NOWHERE in our political system today is parliamentary governance practiced. This despite the fact that the law, long ago, had already ordained the parliamentary system to operate in every community or barangay. This system is characterized by its power structure and by its unique check and balance mechanism consisting of the people themselves.
The power to govern is held by a prime minister or premier whose role is similar to a chairman’s. He presides over the cabinet and the government. And he does so, not as their superior or commander, but as “first among equals.” He is their peer or equal and is answerable to them all. And they can remove him from office if they lose confidence in him.
This is the mode of governance the Local Government Code of 1991 prescribed for the barangay community. Like the higher levels, the barangay government also has three branches: executive, legislative, judicial—but all three are presided over by one and the same official: the Barangay Chairman. He is chief executive, chairman of the Sangguniang Barangay (legislative), and chairman of the Lupong Tagapamayapa (judicial). H is a very powerful official.
However, the three branches he chairs do not enjoy operational autonomy. There is no separation-of-powers among them, as is the case under the presidential system, where each branch has a different set of executives. Thus the parliamentary form has no built-in mechanism for checks and balances—where the executive can question the legislative, the legislative the judicial, and the judicial the executive.
Instead, the Code created a more powerful body that can check the chairman’s exercise of his three-pronged powers, to keep him in line, or prevent abuse. This body is the Barangay Assembly—the parliament of the community. It possesses the mandate is to “hear and pass” upon the acts and decisions of the Chairman or of the Sangguniang Barangay., especially with respect to the community’s finances and programs.
I have previously mentioned that the deliberations of this Barangay Assembly or parliament exemplifies the direct democracy practiced in Ancient Greece or, in our time, in the Israeli Kibbutz and in the Swiss Canton.
Every adult or voting-age resident of the barangay is a member of this Assembly. And any member may speak our directly during its sessions: to raise or propose legislation, to sponsor a resolution, to express the community’s priorities, and so on. In other words, any member can directly question or move to nullify acts or decisions of their officials. No need for a third party like a congressman, a representative, of senator to do so.
These are real powers possessed by every citizen of the barangay and therefore also of every citizen of our Republic. Thus, strange as it may sound, every adult Filipino is in fact a government official—a “member of parliament” in his community
The extent to which every Filipino asserts or wields these powers in his Barangay Assembly determines the policies and conduct of government in his community and, by extension, the nation.
In other words, the Barangay Assembly is every community’s legislative governing body—which is what a parliament is. It is a real parliament except in name. (I already explained its word origin and role in a previous column.)
If we had been earnest about implementing the Local Government Code since it was enacted, we would by now have a working model of the parliamentary system in every community. By now we would have attained mastery of its dynamics. And the grassroots would not be such pathetic victims of traditional politics.
But none of the barangays have learned to conduct their Barangay Assembly as such thus far. And no one shows them how. They don’t even convene in accordance with its members’ wishes. They convene only when directed to do so by the Department of the Interior and Local Government. Even their agenda is spoon-fed, prescribed in detail by the DILG.
And so the idea of a parliamentary government in the barangay is lost on everyone. And the people (who are the official members of this grassroots parliament) remain powerless, disenfranchised. They have never been inducted into the system.
Any talk of empowering the people is futile and pointless as long as our leaders obsess more about having a parliament of their own at the top, to the neglect of the grassroots parliaments. Governance will just remain a game played by traditional politicians and their political dynasties.
(Manny Valdehuesa is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific and a PPI-Unicef awardee as outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)