THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Federalism grassroots up

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 5 Feb) – Had the spirit of autonomy been promoted since the Local Government Code (R.A. 7160) was enacted in 1991, we would all have developed proficiency in autonomy or self-governance by now, easing the way for the advocates of federalism to have it adopted.

All that was needed was for people, including the masses but especially the truant elites, to know their role in the immediate community (barangay) and its governing process.

Their participation in local public administration would have given them the knowledge and confidence necessary to provide the dynamism of People Power that a federal system must generate from below.

Fostering a sense of community and responsibility in citizens is also important. People need to be engaged, actively and creatively, in the governing process, not just be recipients of government goods and services.


A hands-on experience in governing familiarizes citizens with the dynamics of communitarian collaboration and formal interaction with public officials (who can seem aloof and intimidating even in the context of a barangay).

The experience and self-confidence derived from actual participation predispose citizens towards active involvement—contributing to policy making, taking part in decision-making, exemplifying what is meant by a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

This participative mode of governing teaches people best about political science and good governance. It gives impetus for them to assert their sovereign authority in matters affecting the community and the common good.

It really is democracy in action, with power rising from below, deriving its force from an assertive brand of citizen sovereignty.


The nice thing about having the Republic anchored upon People Power at its base is that, instead of await directives from the top, or for power to be devolved from the halls of an Imperial Manila, people would generate reforms or other initiatives from the base themselves, spiraling upwards.

It is the PINATUBO, not PINATULO, way to install good governance and the pillars of development—grown from below, not trickled-down from above.

But this is possible only if the people are truly empowered and motivated—to induce order and harmony, to enforce the Rule of Law, and to create their own prosperity.

In other words, the urge to build the nation and the enthusiasm for carrying it forward will originate from the grassroots—lifting society from the doldrums, animating the economy, and liberating the people from the depths of apathy.


Thus, for federalism to work, it should be rooted in the hearts and minds of the people at the grassroots. They must awake to the consciousness of their being the grassroots, that upon their energy and enterprise hinge the progress of the nation.

We are all part of the grassroots and we must be conscious of being so. We mustn’t allow this to be obfuscated by wrong concepts or pretentious attitudes that turn a lot of Filipinos into pedants and hypocrites.

There are far too many Filipinos, by reason of social standing, economic status, or whatever, who carry on as if they’re above the grassroots, superior to the masses, elite and a breed apart.

Typically, the pedant will say, “The masses are out there in the barrio, while I’m here in the city, in an office, in a campus, or in our church.” They forget that these places are in some barangay or other, meaning, a barrio.


It helps to be aware that everyone is in fact a barrio boy or barrio girl, for it is where everyone lives, works, grows up, and is ultimately buried. The barangay, urban or rural, is everyone’s address!

To deny one’s origin or existence as rooted in the barangay, of being a citizen in it, betrays a hangover of the “colonial mentality.” It is redolent of the days of the Guardia Civil when Filipinos were pejoratively called “indio”—country bumpkins who looked up to the central government with awe and in the spirit of vassals and lowly followers.

Too much have we had to endure patronizing treatment during our colonial days, at the expense of our self-respect or self-image. It’s time to rise to our full stature.

We have also had to suffer well-meaning leaders who sought to boost the national ego by resorting to pompous rhetoric, only to reveal a basic insecurity. One famously proclaimed: “I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than like heaven by Americans!” Such is the risk we take when we fall for demagoguery.

[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 chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc. [email protected]]