indeed, it is incontrovertible proof of the power of collective action.
Sadly, bayanihan is on its last breath these days given the prevalence of anti-social behavior constantly displayed in the public sphere. The rampant littering in our streets and beaches and the annoying counter-flowing vehicles during peak hour traffic are just some examples.
Revitalizing bayanihan in our national psyche can be an effective antidote to this self-centered mind-set dominating Filipino society today.
Remember the advice of Apolinario Mabini in “The True Decalogue”: “Always look on your countryman as more than a neighbor: you will find in him a friend, a brother and at least the companion to whom you are tied by only one destiny, by the same happiness and sorrows, and by the same aspirations and interests.”
Indeed, an outlook underscored by social responsibility can end the “me and my family first” attitude pervading in our culture. And more critically, it may eventually countervail the acrimonious divisiveness plaguing our political system.
In this need for social responsibility that bayanihan exemplifies, it could clarify our thinking if we momentarily consider social integration and political participation. These are two separate social realities.
We, Filipinos, may be cohesive as a nation but possess limited opportunities for participation or, we may be fragmented yet participate in the same political events such as voting.
In terms that perhaps may be better grasp by our millennials, social integration refers to cohesiveness as a nation. It acts as the software that runs or directs the hardware that is our state and its government.
The waning of bayanihan as our grandparents (or, great grandparents) recognize it, more so this attitude of “me and my family first” tell us that modernity may be fragmenting our nation. Modernity with its push toward new ways of life and doing things challenges our resilience as a people. Discontents from our modernizing economy may be weakening and fraying our national fabric though at the same time, our history, education, and new communication technologies strengthen and unite us together with our geography and the gift of our natural environment.
Amid these contrasting forces, we thus employ politics and governance to wilfully steer toward our chosen destination. Building our nation-state has its own, concomitant issues involving “top-down” and “bottom-up” change processes.
“Top-down” and “bottom-up” are not either/or propositions anymore. Our nation-state has been around long enough and we learn from this past that choosing one over the other restricts possibilities. Moreover, it harms social integration needing initiatives from both top and bottom. Because while “top-down” seldom witnessed wealth “trickling-down,” “bottom-up” saw significant instances of wayward social movements and uprisings.
To favorably harness both these change agents toward nation-state building, we therefore ensure mechanisms in-between: these are “transmission belts” that facilitate communication and consequently, resource flows spreading power and wealth thus widening dimensions at the center for a diamond — rather than a triangle-shaped social hierarchy.
Twenty-seven years of decentralization should have served as a mechanism bridging top to bottom through the creation of a larger center or middle-class. Though there have been gains, decentralization as an avenue for political participation remains mostly untapped as its powers remain underutilized, and we wonder the many ways that this top-down policy has been failing the many.
In the meantime, the bottom risks danger of falling-off when our people in large numbers opt-out as they are pushed-out. Numbers and statistics illustrate growing inequalities as well as failed opportunities but the unending narratives of our children, women, and men about their dwindling life chances articulate human experience in more graphic terms.
And now within weeks, we will embark on another project contributory to enhancing our political participation — the barangay elections on May 14. At this point in our collective history, this is where social responsibility calls. The barangay serves at the lowest end of the transmission belt of decentralization remaining elusive up to this day.
As the closest, most accessible and personal representation of government and the state, the barangay performs a strategic role in this relentless consolidation of our formal institutions in a context of weak social integration.
Toward shaping social integration, therefore, what are the political resources available to the barangay? The barangay formally institutionalizes bayanihan as a governance and policy making ethos.
According to the Local Government Code of 1991, the barangay as one of the political subdivisions of the republic is likewise deemed as “a forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered.” (See Section 384)
The barangay can potentially lead us back to that community mind-set in finding solutions for our country’s many problems. And possibly even wean us away from our dependence on “saviours” who for the past decades have gotten away with varying degrees of promises from establishing a strong republic to leading via a straight and honest path to just bringing “change.”
It is worth noting that respected economist, Solita Monsod, and Mindanao political analyst, Manny Valdehuesa, have long urged Filipinos to actively participate in the respective barangay assembly sessions. Precisely, because this is an excellent way to exert “people power.” It is the venue for the people to exercise direct democracy.
But surely, closing the gap between vocation and reality always brings challenges. A vocation as an ideal for our well-being as a nation-state has already been enshrined as a formal structure. This is the Local Government Code of 1991 that provides for greater political participation down to the level of the barangay.
Yet, our bayanihan culture wanes, social integration declines. Going out to vote in the barangay elections initiates renewed efforts at arresting these forces that degenerate. Instituting bayanihan in governance and policy making means heightened civic participation beginning May 14.
May Zuleika Salao is an assistant professor, School of Law and Governance, at the University of Asia and the Pacific. She is currently a Visiting Scholar at the Global South Studies Center, University of Cologne.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a lecturer at the Institute of Law of the University of Asia and the Pacific and nonresident Research Fellow at the Ateneo School of Government.