CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/17 November) — We are all citizens of a democracy. Public official or plain citizen, we play a role in government, and each role is important.
Performing it properly and fasphitidiously matters a lot to the proper functioning of the political system. It assures the steady flow of benefits to society. And it secures the common good.
A public official’s role is to serve the people with dedication—selflessly, fairly, and justly. A citizen’s role is to live productively, cooperate with fellow citizens, participate in public affairs, and live by the Rule of Law.
An official owes his position and its privileges to his constituents; he owes them—not some political boss—his loyalty, honesty, and best effort. A public servant, he is bound by his oath of office.
A citizen owes himself and his family a living, the community his cooperation, and its government his participation. Along with the public servants, he is responsible for upholding peace and order and good governance.
Both officials and citizens have the duty to live honorably and lead exemplary lives. Both are responsible for securing their community or barangay, that it may be a strong bastion of democracy and a durable foundation of the Republic.
And both are also bound by the Principle of Subsidiarity—which requires that what can be done locally should not be delegated or assigned to a higher level, which is the essence of autonomy or self-governance.
By the same token, no higher-level agency should do what a lower-level agency can do better, although it is also incumbent upon the higher level to assist the lower level as called for.
The same principle requires that public decisions be taken as close as possible to the citizen so that he may participate in making them and readily comply with them.
Everyone is bound by duty 1) to participate in public life, 2) to help his community govern autonomously, and 3) to keep local governance free from abuse and corruption.
If unchecked at source in the community, abuse and corruption infect other barangays and rise to upper levels of government, undermining society and weakening the Republic.
This concern for one’s community and local governance also bids everyone to avoid being distracted or preoccupied with upper level politics and politicians except for cause.
Governing one’s barangay is the citizen’s proper area of concern, tending to its processes and securing it as befits the basic unit of our Republic.
There’s enough to preoccupy every citizen in community relations, civic affairs, and local governance. To be fixated or obsessed about upper level affairs except for cause distracts one from his immediate concerns and detracts from what are needed to make local governance efficient and effective.
Partisan politics in the barangay should also be avoided. It is divisive and it violates the Omnibus Election Code (Section 38), thus unlawful.
Moreover, it is important to uphold the state policy of decentralization and the Local Government Code’s dictum that every level of government—primary (barangay), intermediate (municipal/provincial), and national—should focus on their jurisdictional tasks and not impinge on others.
Thus it is incumbent upon officials and citizens alike to know and to observe what tasks are appropriate for each level, avoiding the inappropriate. Respect for the boundaries between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches must also be fostered.
Important also is knowing the nature of government at either level, namely: 1) the parliamentary form guides the primary level (barangay), while the presidential form applies to upper levels. And what obtains at the primary level is direct democracy while representative democracy reigns above.
There is a world of difference between these distinctions but no one bothers to point them out, let alone explain them. Perhaps no one knows or cares?
(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])