THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: A barangay should be a bastion of our democracy

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/01 October) — If a person’s home is said to be his castle, a citizen’s community is the bastion of his freedom and way of living; in both cases, one must be solicitous and protective.

Given the infirmities of our political system, the least we citizens can do is secure the arrangements in our respective communities and try to influence events and processes in constructive ways in order to exemplify civilized and harmonious living.

We should foster a sense of community by relating to one another in neighborly ways, holding more meetings of the Barangay Assembly, addressing more thoroughly our local concerns, and work to promote harmony and solidarity.

The Barangay Assembly, composed as it is of all adult residents, can be a powerful forum for reforms and a culture medium for orderly change. It involves the entire community, so it is the ideal venue for bringing its diverse sectors together.

As an all-inclusive forum and decision-making body, it can also serve to process issues and expand understanding in the minds and hearts of everyone.

But very rarely do barangays engage in open, candid, or free discussions; so there is no leveling of attitudes, values, or opinions; no cross-fertilization of insights or ideas about policies, priorities, or programs. There ought to be wide understanding, broad agreement, or express cooperation among neighbors.

Citizen participation in community-wide deliberations should condition local governing approaches and styles. Such social and political participation render people less susceptible to the wiles of traditional politics and its corrupting influences.

It is also in the course of participatory processes that people influence one another, leading to mutual agreement, understanding, and cooperation. Such processes are especially important in a community that is home to multi-sectoral, multi-ethnic citizens.

We need not convert or persuade one another; but we do need to open our eyes to our different views and lifestyles. Persuasion need not be an overt purpose; but it can just happen in indirect or subtle means. Even simply voicing an opinion carries influence. One’s presence alone can be a positive influence.

Expressing a positive opinion about someone is an indirect way of endorsing him or her for serious consideration, while complaining about the policies or principles of another is a subtle way of discouraging others from endorsing or supporting him.

There ought to be frequent discussions on policies and public affairs in our community. Democracy would mature faster if people are used to open discussions, group petitions, and shared resolutions on matters of mutual interest.

Such petitions and resolution have great impact on the upper levels of the political system in ways that few are aware of, in unseen or even devastating ways.

It’s important to keep in mind that it is unlawful for barangay officials to engage in partisan politics. As the ground-level implementers of the strategy of political party campaigns, it is they who make it possible for party candidates, regardless of background or competence, to win the community’s votes. To engage them in conversation, to monitor possible violations in thought or conduct, is healthy for social interaction and community development.

Absence of interaction within the community renders its members susceptible to manipulation and external influence. It is why party-sponsored candidates generally have an edge in winning a community’s vote, especially if no significant contrary voices are raised from the neighborhoods. That’s why it is important to attend community meetings, to prevent untoward influences to dominate.

As the basic unit of our Republic, its building block, it is important for the barangay government to conduct itself in accordance with law.

Wayward barangays and badly-performing barangay leaders are bad for our Republic’s stability and integrity. They are easily infiltrated by insurgents, their officials easily fooled into supporting Communists who pretend to champion the causes of the poor.

Today, according to intelligence estimates, as much as one-fourth of our barangays are influenced by the Communist New People’s Army, with no data on others under the sway of terrorist enclaves in Mindanao.

It’s what happens when barangay officials are readily manipulated by people with dubious loyalty to the Republic or when big traditional politicians (trapos!) bribe local officials to do their bidding.

Just like any foundation—for an edifice, an institution, or any social structure—the base is an essential determinant of stability and endurance. A building with an unsteady base cannot withstand earthquakes or gale-storms. An institution—like a school with a weak curriculum and mediocre faculty—won’t endure for long.

So is it with a democratic republic; it needs a durable base consisting of a citizenry with unshakeable political will.

By this is meant a constituency consisting of caring, engaged, and informed citizens: caring about its wellbeing, engaged in its governing processes, informed of its affairs, and alert in protecting it against negative influences. Tend to your barangay! Attend your Barangay Assembly On October 12!

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee, most outstanding columnist. Today he is President, Gising Barangay Movement Inc

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