Be careful in making promises
Upon becoming a governor after years of being a broadcaster—switching from being an observer to being the one observed—one of the first things I learned was why people in government were often accused of making a lot of promises and not keeping them.
One possible reason is the sheer number of people who come to you, needing various things, often seeing you as their last and only hope. In my case, I was the answer that finally came to Isabela, after hearing almost nothing from those who came before me.
We have so many needy people in our country, and when they get the chance to talk to a mayor or governor any place, they will not let the opportunity pass.
One time, a lady who had just received holy communion saw me as she was returning to her seat. With the holy host still in her mouth, she stopped to tell me of a need in their barangay. I told her, “Manang, bumalik ka muna sa upuan mo at tapusin ang iyong dasal.”
Our poor people hang on to every little hope for their big needs. I have learned to be sparing of my gestures and expressions because even the slightest of smiles or a nod or two, as you listen to them, may be taken as approval of their requests, raising their hopes.
With the very limited resources of government, not every clamor can be granted. And even if one is able to grant a hundred requests, there are still a thousand waiting for a “promise” to be fulfilled.
When the request is not delivered when it is needed (and it is always needed right away!) a promise is once again broken by a politician.
One reason I ran for government office (even if I can hardly walk) was the way many of our people had become constituents of “Barangay Veinte”: Give them P20 and they are fine. Give them free medicines and they are okay even if you do not address the problem of why so many of them are getting sick in the first place. Build them schools and big hospitals, as is SOP. Allow them to sleep, dream and wake up to bet on jueteng three times a day for a little chance to have a better life.
This was the recipe for perpetual poverty.
Having been physically handicapped since I was 3, I have learned that life is not worth living if you are dependent on others. I have learned that despite tremendous limitations, physical or otherwise, no one is ever too inadequate to cope, to adjust and even to shine.
The lessons I have learned, I am now teaching to my apo Isabelinos. I tell them, “Use me as your visual aid.” Perhaps the Lord gave Isabela a governor who is physically weaker than most of her constituents so that, when they see her, they will realize that one can rise above one’s difficulties as long as one chooses to do something about the situation.
I have to tell our people constantly that the battle is not yet over. We may have defeated the dynasty but there are other things we have to fight. We also have to free ourselves from our own wrong attitudes, our misplaced values, our bad habits.
After four years as governor, thankfully I have learned not to say yes mindlessly to the droves of people who come to me for the things they need.
We have devised systems like my weekly People’s Day or Ugnayang Bayan that gives me the chance to listen to them patiently and assess their situation objectively. I explain to them the need to prioritize because of the limited resources of government, especially if they continue to have big families by failing to practice responsible parenthood.
More importantly, I always remind them, challenge them: Mas masarap tulungan ang mga taong marunong tumulong sa kanilang mga sarili.
I know that our poor people, including the jueteng kobrador (collector) and illegal logging bogador (laborers), know how to help themselves. But what they are doing to support their families is not easy.
It is the duty of leaders to direct their energies, their devotion to their families and all their sacrifices towards what is right, sustainable and dignified.
Those of us in government should learn to be careful in making promises and deciding what to keep. We should also remember that there is, in every Filipino, the promise of becoming an honorable, self-reliant citizen if given the chance, as well as the respect, he/she deserves.
(Grace Padaca has been the governor of Isabela since 2004 when she won over a long-entrenched dynasty under the battle cry “Free Isabela.” She will receive the 2008 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service on Aug. 31 for empowering voters to reclaim their democratic right to elect leaders of their own choosing. Other recipients of the 2008 Magsaysay award are the RP-based Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) and Thailand’s Therdchai Jivacate for public service; Prakash Amte and Mandakini Amte of India for community leadership; Ahmad Syafii Maarif of Indonesia for peace and international understanding; Akio Ishii of Japan for journalism, literature, and creative communication arts; and Ananda Galapatti of Sri Lanka for emergent leadership.)