CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/12 May) — The essence of federalism is local autonomy or self-government. In other words, it starts with the people; not with those who initiate it or invest in its establishment so they can cash in on it.
It should start with real people, citizens who constitute the dynamo of government in the community.
By that is meant the taxpayers and thoughtful citizens who make it possible to have a free, democratic, and progressive society.
Citizens committed to freedom, equality of opportunity, and democracy know more or less how to govern and how to participate in the governing process. It is they who really and truly want good governance; so they must be the starting point.
Unless federalism is anchored upon such type of citizens in the community, its chances of serving the interests of society is bound to be impaired.
In fact, the barangay’s role is central to the establishment of the federal system, being the historic foundation of our society and the basic unit of our Republic.
The spirit and processes of autonomy must dwell and be exemplified at this foundational level of our nation, making of every Filipino community a bulwark of democracy and people power.
Any move to establish the federal system, therefore, should be founded on awareness of its empowering spirit among the constituents of the 42,000 barangays.
This awareness is important to motivate people to assert their sovereignty, with confidence in their authority over their public servants, which will boost their expectations of good governance.
It is in wielding their sovereign power that citizens govern, exemplify autonomy, and invigorate democracy. Active participation and affirmative action empower a citizen.
And there is nothing more empowering than being engaged in the processes of self-governance. Empowered citizens are the best guarantee that the initiatives and programs of government truly benefit everyone and not just a few.
Thus, it makes sense to promote direct, hands-on involvement in the governing process in one’s community in order ripen the political maturity of Filipinos.
Confidence derived from the satisfaction of active, productive involvement in government is a decisive factor in community development.
From such confidence arises realization in a citizen that a) it is he or she who in fact establishes government, and b) that it is his or her decision (during election) on who governs at every level of the Republic that really determines the legitimacy and conduct of government.
Such realization projects to individual citizens and community at large the message that an illegitimate vote elects illegitimate officials and illegitimate officials establish illegitimate governments.
Seeing this cause-and-effect relationship between one’s vote and the quality of governance in vivid terms induces a thoughtful seriousness that makes a voter circumspect and discriminating in his election choices.
It is when such awareness is generalized in the community that a federal system of government becomes truly desirable. For then it would be founded on the power of the people below, not dictated by the desire of an official or group above.
In other words, federalism evolved the “pinatubo” way (grown from below) is preferable to the “pinatulo” or trickled-down way.
And it is best to introduce it when there is effective citizen participation in government at the grassroots.
Thus, proponents of federalism should start by promoting the idea to people, so they’ll understand its dynamics and their role in it.
Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. Author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor ofGising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]