COMMENTARY: Incorporating bayanihan in local governance

MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/14 July) — Not all assertions of unconstitutionality against the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) can be accepted as absolute truth. Actually, some claims really necessitate further examination.

For instance, the contention of Senator Bongbong Marcos in his privilege speech on the BBL last June 3, 2015 that, a “parliamentary form of government within a presidential form of government” runs counter to the Constitution because, “There is no constitutional basis for this effort to change the form of government.”

Acts are determined to be unconstitutional because they violate a specific provision in the Constitution. Acts which are not sanctioned nor prohibited by the Constitution or by specific legislation are generally considered permissible acts.

An act which is described as simply having no “constitutional basis” with no other specific disqualification would likely fall under the latter category. Hence, Senator Marcos’ view that creating the Bangsamoro Parliament is an unconstitutional act ought to be reconsidered.

Furthermore, shifting to a parliamentary local government structure similar to the “leader-and-cabinet model” used in the United Kingdom and Australia is actually a positive reform measure that should be seriously considered. I have witnessed firsthand how its underlying philosophy of collective governance can be an asset to local development planning.

I attended a community meeting organized by the local council of a suburb in the State of Victoria in Australia. The agenda of this gathering was a proposed development plan for a “Civic Precinct”. One item in the draft master plan particularly caught my attention:

“The current community effectively holds public facilities in trust for the future. This Civic Precinct should remain an important place for generations to come. To do this it is important to identify the most valuable parts and ensure their continued relevance to the community. It requires an investment in design quality –consistent with the investment made in the past– and a long term outlook.”

This effort from the said local government clearly manifests a development paradigm that is underpinned by a sense of community stewardship. The words “in trust for the future” and “for generations to come” cannot convey this point any clearer.

Sadly, this type of governance mindset is a rarity amongst our local executives. Traditional political families have manipulated the current presidential-type model to such an extent that the fate of the local government itself has become highly dependent on the person holding the gubernatorial or mayoral office, who most likely is always a member of their bloodline.

And according to the groundbreaking study by the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center in 2012, An Empirical Analysis of Political Dynasties in the 15th Philippine Congress, lower standards of living, lower human development, and higher levels of deprivation and inequality persist in the communities governed by local leaders who are members of a political dynasty.

The reason for such a grim outcome is the fact that dynastic politicians can only be bothered by projects that have an immediate and perceptible impact and most likely simply as a knee-jerk response to the clamor of the day from his or her own supporters. It would be really hard to find local executives who hold office “in trust for the future” or “for generations to come”.

I submit that an effective countermeasure against such a parochial and dynastic local governance mindset is to incorporate that sense of community stewardship in the local government structure itself. Interestingly, a parliamentary framework may not be that foreign an idea given that collective governance is actually an indigenous tradition.

During the pre-colonial era, the notion of governance was premised on the preservation of the community. The datu was expected to protect his people from their enemies and safeguard their way of life. More importantly, a datu’s ability to retain his position as chief of the barangay depended highly on his performance as a leader. Notably however, there was always a council of elders beside the datu to help him govern.

The alternative local governance structure can therefore be configured to reflect this pre-colonial convention. So instead of a mayor governing in opposition to a legislative council like the current model, he can be mandated to govern in collaboration with the council.

There are two changes involved here. First, the position of vice-mayor must now be removed. And second, local governance at the city and municipal level becomes a collective and collaborative effort of the mayor and the council with executive and legislative functions now merged.

This pre-colonial tradition of collective governance can also be applied at the provincial level. According to esteemed historian Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J. in his book, Asia and the Philippines, strong datus ruled with the collaboration of other chiefs who gave support to one another. Indeed, important decisions were always made by consensus amongst the datus.

So again instead of the governor governing the province in opposition to a provincial legislative council and institutionally disconnected to the mayors of the component municipalities and cities of the province, he can be mandated to govern in collaboration with this latter group.

Two changes again in this regard. First, the position of vice-governor and provincial board members are eliminated. And second, the governance of the province becomes parliamentary in nature with the governor as head and the council of mayors as his cabinet. Governance of the province also becomes a collective effort with executive and legislative functions now merged.

As a corollary to this restructuring, the mechanism of sectoral representation can be further enhanced in the local “cabinet” to widen and deepen community participation in policy formulation and implementation. Indeed, according to the International Guidelines on Decentralisation and Strengthening of Local Authorities issued by UN-HABITAT, local governance should “involve an appropriate combination of representative and participatory democracy.”

In sum, shifting to a parliamentary form of local government should not easily be dismissed precisely for these foreseeable benefits. First, streamlining the available political positions makes electoral competition tougher. This could potentially disturb political dynasties in their comfortable status. Second, because local governance would be underpinned by a sense of community collectivism, development planning at the local level can be more coordinated and coherent.

Of course, the ultimate hope for institutionalizing a collective governance framework in local government is to establish that sense of stewardship or the bayanihan spirit as an enduring influence in local development. So that everyone in the community will always believe that progress is not just for us now, but also for the generations to come. (Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.)