THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Why would P-Noy emasculate local autonomy?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 18 Feb) – If the first floor of an edifice is unstable, chances are that the upper floors become unstable as well. And if the basic unit of a republic is weak and unassertive, can it be a “Strong Republic”?

It begs the question because the first floor of our Republic, the barangay, its primary level, is meant to exemplify local autonomy or self-government. But it is controlled and manipulated by the central government and its extensions at the intermediate levels (municipal, provincial).

As a result, local autonomy is rendered illusory. Self-government is negated, emasculated by preemptive acts of the upper level. The local polity cannot act or move at their own pace or in accordance with their own wishes.

The autonomy that is meant to be exemplified in the direct participation of the people in their barangay’s governing process is weakened. They can’t even meet to discuss or decide how to go about governing their local affairs unless directed by higher authority or the central government.

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The capacity of barangay folks for self-governance wouldn’t have such restraint had not President B.S. Aquino intervened by decreeing that the Barangay Assembly shall convene only twice yearly—once in March (last Saturday) and again in October (second Sunday).

One wonders what drove him to impose this limit, inhibiting supposedly sovereign citizens from doing the business of governing as circumstances warrant, at their own pace, and in accordance with their wishes. Why curtail the freedom and inherent power of his “Bosses” to address problems or to resolve issues in their own neighborhood, violating their autonomy?

The essence of local autonomy is the Principle of Subsidiarity, which requires that tasks that can be performed at a lower level be reserved to that level, not delegated to nor preempted by a higher level.

The barangay has its own set of powers, facilities, and resources that enable it to govern its jurisdiction autonomously. That the President should find it necessary to intrude or interfere with its autonomy and constrict its operation is a festering issue.

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It raises the question of whether he overstepped his authority when he issued Presidential Proclamation No. 260, dated September 30, 2011, which limits Barangay Assembly meetings to only twice yearly.

He unilaterally amended Republic Act 7160 which provides that it shall meet “at least twice a year to hear and discuss the semestral report of the sangguniang barangay concerning its activities and finances as well as problems affecting the barangay” (Section 397 [b])..

He amended the phrase “at least twice a year” to read at most twice a year! Then he calls on the mayors to ensure compliance and maximum participation of all barangays. He doesn’t even mention the people—a dead give-away of the trapo mentality that the people can be treated like props or spectators for the acts of those in power!

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The unfortunate result of this Proclamation has been its effect on the exercise of citizen sovereignty, the inherent right of the people to address communal matters and resolve them. It dampens initiative, discourages autonomous action, and exacerbates the bad habit of dependency.

No wonder so many simple problems in barangays that need attention or action are neglected and simply fester—unattended, awaiting action from above, keeping people in thrall to high officials who are supposed to be their public servants.

This situation into hands of trapos who are ever eager to broker the delivery of goods and services from the top to the primary level. It reinforces the sordid pork-barrel mentality which reduces community and constituents to passive recipients of government “favors.”

And of course this deadens resourcefulness in recipient communities and constituents. Spoon-feeding them emasculates their capability for self-governance and negates autonomy. Equally bad, it strengthens the trapos’ grip on the community and the loyalty of its naïve voters. As self-appointed brokers and gatekeepers of public goods and services, they command such voters’ “debt of gratitude”—which they collect in the form of votes on Election Day.

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Thus are barangay communities reduced to a passive constituency, dependent on upper-level dictate and direction. It makes them out to be zombies—manipulated people with a moribund sense of sovereignty, too weak to assert their will or authority. Not a strong foundation for a Strong Republic.

This dependency, this lack of initiative in the barangay—which is the small republic from which our Big Philippine Republic draws its strength—disables our grassroots and keeps them from developing solidarity and political will. All because of an ill-conceived Presidential Proclamation that no one challenges!

[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, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. and author of books on governance. [email protected]]

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