WORM’S EYEVIEW: Now is a good time for reforms

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/4 January)—This is a good time to start reforms, which to be effective should start at the grassroots, meaning at the barangay level. It is at this level where the rite and duties of citizenship are enacted and it’s a good idea to take the initiative close on the heels of the elections last October. There’s a new set of officials in place; there’s a need to remind them of their duties to the community; and it’s important to make them know the people’s expectations.

Electoral Reform

Although the elections this past October were focused on barangay leaders only, it’s important to keep in mind that all other leaders on all levels including the president are also voted on in the barangay. Barangays and their neighborhoods are the decisive arena for the election campaign of all candidates —house-to-house or recorrida, posters mounted in its common areas, and in places where no one bothers to remove them even if they’re illegal.

On election day, sample ballots are distributed in barangay neighborhoods and precincts, the hakot of captive votes originate and end there, and also the vote-buying and selling. In other words, whether elections at any level are honest or not depends on what the barangay allows to happen. And what the barangay allows to happen depends on two factors: its officials and its citizenry.

If the officials are corrupt, anomalies will be committed—like illegal posters and hakot or vote-buying; if the citizens disapprove and are vigilant, they can stop the corruption.

Now is a good time to review how the last election took place, what anomalies happened in the barangay (like partisan campaigning) that shouldn’t be repeated during the next election, and what the community should do even now to ensure they won’t be repeated. This would be an excellent topic for discussion and resolution in the Barangay Assembly (which the people should convene even without notice or clearance from tbe DILG).

Good Governance

New Year is a good time to review the conduct of every local government—barangay, city, or province. Has it issued a report on the status of its operations? They were supposed to have done that during the opening session of the sanggunian.

The chief executive was supposed to have outlined his proposed program of government, especially his priorities, before the sanggunian. Chief executives who don’t bother with these formalities keep the people in the dark about their plans, if any, and their aims or intentions.

Failure to inform the community results in making the people ignorant and apathetic about their right to know and to be informed of their own government’s initiatives and priorities. Keeping them ignorant or uninformed effectively allows officials to abuse their power, engage in corruption, and get away with it.

One glaring instance of the effect of this failure to report is the huge amount congressmen are been able to steal from their pork barrel. This has happened because their constituents don’t bother to require them to report. They can simply ignore the principle of consent-of-the-governed. There is nothing constituents can consent to if they are not informed.

The failure of constituents to convene their Barangay Assembly regularly has also served to keep them in the dark about their community government’s operations. They don’t know millions are being incurred on their behalf by their barangay officials.  They don’t even know about the millions being received and deposited in their barangay’s account. Their ignorance makes it possible for rampant corruption to be committed at the grassroots. One important role their Barangay Assembly is supposed to play is to serve as the community’s parliament—to be informed of proposed programs and projects, to review them, then approve or disapprove them.

After all these years, since 1991 when the Local Government Code was enacted, it is doubtful whether any Barangay Assembly is being informed or consulted of such initiatives on a regular basis. Consent-of-the-governed is violated even at the most elemental level of the republic—where the people, the source of its sovereignty, reside!

It is time barangay constituents insist on being consulted. And this a good time to start getting the official to comply!

Another aspect of local governance that the community should insist on is the formation of the Barangay Development Council—which is concerned with planning and implementing programs and projects, then mobilize community participation, and involve the people through the creation of functional committees. The barangay budget and annual investment plan are also supposed to be prepared in a participatory manner.

Those who refuse to comply with these requirements, or who defy such expectations from their constituents should be recalled and replaced for loss of confidence.

But sad to say, even this power (of Initiative and Recall) is unknown to the constituents. It’s another instance of ignorance abetting corruption and bad governance.

There are many other aspects of local governance that constituents ought to brush up on so they can actively work for good governance in their own community. It is time they realize that good governance requires their active participation.  (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.)