THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Take back your community and be in control!

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/06 October) — Once more we are asked to troop to the Barangay Hall on the second Sunday of October to comply with a Presidential Proclamation directing the Barangay Assembly to convene simultaneously throughout the archipelago.

All the 42,000+ barangays are asked to tackle an agenda that has become as repetitive as it is boring—the same tiresome formula that few people pay attention to, starting with a pompous “State of the Barangay Address” by the Punong Barangay and some other self-serving reports.

It is one of the ways the central government manipulates us the citizenry without considering its deleterious effects on the political system. What good has arisen from years of synchronized barangay assemblies?

Have the barangays become more democratic and progressive? Are the voices of their constituents ever heeded? What useful or fruitful initiatives have emanated from the barangays?

But then, perhaps what has made local governance so unexciting and, worse, increasingly corrupt, is because you have surrendered it to the officials by not attending and taking part in the Barangay Assembly.

If you want to liberate it now from the virtual fiefdom that the entrenched officials have transmogrified it into, now’s your chance, show interest, and get involved as a sovereign citizen.

It’s important to do so now because most of the barangays—primal units of our Republic—are virtually owned and manipulated by officials who are supposed to be the people’s public servants.

This is the reason why politics is in the grip of traditional politicians (trapos!), backed by petty dynasties, and corrupted by functionaries who use, misuse, or steal public funds outright.

Ostensibly meant to enliven democracy at the grassroots, the synchronized assemblies in fact have made our democracy moribund and ineffectual. They do not encourage or build up the capability of the citizenry to practice autonomy or self-governance.

The synchronization seems to have been instituted on the assumption that the people cannot manage the affairs and arrangements in their own community, that therefore they must be spoon-fed, agenda and all. And no one seems insulted that barangay officials, infamous for being lackeys of Big Time trapos, herd them to the barangay compound to listen to self-serving reports.

In fact, what the officials ought to be doing is simply provide the venue for the assembly and help facilitate the process whereby the people of the community themselves identify issues, define problems, and formulate measures to alleviate or eradicate same—tasks that constitute the essence of autonomy or self-governance.

This is, after all, the people’s Assembly; it’s not the Assembly of the officials. And the officials must be held to compliance with the law in convening it.

First item for compliance: Section 397 of Republic Act 7160 requires that “No meeting of the Barangay Assembly shall take place unless a written notice is given one week prior to the meeting…”

The general failure of the barangays to comply with this requirement explains the miserable attendance records in this important community event, especially among the educated and affluent circles. Serious people need to be furnished with the agenda in advance.

Second item for compliance: There must be a comprehensive, up to date roster of the barangay’s inhabitants (including aliens). The Barangay Secretary must have this list on hand, against which to check attendance, and it must be up to date.

This is required by Article 122. (a) (xi) of the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Local Government Code. And it must contain information on the Assembly members including address, place and date of birth, sex, civil status.

Many citizens go missing and unaccounted when disasters take place because there are no comprehensive lists. In Cagayan de Oro, over a thousand barangay folks were carried by Sendong and are unaccounted to this day; they didn’t appear on any barangay’s list, so no one .could check their whereabouts. Others who are not listed simply remain unrecognized and unassisted.

Third item for compliance: Let this Assembly be convened like the local parliament that it is. It should provide policy, direction, and mandate to the Sangguniang Barangay as befits the powers of a community’s supreme governing body.

Being an all-inclusive body of citizens, it is literally a constituent assembly—a gathering of constituents, unlike the one in Congress if both Houses convene jointly to amend the Constitution. (Congressmen and senators are mere agents or proxies of their constituents.)

During its deliberations, any member may speak or act in his own right as a sovereign citizen. And when this assemblage decides or acts upon an issue, it’s a concrete expression of sovereignty.

That’s how powerful this Assembly is and it’s high time citizens of the barangay employ it for reforms, for compelling good governance, and for disciplining its officials through the power of Initiative and Recall.

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

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