CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/25 January) — We’re often warned about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Well-intentioned leaders promise deliverance from hellish conditions, offering their leadership to bring people to the Promised Land, the equivalent of political heaven.
For example, in the wake of the euphoria of 1986 at EDSA, also known as the People Power Revolution, some leaders promised the enjoyment of freedom, empowerment, and prosperity that comes with self-governance. In a word, autonomy.
So it was that when the Local Government Code (Republic Act 7160) was enacted in September 1991, its sponsors proclaimed it in superlative terms as the dawn of autonomy for local governments and their constituents.
Autonomy or the people’s empowerment—in fact their “enthronement” in the community as its sovereign citizens—was then the most idealistic of goals set by the leadership at the time.
The autonomy promised by the Local Government Code was to have changed the nature and operation of the unitary political landscape—from the monolithic, top-down, command structure of the presidential system to the dual, people-powered structure which replaced it.
The Code provided for the duality of the structure by introducing the parliamentary form for the barangay, the primary level of government. But its mode of operation seemed to have eluded everyone.
No one seemed to notice that the leader it installed was a “little prime minister” or chairman to preside over the barangay’s affairs; nor did anyone seem to note that an all-inclusive parliament or assembly of local constituents was created for the role of initiating local legislation or ordinances.
As a result, everyone today still addresses the barangay chairman as KAPITAN as if he is a “little president” and no one bothers to activate the Barangay Assembly as a parliament of the people. The task of initiating local legislation has been surrendered to the Sanggunian, which is the board of directors of the barangay as a public corporation.
Moreover, no one seems aware that in the barangay’s setup there is no separation-of-powers among its three branches of government. More importantly, no one appreciates that the people have superior powers over their barangay officials. They can Recall or discipline their chairman or the kagawads simply for loss of confidence.
An appreciation of this power of Recall alone could clean up much of the dirt and corrupt practices that bedevil our communities—whose billions in internal revenue allotments (IRA) have done more to corrupt the entire bureaucracy of our Republic than people even suspect.
Had this new order for the barangay been functioning and institutionalized over the past three decades, the dual structure of our political system would have empowered Filipinos as never before—practicing its unique system of direct democracy with a parliamentary government at the primary level. But even now no one seems to know how to make the system perform, leaving the trapos free to manipulate and violate autonomy at will.
Had autonomy under this Code been properly implemented, the system would have given Filipinos their rightful share of power and resources—enabling them, at their own initiative, to energize the social, economic, and political development of their immediate jurisdictions.
But now—already 23 years in effect—the promises that fueled the Code’s enactment are lost in the mist of legal limbo as officials exploit its loopholes and eviscerate its mechanisms for enabling the people to assert their power.
Even the president of the Republic has caused the malfunction of the system’s dual structure by arbitrarily limiting the power of the people’s parliaments to convene, to deliberate on their own affairs, or to resolve their own problems. P-Noy has rendered autonomy or self-governance inutile. The law allows barangays to convene at least twice yearly, but the president tells them to meet at most twice only.
And so autonomy is stultified; self-governance is an illusion; and People Power is a mere flash-in-the-pan produced by a momentary surge at EDSA in 1986. Ningas Cogon, or merely a fluke.
Thus the old monolithic, top-down, oligarchic system that so characterized our traditional form of government ((presidential) is back in full operation.
Worse, no one seems to notice or to care how the traditional politicos, or trapos, are leading our democracy on the road to perdition by ignoring the dual structure. No one upholds the grassroots (barangay folks) as bulwarks of our Republic, its wellspring of sovereignty and authority.
The fact that barangay people are integral to the composition of our primary government, the primal base of state governance seems lost on everyone.
With their integration into the fabric of local governance, it has become inappropriate to lump local governments in an undifferentiated manner—because local governments today are already of two levels: Primary and Intermediate (municipal, provincial, regional).
To be precise in formulating a program, or in targeting its beneficiaries, one should specify the level concerned (primary or intermediate) or the unit itself (barangay, municipality, city, or province). It is important to differentiate between the regulating and the implementing function.
The regulatory and standard-setting functions essentially belong to the intermediate and national levels. Field work or local implementation essentially belong to the primary level, although it also behooves the upper levels to assist and support the lower, as is proper under the principle of subsidiarity.
Too, using the term “local government unit” (LGU) in an undifferentiated way blurs the distinction been the intermediate and the primary—belittling the role of the primary in which sovereign citizens are the major actors, and makes light of the people’s role in resolving strictly local issues.
No one worries that when local issues are left unresolved, they grow to unmanageable proportions; they accumulate and become serious problems, inviting external intervention or intrusion by the higher levels. The intrusions in turn create collateral problems—not least being the impression it projects that the upper levels are more important than the primary. It denigrates the role of the lower level in favor of the higher unit.
In fact, not only is every level important, it is essential to the functioning of the entire system. Unless every level is operational, the system malfunctions. Much needs to be done about the primary level of our Republic and fulfill its failed intentions. –30–
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