THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: What makes the barangay unique and special?

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 14 Feb) — If barangay elections will indeed be held, it is essential that aspiring candidates and the barangay community be brought up to speed on the nature of the positions to be filled as well as on the unique aspects of barangay governance.

Direct democracy with a parliamentary government is what makes the barangay unique and special.

In a direct democracy, it’s the people who define and decide on policies—directly, without any intermediary or representative to speak for them. And this is exemplified by the acts and decisions of the Barangay Assembly, which is composed of all the constituents in the community.

Such acts and decisions are official manifestations of People Power. They affirm the people’s sovereignty. They may be in the form of a resolution concerning the local budget, the desirability of a project or program, or an ordinance regulating matters of concern to the community.

Unfortunately, the Barangay Assembly and its role and nature is not being given its due importance. So what otherwise is the embodiment of People Power in the grassroots is missing in the bureaucracy, since it requires that the assembly formally convenes and deliberate on the community’s agenda. And even if it does convene, it is at the behest of the central government.

As a result, the people are prevented from inquiring into the acts of their government. More important they are unable to check corruption or abuse, or to ensure that their government complies with their mandates or meets their expectations.

This inability of the barangay citizens to check on their government’s conduct or decisions accounts for the culture of impunity at the grassroots. They cannot question or sanction erring officials.

Without the formal deliberations of this Assembly, the barangay as the primary level of government cannot perform its role relative to the intermediate and national levels. Nor can the people—who constitute the Assembly—be said to participate in the democratic process effectively.

That this situation has gone on and allowed to obtain since the enactment into law of the Local Government Code is an untenable situation. It prevents the sovereign people from assuming their posts in their duty station in the community. It is a very unfortunate, for only in their immediate community can Filipinos perform their other citizen duties apart voting.

Unless Barangay Assembly members learn to convene at their own volition and behest, they cannot address local concerns effectively. Worse, direct democracy cannot be operational, and there can be no parliamentary proceedings. Result: the voice of democracy is stifled.

What an otherwise excellent system for a modern democratic polity is reduced to a mere oligarchy, a government in which power is in the hands of a few. And this explains why for the most part, what we have is a government of politicians, by politicians, and for politicians.

Meanwhile, the Central Government, notably the Department of the Interior and Local Government, carry on like the proverbial three monkeys—hearing no evil, seeing no evil, and saying no evil about this anomaly in our so-called democracy. They don’t know that it is causing the de facto disenfranchisement of the principals of the Republic? That they are making it happen right in the citizenry’s backyard? That they are shutting the people off from the democratic process?

Equally reprehensible is the fact that the role and power of the people as members of their local parliament is effectively nullified. In doing so, they delimit the principle of “consent of the governed” to mean that it may be applied only at election time and not while their officials are in office. It is a travesty.

It is precisely while the officials are serving their term of office that the Barangay Assembly is supposed to serve as the Check-and-Balance mechanism of this parliamentary government at the grassroots.

Very clever, these trapos, our public servants, and very naïve, we sovereign citizens, their masters!

Unless and until this Barangay Assembly convenes properly, regularly, and in an all-inclusive manner, it remains a Parliament-in-Waiting. And no one can claim that the Republic of the Philippines is anchored upon its sovereign citizens.

So important a component of our political system and the democratic process, why is this constituent assembly being ignored? The willful disregard of this vehicle for the functioning of direct democracy constitutes a serious breach of the public thrust by those charged with promoting and implementing the Local Government Code.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific and the PPI-UNICEF awardee as outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc.