CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 26 March) – Do attend and take part in the session of your Barangay Assembly on Saturday, March 28. It is a synchronized nationwide event decreed by Proclamation No. 260 which President B.S. Aquino issued in 2011.
We should all do so and activate this oft-ignored and under-rated local parliament. This periodic in-gathering of the Filipino community is important to induce the proper functioning of direct democracy at the base of our Republic.
When Congress transformed the barangay in 1991 from a quasi municipal entity (with no powers or resources) into a full-fledged government—corporate powers, police power, eminent domain, assured revenues, and all—it redesigned our Republic’s structure and improved its symmetry. It was a fundamental change but it seems to have escaped everyone’s notice
Before that, the state structure was a squat, top-heavy monolith. It had only two layers: national and local—and local referred to the municipal and provincial governments since the barangay had no legal personality. Under that setup, policies and initiatives originated from the top, never from the people at the base.
The enactment of Republic Act No. 7160 (The Local Government Code of 1991) changed that. It reconfigured the structure into three levels: national, intermediate (municipal/provincial), and primary level (barangay). And it made the barangay “the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community.”
It also gave the barangay a different system so the people can participate directly: direct democracy with a parliamentary form of government. Theoretically, this enabled the people of the barangay to govern themselves directly, no need for representatives or proxies doing it for them—same as the direct democracy of the Israeli kibbutz or the Swiss canton.
Since everyone is a member of this Assembly, it is an all-inclusive parliament. The people themselves address communal affairs, tackle problems, and work out solutions through its deliberations. Doing so fulfills another role of the barangay: as “a forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered, and where disputes may be amicably settled” (Sec. 384).
Therein lies the importance of the Barangay Assembly. Through it the community addresses issues in orderly manner, guided by parliamentary rules of order. It is direct democracy in action, the people’s sovereignty at work.
In the ideal order, out of the Barangay Assembly’s deliberations emerges enlightenment and consensus in the community. And the sum of all consensus in the 42,000 barangays that comprise our Republic translates into political will in the nation.
That’s how national purpose is forged, just like in Israel and Switzerland, or in America’s Town Hall meetings where issues are threshed out. Why else would Ferdinand Marcos have created bogus “citizens’ assemblies” except to simulate consensus? He needed to simulate it in order to unify the country and keep it intact for his convenience.
The linchpin of national strength in advanced democracies is their peoples’ participation in government. A republic needs to be anchored upon the will of its people in order to attain and maintain stability, strength, and progress.
Filipinos must be motivated to participate in the direct democracy of their barangay and learn parliamentary rules of order in order to resolve issues or disputes as civilized societies do. It’s the effective and lasting way to maintain harmony, unity, and stability in society. And also the way to rebuild the nation from below.
Thus, do make it a point to attend your Barangay Assembly
(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] )