CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 18 Nov) – A careful reading of the Local Government Code (R.A. 7160)—particularly in creating the barangay and its Barangay Assembly—would reveal that the governing mode it prescribes for our basic community is Direct Democracy. It’s a variation of the democracy practiced since the time of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates in Greece where it was devised to enable people to participate in government.
Direct Democracy continues to operate today in villages of Switzerland, Israel, and other places. It’s also called “pure democracy”—allowing everyone to participate.
The right to participate is inherent in the constituents of a political jurisdiction. Since government acts affect them directly, they have a right to take part in self-governance—directly, not just indirectly.
This right is acknowledged by our local government code, providing the venue and process for its exercise, namely, in the Barangay Assembly—of which everyone of voting age is a member.
Literally a constituent assembly (being composed of all the constituents) this Barangay Assembly is the community’s supreme governing body.
Its supremacy is indicated by its powers, namely: to initiate legislation or regulations, to pass upon the acts of the officials (who they can remove or replace), to remedy improper or unacceptable decisions through initiative or referendum, and to discipline errant or unreliable officials in the interest of good governance through recall (removal from office even before the end of their term).
Vested with such powers, there’s no reason why Filipinos can’t govern their barangay directly, doing it together by making collegial decisions, voting on policy initiatives, and vetting proposals affecting the common good.
In other words, they manage local affairs collectively like members of a cooperative or credit union association routinely do.
Like Congress, however, the Barangay Assembly can act only if it is in session; an individual citizen’s power is tied to the Assembly’s collective power as the local legislative governing body, a parliament by definition.
It is real power and it is wielded directly, not through a representative or elected official (who is a mere public servant).
Switzerland has been the most consistent practitioner of Direct Democracy, inheriting it from Greece and the early Roman Republic. Their villagers get together even today and raise issues or concerns for the community’s information, decision, or action. They raise and discuss issues, make suggestions or motions, and approve or disapprove proposed actions.
Really a simple process, it entails modest arrangements only, and everyone has equal right to speak or participate, inhibited only by parliamentary rules and the demands of courtesy.
There are photos of Direct Democracy in action on the internet. A community or village of as many as 5,000 or more engage in orderly deliberations—addressing issues, resolving problems together, forging consensus, deciding what measures to take by voting.
Pretty much the same process takes place today in the kibbutz villages of Israel and other places where direct democracy is practiced.
Governing together, they serve the purposes of democracy while avoiding the kind of abuse or corruption obtaining in hierarchical systems that let decisions be made by autocrat-minded or oligarchic leaders.
Where the population grows too large, such that it becomes impossible for everyone to convene in one site and take part in the deliberations, direct democracy has had to yield to the Representative Democracy that everyone is familiar with today.
In our case, a typical barangay of a few thousand citizens can convene and deliberate on issues inside a gym or a church, or even in an open yard to make collective decisions. A real Barangay Assembly.
It’s an occasion for sovereign citizens to deliberate on issues directly, approve or disapprove budgets and projects, agree on a common stand about an issue, or even make hiring or firing decisions.
In large barangays where no one bothers to re-district their bloated populations, it may be impractical for all of the people to convene and govern together. But there’s no reason it can’t take place in the typical barangay.
Unfortunately, there’s a serious lack of initiative in implementing the Local Government Code, our so-called autonomy law. No one recognizes the value of having Filipinos experience hands-on governing!
Our failure to convene as a community—regularly and in a proper way—accounts for the weakness of our democracy. Instead of being a vibrant venue of citizen sovereignty, or a durable foundation for our Republic, our barangay is a sputtering generator of People Power.
We have persistent power failure caused by a bureaucracy and a civil society that seem to have ruled out the practice of Direct Democracy altogether.
In effect we are delaying our society’s political maturity despite the fact that we are the first in all of Asia to declare ourselves to be a Republic and a Democracy. And yet all that’s needed is to habituate everyone to convene periodically and engage in open and free deliberations—if only to confirm, affirm, or awaken the sense of sovereignty in every Filipino that should underpin a strong republic.
(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. [email protected])