MY FACEBOOK, MY POLITICS (OR WHY I CHOSE TO WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT)
This two-part essay was written and posted on my social media account a few years ago and I find it worthy to be shared on my 10th year of service in government. It has become relevant now more than ever and something which my fellow millennials can also ponder upon in light of the upcoming 2022 elections.
Working with young government employees and youth volunteers in the field has also taught me one thing – do not deliver a lecture. We hate being told and preached at. We are tired of ivory tower intellectuals whose last names are a challenge to pronounce.
We appreciate it more if you show us how it is done and why something doesn’t work because that’s when we learn and improve ourselves – by acquiring knowledge through experience.
You can lecture for a day, and we can fake listening. You can buy all the ad time and perhaps put-up personalized ads on our newsfeed everyday, but nothing beats learning by doing. Being on the field with Barangay Ranger Officers and Barangay Health Workers, talking to them and asking their sentiments would give you a better story. A story that is more honest and more personal.
In the end, government will not make you rich. Public service demands a lot, and it will make you poor eventually – if you do it right. You become a willing victim of ‘abonation’ – paying out of your pocket for emergencies and not expecting the government to pay you back.
Teachers say teaching is ‘sacrifice’, then ‘government service’ should be the ultimate sacrifice. It is a vocation you cannot fake. You stay in government because of a vision greater than yourself and not because you want to enjoy the comforts of job security. Often, we don’t get paid for overtime and more is demanded of us beyond the job descriptions in the civil service forms we filled out.
As a young civil servant, I realized that the best way to make sure citizens know the value of what you are doing is to make them be a part of it. You listen to their suggestions and then decide as a group on the best way to implement a task. As more people get involved in a project, the more they see its value and thereafter pass the story to the people they know. What is important is what we ‘share’ and not what we just ‘like’. If we want to have a say on how this society is managed, voting is just one of the ways given to us but it is not the only means to an end. More importantly, we have to listen, ponder and observe on how policies are created and how it will affect us and the next generation to come. Above all, we need to participate. There’s the drag of the boring Barangay Council meeting and the cold and lethal boredom of listening to Sangguniang Bayan members deliberate on measures that will affect us, our community, our schools, our neighborhoods and our families. I wouldn’t recommend that you attend their sessions every week, but only to be keen on what they’re discussing on the floor or what policy they’re formulating and how it will affect you and your children.
Yes, change will not happen drastically, and believe me after working for government for almost seven years, it can be a real pain in the ass and it will drive you nuts. But who will talk and listen for you? Who will decide for your family? Who will be there when disaster strikes?
Much as you hate your Mayor or your Barangay Captain, government is tasked to respond to all these scenarios. Yes, we have a great belief in what a community or an individual can do, but since you’re paying for the government to run, why not make the best out of your monthly taxes?
We need to make government more responsible and most critical politics is done before any policy is made and before any disaster strikes. Indeed, there is more to be done. More pressing tasks to be accomplished. Yet, my belief in the energy and idealism of youth does not wither and I refuse to let it die.
Seven years in government and I have become a closet optimist.
A friend once told me, that the more you understand your history the more optimistic you become. First level of historical knowledge leaves you cynical, the second leaves you in despair and after years of careful thought you become an optimist. The most crucial historical force is revealed before your eyes – the only thing that is constant is change.
And yes, things will get better.
With all the terrible news I watch on TV and the rants/posts flooding my newsfeed, I learned to see the value of what I’m doing. I also realized that government is not for the faint hearted. It’s a love -hate relationship. I have fallen in love with the enthusiasm of the people I work with and the goals we are trying to accomplish. Government service can and does build character. With changes happening one step at a time, I am hopeful that this generation will greatly contribute in moving this society forward.
It is difficult for me to say but hard-headed as I am, I still believe that things can and will get better. Slowly at first and if you’re lucky and live long enough, you will see the results. My Facebook newsfeed, while I’m typing this essay, is replete with pictures of my high school classmates hitchhiking from one country to another, migrating to Canada, working for multinational companies and enjoying everything that life has to offer. I could have done the same thing (many times I was tempted) but a twisted sense of destiny has convinced me that I should stay. The last thing on my mind is to grow stubborn complaining about everything when I grow old. I want to end up with the comfort and satisfaction of telling myself ‘I tried.’
For a democracy to work they say that people have to be mature and educated enough to make it survive. In my experience, democracy works best if people are willing to work and they listen to each other (which our education system has failed to teach us).
The most genuine manifestations of democracy I have seen are in the backwater villages, in remote rural areas where the comforts of modern life have failed to invade. In those places, people are forced to seriously ponder on issues, consult everyone in the community, hold their leaders accountable and deliberate on matters that affect them because probably what will come out as official policy will affect how their children can get access to education, decide on where to get the salary of the teacher or whether the school will close, concerns on the best irrigation system for the farm lands and problems on where to get capital to provide livelihood for unemployed mothers.
Perhaps I can start quoting study after study and figures upon figures on the current state of things. But somehow, I refuse to. I can enumerate the indicators and the crucial numbers we all need to know but experience has taught me that the worst thing you can do is to intimidate your audience. ‘Participatory democracy’, ‘creating shared value’ and ‘climate change’ we can tackle in the next conversation. Those big words and intimidating concepts can come later. Indeed, for the personal to become political, we need to engage and stay grounded in the realities of the world we see outside.
The best thing I can do at this point is much simpler, I am inviting you to join me for a day or two in the field, see what I see, observe what most of us are doing and let’s have freewheeling conversations with the ordinary folks from the barangays we visit. Thereafter let’s talk and I’ll be more than willing to help you unravel the complexities of social problems and issues with you. We just need to keep our eyes and ears open.
The Greeks have always believed that ‘hope’ is an evil virtue. And my life has always been a futile struggle to prove them wrong.
My personal journey to make this life truly meaningful has brought me to the most depressed and poverty-stricken areas. When most of my generation prefer to work abroad, I have chosen stubbornly to stay.
I had to come home and start in a place where I was born and raised.
Because at some point, in this ever more complex world we live in – drowned with the overflow of information, mundane social media feeds and negative images – it is our personal responsibility to go back to where the real and ‘closer to life’ wars are waged, where numbers in the statistics are not just innocent figures but real people in our neighborhood and in our community whose faces we know so well.
That is, to restore and rebuild hope in all the places we visit while we can.