CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 February) — What a pity! It is now 28 years since we showed the world how People Power can be a force for peaceful change, and all we can show for the momentous achievement is practically just a moment of celebration, reminiscence, grandstanding, and pompous rhetoric once a year..
It’s the “TAGAY! Mentality”—carousing, bragging, self-congratulating, followed by inaction and what seems like sleep-walking.
All these years, instead of unleashing People Power to renew society and enable Filipinos to govern themselves—so they can create their own prosperity—much of the focus about EDSA is on its momentary glory. Little or nothing is done to build on the lessons learned from it.
Let’s face it: our people are still disenfranchised, powerless. They have no voice, not even in their own community. They do not or cannot influence government policy or operations. They are manipulated by trapos that call them “Boss” but treat them like cattle. Kept dependent on government initiatives, they cannot act on their own.
Every time EDSA is commemorated, the president appeals for patience as he recites a litany of government’s supposedly heroic efforts for progress, matched by a longer litany of problems still to be addressed.
As if only government and its efforts matter, the role of the people is forgotten or taken for granted. Nothing is done to empower them or to make of our society a working democracy.
And so we’re still basically stuck in neutral, with only a residual movement forward thanks mainly to external assistance, foreign investment, and OFW remittances.
Some readers find it novel or downright weird that I keep on harping on the barangay and the role of its citizens in the affairs of the nation. More so that I refer to the Barangay Assembly as a parliament.
I’m not surprised because they’re right in a sense, for nowhere does the term “parliament” appear in our laws. It’s a word heard only from Charter Change advocates who want to convert our presidential form of government into parliamentary. Quite a few of them think a docile parliament will enable them to manipulate policy more easily, e.g. remove term limits or restrictions on land ownership.
But the way they use the term betrays their ignorance of the fact that we already have a parliamentary system and that it has been ordained by law since over two decades ago.
What’s a Parliament?
Derived from the French-Anglo word “parler” (to talk, to parley), parliament is defined as a formal assembly or conference for discussing public affairs or issues.
In political science or civics, a parliament is a legislative governing body—one in which lawmaking and executive powers are combined in an assembly that can initiate legislation or ordinances, define or adopt policy, make decisions, review and approve budgets, correct undesirable policy through initiative or referendum, and discipline officials by removing or replacing them through the power of recall.
The Local Parliament
We already have such a system. It was legislated to guide grassroots governance since 1991 by Republic Act 7160, Sections 384, 397, 398. However, instead of “parliament” the law uses the term “Barangay Assembly” to suit our circumstances.
But this Assembly’s powers coincide with those of a parliament. Thus, a properly functioning Barangay Assembly can line up ordinances, raise or deliberate public issues, adopt resolutions, challenge questionable acts of officials, define standards of public service, and discipline or replace corrupt officials through recall.
Whether in England or Thailand, in Russia or Malaysia, in Norway or Japan, these are the functions of a parliament. Members of their parliament invoke or exercise these powers at their pleasure when in session; no need to wait till regular elections.
But there’s something special and unique about our Barangay Assembly as a parliament. It has an all-inclusive membership; meaning everyone of voting age in the community—the grassroots—is a member. Everyone of us is a ”member of parliament” in small letters.
This means every Filipino resident of the barangay—primary level of government—has the right and the power to participate in its governing tasks and processes. It is a unique system. And it is unlike the parliaments abroad—which are established only at national or regional levels and with members elected by district like our congressmen.
In our case, it is enough to be a bona fide citizen to qualify as a member of the local parliament.
It’s a system that provides a broad range of opportunities for a Filipino to participate not only in governing his own community but in assuring good governance generally. He can propose initiatives, pass resolutions, or give feedback to upper government units and officials.
Acting through his local parliament, any Filipino can influence governance and the political system in ways specific or general. .
It is very unfortunate, however, that this grassroots parliament has not received the attention it deserves. No effort has been made to explain its role, especially in assuring good governance at the primal level or base of our republic.
And because nothing has been done to explain the role of its members, no one knows how any citizen can stamp out corruption or establish standards of decency, propriety, or honesty in the government of his own community.
Thus, it is no surprise that no one pays attention to this local parliament, to its powers, or to its capacity to effect reforms from below. No one even questions why it does not convene at the behest of its members or why the community has to wait for a directive from the department of the interior and local government (DILG) to be able to meet and tackle its own agenda or areas of concern.
Unable to act on its own, the community is prevented from forming consensus on any issue. It cannot take a stand on anything affecting either its own wellbeing or the nation’s without being told.
So our communities lack solidarity or the unity necessary for forging political will. This makes it a liability instead of an asset to the Republic.
Then we wonder why as much as a third of our 42,000+ barangays are afflicted by insurgency or banditry while the rest are undermined by corrupt officials and dynastic oligarchs who show no concern for our republic’s stability.
Such a Weak Republic cannot fulfill the promise or the lessons of EDSA!
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, secretary-general of Southeast Asian Publishers Association, director at development academy of Philippines, vice chair of Local Government Academy, member of the Cory Government’s Peace Panel, and PPI-UNICEF awardee for outstanding columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org