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Pathetic state of autonomy today

Manny Valdehuesa

OUR mandate to govern ourselves within the framework of our community, the barangay, is now over a quarter of a century old. In other words, more than two decades and a half already. A period spanning more than a generation.

If the trapos who claim credit for enacting the Local Government Code 1991 (R.A. 7160) had been serious and well-meaning, that period could have given our people a splendid opportunity to practice the basics of self-government at the grassroots where it really counts.

But the trapos wasted the opportunity by doing all the governing, forcing themselves upon the political system, keeping the power for their dynasties and surrogates. And we foolishly allowed them to get away with it. We left the fate of our community to them.

Letting them make all the decisions about our community’s development, entrusting the welfare of our poor neighbors to them, was a huge mistake. Whether they did or did not do what needed to be done, didn’t seem to matter. If they mismanaged our community’s considerable funds and other assets, it didn’t seem to concern us. If they were dishonest, incompetent, lazy, or corrupt, we paid little or no attention and no one seemed to care.

Whatever their performance, we neglected our mandate to govern. It was as if the Local Government Code of 1991 did not exist. Local governments remained in the grip of small-time oligarchs. Our power as sovereign citizens stood for nothing. To this day, we have little or no control over public servants—our servants!—who freely arrogate our powers as their own.

And so our society remains pathetically inept in the art and craft of self-government or autonomy. Even as regards their immediate neighborhoods—the small jurisdiction of their community or barangay.

Barangays are mismanaged and abused. The billions they receive in internal revenue allotments—and billions more in shares of real property taxes and other fees—have minimal impact on their infrastructure, services, and quality of life, if any.

It is what happens when society is ruled by greedy oligarchs and selfish political dynasties.

Look around. There is no sign of the unique form of direct democracy that should reign in the barangays. No one seems to know that the Barangay Assembly is his community’s parliament—its supreme governing body. No one is aware that he is a member of this local parliament, or that all his neighbors of voting-age is also a member, with full rights to speak out, craft ordinances, or question official wrongdoing.

As a result, the Local Government Code’s mandate that the barangay shall have a parliamentary form of government is bastardized. Its officials behave as if their operations are integral to the framework of the presidential system.

For example, everyone thinks the punong barangay or chairman is a “little president” instead of the “little prime minister” that he is. No one explains that this is as befits the head of a parliamentary government—meaning, chairman/presiding officer or merely first among equals, not commander or everyone’s superior.

Unlike a local commander—who reports to the commander-in-chief (the president)—a barangay chairman is answerable and accountable to the sovereign people (the constituents). He is not the local commander and the constituents are not his subordinates or orderlies. Thus he has no business calling himself “kapitan” or be referred to as such.

Furthermore, does anyone notice that there is no separation of powers in the barangay? That as is proper in a parliamentary form of government, its three branches—executive, legislative (snaggunian), and judicial (lupon)—are headed by one end the same official: the punong barangay or chairman.

Because of this failure of proper governance in the barangay, a serious power failure subsists in the grassroots, the base of the Philippine Republic. The people—citizens in whom state sovereignty resides and from whom government authority emanates—do not govern. Their servants do. Their membership in their community’s parliament (Barangay Assembly) is denied. Their powers are arrogated by their pretentious servants who manipulate them and their resources at will.

To top it all, because the sovereign citizens are unaware of their powers, they cannot discipline erring servants or replace the corrupt or the incompetent. Without knowing they have the powers of Initiative or Recall, they cannot initiate ordinances or reject unacceptable ones. Not least, they cannot remove or replace officials in whom they have no confidence.

Bottom-line, autonomy or self-governance is a travesty in our political system. Merely a vague notion that trapos invoke to justify their desire to further consolidate their control of politics and the economies of gerrymandered territories under a so-called federal system.

Not content with what they and their dynasties now control, they want to slice up the country into federal states of their own.


(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; vice chair, Local Government Academy; and awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. Today he is chairman and national convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: valdehuesa@gmail.com)


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