THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: The failed promise of grassroots awakening

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 20 Oct) – We’ve dealt with the nature of the Barangay Assembly as the exemplification of people power in the community with an all-inclusive membership (everyone 15 years old and above).

We touched on its role as a local parliament or legislative governing body, its being the supreme authority in the community since it is literally a constituent assembly, and its power to discipline the officials—who they can Recall or replace for loss of confidence.

Still, governance in the barangay remains dysfunctional. It’s because no one, not even the Department of the Interior and Local Government, bothers to explain or to demonstrate the concept of this local parliament and its importance to the overall scheme of our Republic.

Thus, although it is now almost a quarter of a century since it became officially the primary level of government, the barangay’s unique governing process has yet to truly empower or mobilize the citizens—so they can establish a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


The Barangay Assembly, for example, is supposed to be the citizens’ forum and processor of their ideas and plaints; through its resolutions, it is also a sort of megaphone for their hopes and aspirations. In reality it is more of a patronage machine and a platform for grandstanding by the local officials as well as an instrument for manipulating the people.

When the Local Government Code was enacted in 1991, the governing process it introduced was touted as the means to “satisfy and serve our people’s collective yearnings for grassroots democracy, which is the official counterpart of People Power.”

Congress announced then that it would “invest our people with the authority to govern themselves, exercise democratic processes according to their wishes and skills, and take their destiny in their own hands.”

In reality, it strengthened the monopoly on power by trapos and enabled them to more firmly control the community’s resources (internal revenue allotments, local tax collections, etc.) for their own purposes.


The late law professor, author, and member of the 1986 Constitutional commission, Jose N. Nolledo, lamented this development, pointing out that the Barangay Assembly was meant to consolidate the grassroots constituency—enabling everyone to convene periodically to address public issues, crystallize them, build consensus around them, and express the community’s sense in a petition or resolution.

He knew the importance of such deliberations at the grassroots in order to promote intelligent appreciation of issues, local or national, and enable people to form consensus or political will in their community. And he was right.

The Barangay Assembly was meant to be the mechanism for bringing the grassroots together community by community—so that neighbors can engage in open exchanges and be involved in problem-solving collegially.

Letting them do so, discussing not only local concerns but also the burning issues of the day, lets them contribute to the national dialogue with a well-informed perspective.


Had President Cory’s cabinet taken the local government code to heart and implemented it fully, breathing life to the Barangay Assembly in letter and spirit, the grassroots would have awakened long ago and today we would have dynamic local governments and vibrant democracies.

But no one took the initiative. No one explained that only in the barangay is it possible to create and operate such a government literally—as is the case in the villages of Switzerland and kibbutz settlements of Israel where citizens collectively govern by convening periodically to address and act on official matters directly and collegially, with the officials as facilitators.

Had our people been primed to do so, our people would have been truly empowered; it would have induced the ripening of our political system more surely and brought our democracy closer to maturity.

But as it happened, President Cory’s term ended without having realized the promise of autonomy or self-governance.


As a result, virtually no one today comprehends the significance of being a member of his Barangay Assembly. No one knows or is aware of how such a legislative governing body or parliament buttresses the Philippine Republic like the roots of a mighty tree.

If you want a special tree to grow to its full height and maturity, it’s important to ensure that its roots feed its trunk with life-giving nutrients and that no restraints such as weeds and rocks will hold back or slow its maturation process. Otherwise the tree will be stunted.

Likewise, if our society’s Tree-of-State (our Republic) is to mature politically and rise to its full stature, we need to ensure that (a) the grassroots (barangay citizens) provide it with their sovereign mandate and support, and (b) that no constraints prevent citizens from influencing the conduct of government or from checking abuses of public servants.

We should really institutionalize the Barangay Assembly as the vehicle for consolidating the grassroots, forging and expressing the community’s political will. Then will the Philippine Republic be truly anchored upon the will of its basic communities.

(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 Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.

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