CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/19 March) — In her glory days, Pres. GMA referred to our country as a ”Strong Republic.” Perched atop its totem pole, I guess it was flattering for her to characterize it as such. So cavalier of her, though, as if saying so made it so; as if corrupting it or allowing it to be corrupted wouldn’t weaken it.
In truth, ours has been a weak republic, enfeebled by shameless trapos, exploited by opportunistic dynasties, abused all around with impunity. So we have a big job to do. We need to restore its integrity, make it truly strong as only a mighty citizenry can make of a nation.
We can do it by making sure every component of the republic, every barangay, is people-powered, assertive, and bound together by a political will that no one can unbundle so readily.
Barangay, our Small Republic
Let’s keep in mind that barangays are small republics—each with its own territory, populace, government, and (though limited) sovereignty. The big Philippine republic draws its strength from these small republics.
All Filipinos live in them—distributed throughout 42,000+ barangays, our unique communities, the home of sovereign citizens, the base of citizen power from whom all government authority emanates.
The key to national strengthening lies in these small republics. Even a little effort by enlightened citizens in them can change reality, much as retouching the tiny details of a photograph can change the picture.
If you want change, no need to look elsewhere, no need to look beyond. Simply tend to your own barangay and ask others to do the same in theirs.
To beautify the country and make it more attractive, simply beautify and clean up your own little barangay. To improve the nation’s health, simply ensure that health care is accessible in your barangay.
To raise national productivity and expand the GNP, simply create jobs, upgrade local productivity, and increase your local economy’s Gross Barangay Product.
For a more civilized, crime-free country, simply enforce the laws and ordinances and stop criminality in your barangay.
And to improve politics, ban or remove the anomalous practices that pervert the political process in your barangay. It is where trapos blithely pervert elections and democracy.
All these you can do or work on, along with your neighbors, by simply being active and involved in the barangay’s governing processes—which you are bound to do as a bona fide citizen.
These are the small things in the barangay that make up the big things in the nation. Filipinos who belittle these chores in the community, or who refuse to take action, are the great barriers to social reform, political maturity, and economic progress.
Very soon, our village officials will announce the convening of the Barangay Assembly, synchronized nationwide, to take place Saturday, March 29.
Will they issue a written notice indicating its agenda, including items of particular significance to you and your neighbors? Will they furnish the notice to every household? Important questions these, with implications about the law, the role of the people in local governance, and about how serious the national government is about autonomy or self-governance.
If there’s no written notice, it violates the law which requires that such notice be issued and distributed at least one week in advance.
If the officials dictate the agenda and not even bother to ask people what should be included or taken up, it discourages the spirit of autonomy or self-governance and belittles the role of the people. Let’s raise these issues!
Enfranchise and empower yourself along with everyone by preparing well for the Assembly. Then actively participate and see that it performs its role as the community’s legislative governing body, its parliament and supreme governing body.
This is a parliament with an all-inclusive membership. It should set the barangay’s direction, policies, priorities, budget, and service standards—a generally unfulfilled role. We should pass resolutions on these. Then they won’t take us or the others for granted anymore.
It is only this Assembly that can hold the chairman, the sanggunian, or their appointees accountable for their performance. You are a sovereign member of this Assembly. As such, you are also an official of the barangay government and a stakeholder/stockholder of it as a public corporation.
The Barangay Assembly’s role is similar to the stockholders’ meeting of a corporation, its highest authority. The sanggunian is the board of directors acting on behalf of the stockholders/stakeholders—managing day to day affairs of the barangay corporation, making decisions when the stockholders are not in session.
The law requires members of the Assembly to meet at least twice yearly in order “to hear and pass upon the activities and finances of the barangay” (Section 398, R.A. 7160, the Local Government Code). This means it may convene not just twice yearly, as is the current practice, but as often as necessary. Only by doing so can people their government’s operations regularly. And only through it can they ensure that the officials know and respect the popular will. And if the officials are unwilling, the people can convene it themselves.
What Filipinos still don’t know—their officials included—is how powerful this grassroots parliament called Barangay Assembly is; that it can remove or replace officials for loss of confidence (through Recall); and that this is official People Power. It’s time everyone knows and appreciates this.
Time also to know that apart from casting a vote, it is only through this Assembly that a Filipino can act and speak as a sovereign citizen—making known his sentiments or suggestions to government. Without this Assembly, he remains powerless—just as individual congressmen are powerless when Congress is not in session, or just as individuals do not constitute People Power unless joined by many more individuals assembled in one place.
No less important: unless this Assembly formally deliberates as a body, the community cannot form a consensus or decision on any issue that concerns it or the nation, nor can popular will be crystallized.
In a democracy, exchange of views or ideas is essential to forging consensus or popular will (usually capped by a resolution, statement, or declaration). “Deliberative conversations” they call it. Consensus forms the base of community solidarity.
Opinion polls do not produce consensus, nor express solidarity; only formal deliberation or exchange. Consensus flows from agreement or from a convergence of minds resulting to harmony and unity. People miss this point when they complain about divisive politics at community level, the grassroots.
It’s because no one bothers to explain the non-partisan nature of the barangay or that it’s supposed to be a parliamentary government and that parliamentary rules of order enable people to process their differences soberly, not violently.
But because the Barangay Assembly is never convened properly, even barangay officials do not take up issues or deliberate on them like civilized citizens do. They can hardly reach consensus or agree without knocking heads or decapitating dissenters!
Let the Barangay Assembly observe parliamentary practice. Let it follow parliamentary rules of order. Let our people will mature politically. Then they will learn to govern themselves!
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