CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/30 August) — That the elite and leading citizens of the barangay fail to participate in its governing process is frequently due to lack of knowledge that they’re supposed to do so. Either they don’t know it’s a duty, they’re unaware it’s mandated, or they just lack civic spirit.
Still, it does not excuse them. Ignorance of the law excuses no one. But such is life. At any rate, if you think it out thoroughly, the idea will dawn on you that autonomy or self-governance is a self-evident duty—of a person as well as of a community. We are responsible for ourselves and, by extension, for our community.
It is a duty that flows from the principle of subsidiarity, according to which any task that can be performed at a lower level should not be delegated to a higher level. Applied to a citizen, it means we are responsible for our community and shouldn’t leave its care to higher units.
Social responsibility is inherent in one’s membership in a community, or citizenship. We are bound to contribute to the common good, to help keep it free from fear and want. Shirking this responsibility causes problems that affect quality of life for individuals, families, community.
It should be a prime concern of Sec. Mar Roxas and his DILG, which operates the Local Government Academy, to provide all this information and project citizen participation as indispensable to good local governance and progress. They should point out that upper government affairs need not overly preoccupy individual citizens—because they are properly the concern of higher officials who represent everyone and are responsible for the general welfare.
Provided the system operates properly at their level, checks and balances in place, barangaynons need not be obsessed with upper level operations; there are built-in mechanisms in them for that.
A citizen’s proper focus is his immediate government, of which he is an organic part. His duty as a member of the Barangay Assembly, the local parliament, is to see that there are basic services to assure decent quality of life and justice in the jurisdiction.
Unless citizens are attentive at this level, resources are wasted and abuses take place. Only their participation provides the necessary checks against abuse or corruption—because unlike the upper government units the barangay has no built-in mechanism for checks and balances.
In other words, resident citizens themselves must ensure transparency, accountability, and responsibility in local governance. It is essential to the barangay’s system of direct democracy with a parliamentary form–which requires everyone to participate in the governing process, doing so in deliberations and decisions of the Barangay Assembly.
Through these deliberations, local operations and finances are considered, checked, and approved or rejected by the people collectively. That’s what everyone must make sure.
We’ve touched on this task in passing before but it bears repeating, because we need the DILG to point out or explain that this Barangay Assembly is like the stockholders’ meeting of a corporation (its owners) where big decisions are brought up, discussed, and passed upon, while the Barangay Council (sanggunian) is like the corporate board of directors that oversees day-to-day operations between meetings of the stockholders.
To repeat: As is typical in a parliamentary system, there’s no separation-of-powers in the barangay’s government. The punong barangay heads all three branches: legislative (sanggunian), executive (chairman’s office), and judicial (lupon). In other words, he’s more powerful than the mayor, governor, or president conceptually.
But his power is subject to review by the Assembly of citizens (the corporate owners- stockholders) who convene periodically to conduct the business of governing collectively—which is the function of a parliament, the supreme authority.
Unfortunately, the DILG has not pointed out these arrangements, let alone explain their implications. Perhaps they themselves don’t know!
Well, it’s time for Secretary Mar Roxas and his Local Government Academy to do homework. It’s time they let Filipinos know and understand that unlike the upper units of government (which are integral to the presidential system with the president as commander-in-chief) the barangay has a parliamentary system with the chairman as “little prime minister.” Also that the Barangay Assembly is the local parliament; that its membership is all-inclusive; and that it being composed of the constituents, it is literally a constituent assembly with powers appurtenant thereto.
General ignorance or lack of understanding of this unique system, specific for barangays, keeps the grassroots and their elite members from getting enfranchised or empowered in their own community. Uninvolved, their power co-opted by their officials, their direct democracy and parliamentary system is turned into an oligarchy that blithely manipulates them and their common wealth.
And it’s all because DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and his predecessors haven’t done their homework on these little-understood provisions of the law—resulting to dysfunctional governance all around!
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]