WORM’S EYEVIEW: Consensus and Our Barangay Assembly

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/11 November)–Coaxing harmony out of diversity is a difficult task. Imagine how much more difficult is bringing harmony to a region so diverse and complicated as Mindanao.

Amid contending ideological forces—personal, political, economic, religious—it has been very difficult for Mindanawons to form a consensus on any issue. But regardless, we are Mindanawons and the fate of our island region is at stake. So we must try.

Knowing how culturally more diverse is our region, we need to try even harder. So we can get our act together and do our share of nation-building. We are, after all, a vital component of the Republic and much is at stake.

But to succeed, we need to define or clarify our vision and agree to synchronize our goals. We need consensus on which to build a durable future. Working towards consensus can be contentious and tricky but try we must as never before, doing so of our own accord, under our own initiative, regardless of external intents or attempts to channel us towards a future we cannot easily relate to.

We should have been enabled to do this before, facilitated but not dictated. But the central powers are stuck in colonial mode, patronizing, initiating processes, acts, and decisions determined by Central Authority, imposing preconceived (ill-conceived?) notions of what should be, leaving the bulk of Mindanawons cold and unresponsive.

We Mindanawons should reinvent the process ourselves. We should start over if necessary—at our pleasure, as sovereign citizens in our own right. We should be free to chart our destiny even as we desire to contribute to the destiny of the nation as a whole.

Anyone who has experienced life in small-town America (or even in Manhattan where there’s a town hall just off midtown Broadway) may recall how or why Americans hold a Town Hall Meeting. There is an urge, a habit, or an impulse in them dating back to their country’s formative years to assemble as a community whenever an issue of common interest or concern arises.

For them it is perfectly natural to assemble in the Town Hall to deliberate and exchange views, generating insights, factoring opinions, suggesting actions, and even debate. They would then take a vote on a resolution or a course of action that meets everyone’s satisfaction, or at least the approval of the majority. It is democracy in action.

The result is consensus, a refreshed social contract that binds everyone to the substance and intent of the resolution or course of action. Of such consensus is political will made.

Consensus affirms communal desire, promotes harmony, fuels cooperation, and assures the common good. The process of forging it is a great thing for a community. It brings neighbors together, literally, in an in-gathering and sharing of aspirations. It brings out ideas, new and old. It shines a light on differing viewpoints and clarifies them. And it identifies and crystallizes alternate modes of action, behavior, or attitude.

Out of consensus are points of disagreement among citizens teased out and woven into agreement and compromise—all in a peaceable manner. It lets everyone identify ways of developing what’s agreed upon into doable tasks. It conciliates and provides rational guidance on how to deal with what’s not easily settled.

Consensus builds harmony, which is what multi-cultural Mindanao and multi-ethnic Philippines need. Out of harmony, solidarity arises. From solidarity emerges peace and resolve to resist threats, internal or external.

To a large extent, it was the Town Hall Meeting that forged consensus and solidarity in America, then and now.

In Mindanao we can move towards consensus using our own version of the Town Hall Meeting: the Barangay Assembly, a much-ignored, much-underrated mechanism for the expression and assertion of citizen sovereignty in our Republic.

The Town Hall Meeting in America is a communal habit, a reflexive act of citizens during times requiring deliberation and togetherness such as during an emergency, if a common threat arises, or if the community needs to make a momentous decision such as during election primaries.

If only we would, the Barangay Assembly can do the same for our society and save our Republic a great deal of unnecessary trouble—including insurgency or peace-making.

Our failure to appreciate or utilize what the Barangay Assembly can do has deprived our society of many things that consensus can bring about. It has stunted progress in our community and caused it to rely upon oligarchs and pork barrel-bearing trapos.

It has kept politics at the grassroots from maturing and societal solidarity from firming up and congealing.

Our failure to congregate, to convene as a constituent assembly, to speak up as the source of state sovereignty and government authority that we are, has kept us from forming the consensus necessary for consolidating our political system and for compelling action by the bureaucracy on any issue or any concern, large or small.

Result: as a community, because we don’t define what we want, we don’t really know what to aim for.

Purposeful advancement or progress needs consensus and the cooperation that arises from it. Without consensus, there is no political will or purposive prosperity. It leaves societal concerns or matters of state to chance and citizens aimless.

Not least, the absence of consensus reduces the idea of community to a mere collection of self-obsessed individuals in a dog-eat-dog competition among selfish families ruled by presumptuous dynasties.

Finally, it leaves the barangay community uncoordinated, weak, and easily manipulated. Which is exactly how trapos, oligarchs, and their dynasties want our society to remain, now and for all time! (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.)