Manny Valdehuesa .
“Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that is the first step toward attaining it.” –Henry David Thoreau, America’s first and foremost practitioner of the Power of One in an essay on “Civil Disobedience,” 1849.
AS the smoke of the election campaigns begins to clear, let us not just hope the winners perform their mandates and fulfill their promises; let’s make sure they do.
Let us also ensure that things that should have been done in our community are done, and let us try to undo or rectify things that shouldn’t have been done.
A good way to start is to review what every citizen of the barangay should be doing in order to straighten out the affairs of this Little Republic called the barangay.
First, get acquainted with your barangay government. It is what makes the neighborhoods of your community look like they do, feel like they do, and the people in them behave like they do.
Visit the Barangay Hall regularly and observe its physical set up, facilities, and workers. Check out its bulletin boards and see what notices are posted in them. Talk to the workers and officials if they’re around. Ask for a list or compilation of ordinances; residents need to know the local ordinances so they can comply or help enforce them. If there’s a day care center or reading room, glance at what’s in them. And scan the plaza and the surrounding environment.
All this will give a feel of how the barangay has been managed — the officials’ sense of duty, transparency, accountability, and concept of public service. Just a superficial acquaintance, but it will help you decide what you want done this time and in what manner.
Second, enfranchise and empower yourself along with everyone by being active in the Barangay Assembly. Let it perform its role as the community’s legislative governing body, or parliament. It’s supposed to set the barangay government’s direction, policies, priorities, budget, and service standards—a generally unfulfilled role thus far.
Only your Barangay Assembly can hold the chairman, the sanggunian, and their appointees accountable for their performance. You are a sovereign member of this Assembly. As such, you are also an official of the barangay government and a stakeholder/stockholder of it as a pubic corporation.
The proceedings of this Assembly is similar to the stockholders’ meeting of a corporation, its highest authority. The sangguniang barangay is its board of directors acting on behalf of the stockholders; it manages day to day corporate affairs, making decisions on their behalf between stockholders’ meetings.
The law requires you and other members of this Assembly to meet at least twice yearly in order “to hear and pass upon the activities and finances of the barangay” (Section 398, R.A. 7160, the Local Government Code). This means you must convene, not just twice yearly as is the current practice, but as often as necessary—to oversee the affairs of your community.
Ironically, the DILG itself has institutionalized this twice-yearly practice by dictating when barangays are to assemble (usually March, then October) and what agenda to take up, emasculating the very autonomy it is supposed to promote.
Even then, some barangays don’t bother to convene, or if they do, it is only for token compliance. Some barangays in Manila show their compliance by going through the motion of inviting some neighborhoods to a “meeting” where refreshments are served but no deliberation or a formal program takes place.
This practice is not only improper, it belittles what ought to be a solemn rite of democracy: the convening of the community’s supreme governing body. Others conduct it like a political rally, street meeting, or a miting de avance— without deliberations, formality, or even the regulation one-week’s advance notice.
Every Filipino ought to understand and appreciate that it is only through this Assembly that he, apart from casting a vote, can speak out and make known his sentiments as a sovereign citizen. Without this Assembly, he remains powerless—just as individual members of Congress are powerless when that body is not in session, or just as individuals do not constitute People Power unless joined by many more individuals assembled in one place.
No less important, unless deliberations are conducted by this Assembly, no consensus can be arrived at on public issues, nor can the popular will be crystallized. There has to be exchange or what in advanced democracies is called “deliberative conversation”—which is usually capped by a resolution or consensus statement.
Without express consensus, there can be no solidarity in the community. Opinion polls do not produce consensus, nor express solidarity. Only formal deliberations and exchange can produce consensus or the agreement necessary for harmony and solidarity.
Does anyone wonder why politics is so divisive in our communities? We have not learned how to process our differences, to deliberate like civilized communities do and arrive at a consensus on any issue!
How can there be solidarity unless you convene that Barangay Assembly regularly, learn Parliamentary Rules of Order, and get to know one another.
Elections are a joke if people (neighbors!) don’t know each other and exchange ideas! (to be continued)
(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a 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; awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)