CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 March) — Please be patient and read on. If you think this makes sense, share it with your neighbors, then broadcast it to all cyber denizens and networks so it will reach as many as possible of the leading citizens of the 42,000+ barangays of our republic.
Every one of us lives in a barangay; we are part of the grassroots. But we habitually surrender barangay affairs to others. Because we don’t participate in its governing processes, traditional politicos (trapos) freely call the shots and dominate our community. So our neighborhoods fall prey to political predators who turn public service into self-service, politics into a livelihood, and public offices into a family enterprise. They control society, flooding our democratic space with patronage and wrong-headed values, then overwhelm our precincts with the votes of our neighbors who don’t pay taxes, don’t value their vote, don’t really care who’s in charge as long as they get something for their vote. This careless attitude is influenced no little by their impression that we don’t care either!
IF WE CARE…
If we care, goes their reasoning, we would be seen in the barangay hall, even if just occasionally, and maybe take part in meetings there. We would help identify or define the community’s problems, maybe also suggest solutions. We would share knowledge, technology, or expertise for the common good. Maybe we would also help prioritize our community’s needs, offer support for them, or even create programs for alleviating poverty in needy neighborhoods. Then who knows, perhaps new opportunities will open, productivity will improve, and the gross barangay product (GBP) will contribute more to the gross national product (GNP).
At the least, goes their thinking, we would help explain why good governance in the barangay (primary level) is essential for upper-level governance. But that’s only if we care.
The core problem is our absence and non-participation in OUR OWN community. We’re rarely present or involved in the barangay commons. If ever, we’re there only if we need a clearance or a permit, or file a complaint. Our absence, our invisibility to barangay folks, reinforces the impression that we don’t care. And let’s face it, DO WE CARE?
CASE IN POINT
For example, on March 30, Saturday, our Barangay Assembly is scheduled to meet. It’s in accordance with a DILG circular directing that it should convene, nationwide, and take up a specified agenda. Barangay officials comply with it, of course, which is not a bad thing. But it doesn’t strike anyone that the business of this Barangay Assembly—our community’s legislative governing body, a parliament except in name—is and should be our concern primarily. It is ours, we are its members, “members of parliament” in small letters, so to speak. This being so, its agenda ought to be centered on our concerns, problems or priorities, and the frequency of its meetings should be based on our need or desire to congregate—not just twice yearly as the DILG ordains but as often as we need to or want.
Does your Barangay Assembly ever meet at its own behest, with an agenda dictated by your community’s interests and priorities? Chances are it doesn’t! It convenes only (as it will on March 30) if it so ordered from on high.
PASSIVE PEOPLE POWER
No one sees how this dependency on directives from above weakens our ideal of self-governance and autonomy. It conditions us—the grassroots, the base of our democracy, the wellspring of sovereignty and government authority—to be passive, to take no initiative in managing our affairs except as instructed. It deadens initiative, stifles People Power, and weakens our sovereignty.
On March 30, unless we show up, the Assembly will take place as before—attended mainly by people beholden to trapos and who support candidates of questionable competence or morality. Our absence will ensure that more Lito Lapids, Bong Revillas, coup plotters, leftist free-loaders, scions of political dynasties, and other predators of our society will get seats in Congress. It’s what happens when sovereign citizens yield the commons to the misguided or easily corrupted: voters who think elections are a game of popularity and name-recall or who see in it a chance to get favors and free meals from moneyed candidates.
With only sycophants and impressionable people in attendance, the Assembly will be nothing more than a campaign rally or miting de avance for the ruling bunch: speeches, pompous reports, the Chairman’s long-winded summary (usually its high point), followed by Other Matters, a token Open Forum, and Free Snacks. It’ll be long on grandstanding, short on deliberation, zero debate, and no formal motions or resolutions… hardly the proceedings of a legislative governing body composed of the citizens themselves; it’s their Assembly, after all, not the officials’. The one opportunity where citizens and stockholders of the barangay (as a public corporation) get to consider their community’s wellbeing, development plans and budgets, will again be lost, defaulted to the usual oligarchs.
Meanwhile, politics—corrupt, wrongful politics—will continue to bastardize our society. All because we at the base of the Republic are remiss. And it won’t get better unless some of us take the trouble to learn and explain to others the nature of governance in the barangay, the role of its “parliament,” and our role as the people in whom our republic’s sovereignty resides and from whom all government authority emanates.
But just this once, let it be made clear to all: this Assembly is the occasional in-gathering of the constituency. It is literally a Constituent Assembly, and more so than the “constituent assembly” that Congress becomes if both houses convene jointly in order to amend the Constitution. After all, senators and congressmen are merely proxies and representatives of constituents while we in the Barangay Assembly are the actual constituents.
Too long has lack of knowledge and information about this grassroots government emasculated Filipinos. In their ignorance, they are unable to influence governance, unable to impose their will upon their own officials—servants who take them for granted and act like they are the masters. This explains why Filipinos do not oversee their own community or participate meaningfully in its governing process, making grassroots governance susceptible to manipulation and corruption.
It is this susceptibility to manipulation and corruption that makes it imperative for the educated sector of every community—the A & B category of residents (generally viewed as role models and pace-setters)—to be attentive to their barangay’s affairs. Their involvement is important for inducing the solidarity needed to keep the community together, to add vigor to its democratic process, to make it vibrant but peaceful, to induce progress and stability, to ward off or keep away bad influences, and to resist manipulation and corruption.
Teaching by doing
The Assembly on March 30 is a chance for those who claim to want to “educate” people about values or civics. Affirmative acts that promote good governance or exemplify responsible citizenship can better educate the electorate than lectures, just as deeds and good example more effectively “teach” values and ethical standards than sermons. The outlook, standards, and work ethic of progressive sectors need to be affirmed/demonstrated in the community for the edification of the masses. It will motivate them to be discriminating about their political decisions, and “teach” them to vote wisely.
Let the March 30 Assembly be an opportunity for affirmative action in our respective communities. It’s one of those little happenings in the barangay that make up the big things in the nation, just as the customs and practices at grassroots level make up the culture of a nation. Carpe’ diem!
For a more elaborate background on why we should participate, ask us for the paper, “Essential Attributes of the Barangay” or the GBM’s Yellow Book. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )