CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 July) — We’re going through a period of voter anguish these days. There’s frustration and exasperation about chronic problems due to government’s inconsistent or errant behavior.
There’s anger about previously unimaginable plunder; many are sick and tired of endless news of abuse and venality that make a mockery of Matuwid na Daan.
Bewildered by this frustrating drift in the nation’s condition—over which we have no influence or control—we might just as well do something we can influence and control, and maybe derive some satisfaction from getting actual results.
It can’t be at national level, though, which is already overcrowded with wannabes and their gimmicks. Besides, the sheer volume and complexity of challenges at that level can be overwhelming for plain citizens to tackle. Even for one with great resources, and who devotes full time to it, the challenge can be daunting and end in deeper frustration.
Better to be practical and realistic, turning to fairly simple but important initiatives that are close to home, literally. In other words, tasks a citizen can and should do even with limited time, energy, and resources to spare.
The tasks should partake of nation-building—small chores in the community that make up the big things in the nation.
One such task is trying out autonomy or self-governance in our community, a task we citizens have not been performing although duty-bound to do so. The reason we haven’t done so, some say, has to do with a neglectful attitude or apathy. Others point to laziness, habitually relying on the few officials in the barangay hall to do the governing.
Yet we have long been mandated to govern ourselves, to make autonomy a reality in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
This principle requires that any task of government that can be done at a lower level should not be delegated to a higher level. It is the essence of autonomy or self-governance; but very few, if any, seem familiar with it—or, being used to rely on an oligarchic system, very few are comfortable with implementing it.
For example, the formulation of policies and plans for one’s community is supposed to be done in a participatory manner by the barangay constituents in conjunction with their local officials. But the officials don’t let them, preferring to do it by themselves.
The constituents aren’t even consulted. The officials don’t even bother to inform or invite them to hearings or meetings on the development planning process.
It has been like that since anybody can remember, such that even on rare times when they’re invited, they don’t bother to attend or participate.
This has had unfortunate effects. It has bred a cynical attitude. “What’s the use?”—people say, “they won’t listen to ideas or suggestions anyway!”
And it never seems to occur to the people that they can insist on participating; it’s their community, they’re the sovereign citizens, the officials are their public servants!
In fact, if they have no confidence in the officials, their public servants, they can replace them using their power of recall—taking back the power they delegated to them during the elections.
It takes only 50 signatures of the barangay’s constituents to trigger a recall initiative; but no one seems familiar with the procedure, or confident enough to initiate or spearhead it.
Meanwhile, without the people’s participation, no relevant policies or innovations are generated for the community and no comprehensive development plans are prepared.
This has been made plain where disaster after disaster strikes the barangays and neither the officials nor the residents are able to respond with any degree of preparedness.
Then since the officials are left to themselves, the plans and activities they do prepare are concerned with politically expedient programs and projects, which of course turn off the sensible constituents, deepening their apathy.
Thus, the official policy of autonomy for local governments starting with the barangays—our primary-level governments—still has to be realized after more than a generation since it was mandated. The people remain dependent on often incompetent or corrupt local officials who prefer things to remain as they are, meaning, under their total control.
For as long this situation prevails, the constitutional dictum that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them will remain meaningless to our people. And we shall never have a government of the people, by the people, or for the people!
Time to wake up and dust off your sovereignty, be assertive, and be in control of our republic!
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee, most outstanding columnist. He is President and National Convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc firstname.lastname@example.org