IF both houses of Congress convene to amend the Constitution, declaring themselves as a “Constituent Assembly,” every one of them would still be a mere proxy representing his constituents. He is an agent acting on behalf of his principals in the district, or the nation in the case of senators. Their principals are the sovereign Filipino citizens.
If he speaks out or acts contrary to the wishes of his constituents/principals, he stands on a weak moral ground and cannot be said to uphold the public trust. This would be the case if majority of his principals do not want a Constituent Assembly but a Constitutional Convention to do it.
That being so, it is important for a member of Congress to consult the people he represents concerning the acceptability of his advocacy or stand. Being elected does not confer an absolute power-of-attorney or authority to act motu propio or unilaterally by espousing a position, especially a controversial one, without consulting his principals first.
It’s time we, sovereign citizens, require members of Congress to visit their districts regularly to consult or hold hearings on their public stand on issues, especially issues of vital importance such as tinkering with the Constitution.
Also, it’s time to underscore the importance of respecting the voice of the people. Accordingly, they should be free to convene their Barangay Assembly, to deliberate on issues facing them, and to pass resolutions affirming their stand on same. Since this Assembly consists of every voter in the community, it is a good gauge of how congressional initiatives are viewed by the constituents.
A Barangay Assembly is a genuine Constituent Assembly. Its members are the actual constituents, not just proxies or representatives like congressmen and senators. When the Assembly speaks or acts, it is a direct exercise of citizen sovereignty with no intermediary except themselves.
Given the primordial role of the citizenry, this grassroots assembly should be convened with all due preparation and solemnity—with a formal agenda, records made and filed for ready reference, minutes taken and distributed, parliamentary rules of order, and ritual ceremony. It is only proper and fitting. Even frivolous social clubs observe these formalities in their meetings; how much more for this rite of sovereignty and rubric of democracy.
Meanwhile, people who insist on going to the plaza or the media to express a grievance ought to realize that they can just as well do it in their own community by convening the Barangay Assembly, there to petition or pass a resolution, or issue a manifesto that bears the stamp of the will of the people.
Nothing should prevent this constituent assembly from taking up larger issues that today are discussed only in elite bodies like the Lower or Upper Houses of Congress. Why shouldn’t barangay citizens, in their capacity as sovereign people, deliberate on or discuss issues, national or local, and pronounce themselves on them?
It is bad that no one bothers to call on their local constituent assembly to take up issues and resolve them. It should be taken as an affront that it is allowed to convene only when told to do so by the DILG or Malacanang. This is the people’s assembly; they have the right to choose when to convene or what to take up.
Today, even the agenda of this Assembly is dictated from above, not by the membership. So it’s no wonder that so little if any is taken up or resolved concerning the community’s priorities or areas of concern.
This cavalier handling of the Barangay Assembly demeans its sovereign nature and the essential role of citizens in the democratic process. Because it is composed of the sovereign voters, it deserves to be treated with great care and importance.
It is the people’s parliament. It should serve as the dynamo of local development and processor of ideas held by the community members—providing policy, direction, and mandate to the Sangguniang Barangay which meets more frequently to handle the workaday requirements of legislation or decision-making. (The Sanggunian is akin to a corporation’s board of directors that acts on behalf of its stakeholders in-between stockholders’ meetings. The barangay is a public corporation, its residents the stockholders, the taxes they pay are their equity.
Provided this Assembly is operational, there is no reason why any citizen should feel powerless, voiceless, or cut-off from their government. First, it is his community’s supreme governing body and he is a member of it. Second, by being active in its sessions, he helps shape the conduct of government, establish its performance standards, and set the tone for public administration at higher levels—therefore, also for the nation.
All this matters to the upper level governments. High officials get their mandates from Barangay Assembly members who—if they would—can adopt reforms or remedial measures through the Power of Initiative and Referendum, or for that matter, the Assembly’s Power of Recall. –30—
(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a 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.. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)