CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/12 Oct) — One wonders what’s being taught in law schools or in political science and government courses nowadays. It begs the question because for over a generation now no one has pointed out that many changes have occurred in our political system—changes that no one seems aware of, therefore of no avail.
For one, at the base of our republic the role of citizens and the community has been adjusted to fulfill the state policy of autonomy, in line with the principle of subsidiarity (i.e., what can be done at a lower level should not be delegated to the higher level).
It was brought about by the enactment of the Local Government Code (R.A. 7160) in 1991 during the Cory Aquino Government. A landmark legislation, its implementation could have emancipated our local communities from oligarchic and top-level control and enabled us, the citizens, to manage own affairs. In a word, real autonomy.
Unfortunately, few recognized the significance of what the Code had ordained; so its impact has been minimal, much of it negative. The people who claimed fatherhood of the Code didn’t go beyond grabbing credit for it but did nothing to push its implementation, in letter or spirit.
In fact, the Local Government Code is one of the finest outputs of Congress ever; a laudable piece of legal architecture. It redesigned the shape of our Republic from what looked like an inverted pyramid into a proper pyramid, right side up, with a broad base anchored on the sovereignty of every Filipino.
Then it introduced features and processes that can transform the political system into a genuine democracy by enabling every community to become a bastion of People Power and an incubator of reforms. We’ll get to that that later on; the basics first.
First, the Code elevated the status of the barangay from a mere quasi-municipal entity with no powers or resources into a full-fledged government—defining it as the basic political unit to “serve as the primary planning and implementing unit of government.”
It thus acquired the powers and resources that used to lodge only at the upper levels. It now has executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It has regulatory and police power, taxing power, and power of eminent domain (i.e. expropriate or take over private property for public use), along with facilities and revenues to develop its economy and provide for the people’s welfare.
Second, in ordaining the barangay as the primary unit of government, the Code effectively reconfigured the Philippine Republic’s structure into three levels, namely: primary (barangay), intermediate (municipal, provincial), and national.
It used to consist of only two layers: national and local; and local referred to the municipal and provincial government units since the barangays had no legal status.
The Code also boosted the primary and intermediate levels substantially with added powers and resources devolved from the national government, deconcentrating or decentralizing the system (although this is not always clear from the way the actors in the bureaucracy behave).
Third, a different form of government was prescribed for the barangay, the primary level: it has no separation of powers. Unlike the upper levels, where separation-of-powers serves as their built-in system of checks and balance, the three branches of the barangay are headed by the Chairman, making him conceptually the most powerful official in our governmental setup.
This blending of the executive, legislative, and judicial powers was a radical departure from the long-standing practice of keeping them apart so they can check and balance each other, a characteristic unique to the presidential system.
In fusing the three powers, giving the barangay chairman overall control, the Code radically changed the political structure as we knew it since the time of the Spanish governors-general.
The significance of this fundamental change seems to have escaped everyone’s notice—namely, that the mode and structure of our political system has ceased to be unitary or centralized, no longer monolithic as is typical of a presidential form of government.
In other words, from the date the Code became law and took effect the presidential system, along with the principle of separation-of-powers, applied only to the national and intermediate governments, not to the primary (barangay).
And on that same date, the barangay’s governance followed the mode of a parliamentary government, no longer an integral part of the presidential form’s monolithic structure.
The usual practice in typical parliaments usually have the executive and legislative branches blended, with the prime minister as head of government, a system unique to the parliamentary system; just two branches.
By including judicial power to the blend at our primary level, the Code pushed the concept of a parliamentary system to the extreme—making the barangay’s mode even more of a parliamentary system, so to speak.
This makes the barangay government the more unique and deserving of special attention as a sui generis, a class of its own. Unfortunately, no one explains the implications of this new order of business, let alone its proper implementation, not even the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG).
So governance at the base of our republic not only is dysfunctional, lack of understanding of its unique processes has caused aberrations that turn the barangays into incubators and nesting places of corruption and bad governance. You can’t expect good governance from ignorance!
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Manny Valdehuesa 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. You may email him at email@example.com)