Press "Enter" to skip to content

MONDAYS WITH PATMEI |Missing our concerned citizens

When I was a little girl, I woke up every morning to the sound of radio commentators holding the government accountable for every single thing it is responsible for. Not just government as an institution but also the elected politicians running it — from the barangay kagawad to the President of the Republic.


On the same radio programs, there was a portion where they took calls from “concerned citizens” and every opinion mattered and got airtime. I especially loved this portion because I got to listen to different takes on a single issue.


By the time I was ready to leave the house, I already had a good briefing of current events and what my fellow Davaoeños thought about them, including their proposed solutions to the problems we were facing that day.


Once out and about the city, I got the commentaries in person from my jeepney driver and fellow passengers and we would have friendly and lively public debates on board. We did not have electronic devices glued to our hands and ears then so we faced each other and interacted as a mini community. My route was then served by AC jeeps, which could only comfortably accommodate six to eight people, so we shared quite an intimate space.


I remember a Davao community full of concerned citizens growing up. Everybody had an opinion about social issues and how best to address them. So I was an opinionated little girl and grew up to be quite a social and political commentator. Actually, I have never met a Davaoeño who did not have strong opinions.


Our Davao community, even under martial law, did not fear the government or those running it. The default mode of a Davaoeño is that of a concerned citizen. We just cannot help ourselves with our side comments. Every open forum is an animated discussion. If you are indifferent and could not care less about a burning social or political issue, people will say you are probably not a Davaoeño. It’s in our DNA to meddle; to be “pakialamero.”


Lately, though, I have been missing our concerned citizens; our opinionated citizens who give unsolicited advice. Did they all disappear along with the genuine opposition in our politics and governance?


I know they are still there with their strong opinions but they just now stay hidden in their little online group chats instead of calling radio programs dishing out criticisms against the powers that be.


In an era when video bloggers dominate the public discourse on social and political issues, I noticed that the commentaries have all become personal, partisan, and partial to gossip. We have no idea what the facts are and what the truth is because we are bombarded with multiple conflicting versions of “the truth.” How do we know what is true or not? The “chismis” and the facts are all mixed together online like a TikTok dance challenge.


No wonder we have stopped being interested and invested in the news and in current events. We know there is the risk of being deceived and manipulated. There is also the risk of being bashed and trolled. It is just not worth the grief.


But what is happening online is also happening offline. Those who hold power bully those who criticize them. Critics get silenced by intimidation, alienation, and withdrawal of support. Some politicians even employ public humiliation tactics for maximum impact, making sure the message is received by those who dare oppose them loud and clear.


So if the politicians do that to their own colleagues in total disregard of our democratic institutions, what message does that send to our concerned citizens, who are the actual holders of power in a democracy?


Remember what one former President said about the people being his real boss? Well, I think that’s also fake news. Because what I am experiencing now as a citizen is similar to what I see in those gangster movies and television series. It seems we are being run like a crime syndicate because our elected officials are acting like gangsters. No wonder we are all afraid to speak up.


Recently, I have seen a viral video of a politician berating another in full view of the public. My first reaction was: “Whoa, am I watching Peaky Blinders?” Peaky Blinders is a British period crime drama starring Cillian Murphy about a crime gang that operated after World War I. It’s still on Netflix now if you are interested.


A powerful legislator was also declared a terrorist and it is unclear to me if he was accorded due process. The laws and procedures in this country change so fast and so frequently I cannot keep track. It is as easy as red-tagging, I suppose. Maybe it just takes someone in authority to declare you to be so. When it comes to shutting down enemies of the powerful, there is no red tape whatsoever.


Perhaps these politicians deserved what came to them. They are probably not model officials or even model citizens themselves. So what happens to the rest of us without that kind of power and influence? Well, we say nothing and look the other way and hope there will be someone braver to stand up and speak truth to power.


This makes me very sad because that is not the Davao I was raised in. Davao is a critical-thinking and caring community. It is because of our concerned citizens that we are able to transform this city from the “killing fields” into the “most livable city.” We are a city of pioneers and trailblazers and innovators. We are more than our government and elected officials.


So I am calling on our concerned citizens to show them who really runs Davao City.


(Patmei Bello Ruivivar – A columnist since she’s 8 years old. She is the President of Kahayag Foundation, Vice-President of the Davao Historical Society, Vice-President of the Rotary Club of Downtown Davao, and Vice-Chair of the Golden Unicorn Savings and Credit Cooperative.)


Powered By ICTC/DRS