WORM’S EYEVIEW: Quick review of the primary level of our government

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/07 Oct.) — As we approach the barangay election on October 28, let us review a few aspects that a constituent and a candidate should know in order to intelligently participate or steer the barangay’s governing system.

Knowing the nature and functions of the barangay is important to assure good governance at the grassroots. Moreover, it helps to view the barangay, not as the “smallest” unit of government, but as its PRIMARY LEVEL.

“Smallest” connotes insignificance that it matters little. But primary means first or of primordial importance. It may be small but to the body politic it is as important as the tiny cell is to the human body. One sick cell can cause cancer that kills the body. One unhappy barangay can unleash a band of terrorists or a platoon of rebels to threaten the country or hold it hostage.

The Philippine Republic consists of 42,048 barangays, each of which is important to security, to the economy, to national integrity, and to our history as a nation.

A Small Republic

The barangay is a small republic. It has distinct territory, its own population, its own government, and though limited, a measure of sovereignty. These are the essential elements of a republic.

As such, the barangay has a full-fledged government with three branches: executive (chairman’s office), legislative (sanggunian), judicial (Lupon). It has power to tax, power of eminent domain, and police or regulatory power.

But there is no separation of powers in the barangay government. All three branches are headed by one and the same official: the Chairman or Punong Barangay. Thus, unlike the upper levels, it has a parliamentary form of government—with the chairman as “little prime minister” and the all-inclusive Barangay Assembly as the local parliament.

Every constituent or voting resident of the community is a member of this Barangay Assembly. It is the community’s legislative governing body or parliament, its supreme governing body. In its sessions everyone has the right to participate and speak directly without need of representation. This is what is called a direct democracy—like those of Ancient Athens, in modern Switzerland, or in Israel.

A Public Corporation

The barangay is also a public corporation, just like a municipality or city. Its charter is the Local Government Code. It has its own resources, assets, facilities—and authority to transact business like any other corporation including the right to sue or be sued, to enter into joint ventures, and to earn a return on investment from its programs and projects.

This is a corporation that cannot go bankrupt—because its revenues are guaranteed from shares of national and local taxes and assorted collections, just like the higher government units. And it has capability to expand its resources and revenue earnings.

An Economy

Not least, the barangay is an economy in its own right—with land, labor, and capital. Its gross barangay product (GBP) is the local component of the Gross National Product (GNP)—the sum of private consumption, investment, government expenditure, import-less-export. With its many OFWs abroad, the barangay also earns substantial foreign exchange from remittances.

Barangay Constituents

A constituent of this primary level of government—the base or foundation on which our republic stands—has the duty to help keep it stable, progressive, and prosperous. It is an active, not a passive, role.

Filipinos tend to relegate citizen duty to others. Many think that casting a vote already fulfills a citizen’s obligation, leaving the tasks of participation to others. It is wrong to surrender one’s role entirely to the officials or to others, not especially to the less educated. There are policies and standards to define, ratify, or uphold. There are priorities and programs to help plan, monitor, and implement.

All these need to be done in a participatory, transparent, and accountable manner. Relegating them to just a few is an invitation to neglect, abuse, and corruption. It denigrates and frustrates the process of participatory governance in a direct democracy.

Democracy requires a citizen to participate and contribute or do what he can to promote, uphold, and protect the community. He must also ensure that the benefits of progress accrue to everyone equitably. In a direct democracy, government is everybody’s business; if you’re not involved; you can’t expect good governance.

Citizens must take responsibility for their community, to assert their ownership of it, to help make it a strong democracy for a small republic. It must be a dynamic government, an efficient public corporation, and a productive economy. Only then can it be a durable foundation for our Big Republic.

Thus, on October 28, be sure to elect only those capable of governing your parliamentary system with a direct democracy, your public corporation so it will earn dividends or returns on investment for everyone, and your local economy so it will boost production and contribute more to GNP. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa writes from Cagayan de Oro and is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com.)