THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Mar Roxas, DILG, and the info gap they should fill

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/29 August) — Interior and local government secretary Mar Roxas has been in his post for some time now but he has yet to make his mark. He did better when he was trade and industry secretary where he studiedly cultivated a public persona as “Mr. Palengke.”

One wonders how come no comparable persona has evolved for his current cabinet position. He’s obviously trying to reinvent himself, build stature, and be a major contender for 2016; but unsuccessful so far.

Given his previous success and his knowledge of visioning a mission, defining its objectives, as he must have learned in management school long ago, it’s perplexing that he isn’t doing so well. It’s not as if he has no resources; he even enjoys an advantage as presidential friend and crony.

Actually all Mar needs to do is think out and sharpen the immediate and medium-term mission of his department, which is to consolidate or secure the interior space of the republic and assure good local governance by seeing to the correct implementation of the Local Government Code.

It’s a worthy challenge—and greatly rewarding if he marshals his resources and makes an impressive showing. One thing he can do is bridge some knowledge gaps that keep people from being empowered and officials from conducting the business of government properly, so that good governance will be institutionalized.

For example, no official, agency, or department has pointed out or explained how the creation of the barangay into a full-fledged government, a public corporation, and an economy in its own right (under R.A. 7160) introduced changes and new processes into the political system.

The government’s structure before consisted of only two layers: local and national. After 1991, it became three layers—primary (barangay governments), intermediate (municipal, provincial, regional), and national (top level). Rising from a base of 42,000+ barangay governments to a midsection of close to 2,000 towns, provinces, and regions, the structure tapers to the top, assuming a pyramidal symmetry today.

Before, the structure was monolithic, unitary under the presidential system, with a chain of command cascading from top to bottom, its operations typified by “trickle-down” policies and procedures—top-to-bottom planning, implementation, operation, evaluation.

After 1991, it was no longer monolithic or unitary but dual—parliamentary at the primary level (grassroots), presidential above (intermediate to national levels).

The barangay’s parliamentary character (no separation of powers) relocated political power from the top (command structure flowing from the president/commander-in-chief downwards) to the base from which rises the sovereignty of the state and the authority of the government. People Power exemplified.

Note that the punong barangay chairs all three branches, so he’s very powerful, with no built-in checks and balances to assure transparency or accountability. But the law established the Barangay Assembly which can temper the chairman’s powers, keeping him accountable and subject to the scrutiny of his peers. It’s an all-inclusive Assembly serving as the parliament of the community with power to hear and pass upon its operations and finances.

From these basic concepts flow a myriad of decisions and acts that no official, agency, or institution has bothered to point out or explain—causing unchecked aberrations and abuses.

One issue concerns a seemingly simple question of terminology: Is the barangay head a chairman or a captain? There’s a world of difference between these two terms and using either one has vital implications.

“Kapitan” is a military term referring to a commander who orders people around, people who are his subordinates. But a chairman merely presides, not commands. The constituents are not his troops; they are his peers, and he presides over them only as “first among equals” and is accountable to them.

A “Kapitan” is answerable to his superiors—all the way to the commander-in-chief, not to his subordinates or troops. His word is law to his troops; he doesn’t even have to entertain their questions or ascertain their wishes, much less obey them.

On the other hand, unlike a captain, a chairman is bound to listen to his constituents, to obey them, and to accommodate their wishes. Presiding and implementing group decisions is his essential function. If the captain/commander) can be said to be the master, the chairman as presider and implementer of resolutions and policies is a public servant.

Finally, where the barrio kapitan of yesteryears could be deemed as a “little president”—answerable to the commander-in-chief/president, today’s barangay chairman is a “little prime minister” answerable to his peers who consist of the local constituency that elects him and can recall or remove him on a question of confidence.

Some years back, when the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo attended a summit of civil society and church groups, this issue was brought up and explained to him. Whereupon he promised he would rectify the rampant use of “kapitan” by issuing a memorandum circular to point out its inappropriateness and enjoin everyone to refrain from using it.

Unfortunately, he never got around to issuing the circular and the promise perished with him when his plane crashed. So to this day, this terminological impropriety continues to distort the nature, function, and power of the heads of barangay governments, disempowering their constituents, demoting them to the status of subordinate soldiers and orderlies.

It would be so good if DILG Secretary Mar Roxas could empower the people of our primary governments with a simple terminological fix and put the officials in their proper place—as public servants!

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. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]