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Responsible citizens and responsible governments

Manny Valdehuesa .

CITIZENS with a keen sense of sovereignty, civic responsibility, and political authority are essential platforms for establishing a government. The same goes for any attempt to change the form of government.

At the outset of our nationhood, with the rise of patriotism and the spread of nationalist writings of Rizal’s generation, Filipinos had already developed enough of the sense of sovereignty, civic responsibility, and the desire for independence.

In 1991 it was the hope of many that the same sense would propel the post-Edsa generation to empower themselves and enable them to assert their authority to establish good government on all levels.

And so the Local Government Code was enacted to promote responsible citizenship and vest the people with the means to assert their sovereignty by governing themselves, exercising democratic rights according to their wishes and skills, and take their destiny in their own hands.

With that end in view, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) was supposed to have chaperoned the people towards genuine autonomy, the very task for which the department was created. It was to have seen to it that both the citizenry and officialdom comply with the empowering provisions of the Code.

Congruent with that goal, the DILG was capacitated with a huge bureaucracy so it could undertake a grand education-information-communication (IEC) campaign to ensure that people were primed for autonomy.

The objective was—and always has been—to empower the people and their community by ushering them to the home of People Power: their own barangay. They were to be drilled in the dynamics of local governance so that they would exemplify their role as partners in the task of local administration and development.

The hope was that it would make them participate in the governance of their locality; that this would then enable them to outgrow their basically mendicant view, which is to merely await what government goods and services would go their way.

The key members of the House, in the words of then Deputy Speaker Antonio Cuenco, worked mightily to satisfy and serve our people’s yearnings for grassroots democracy. He expressed the hope that this would be the fruit of the barangay people’s empowerment: the result of the genuine enfranchisement of the barangay folks, making the grassroots communities productive political, social, and economic units.

He had the vision that our basic communities (the barangays) would assume the personality and stature of a small republic—with its own population of sovereign citizens, its own territory, its own government, and, though limited, its own sovereignty.

It was also the hope of many that the small barangay republics would become the durable and dynamic anchor for the Big Philippine Republic, making our nation a formidable bastion of democracy, liberty, and justice.

It was to the credit of the Congressmen who crafted the Local Government that they saw autonomy as the necessary condition for reforming the mindset of the masses—who could not see through the insidious practices of traditional politicians who dominated them. It would lessen their psychological dependency upon the central government.

The prolific legal writer and annotator of legislations at the time, Jose N. Nolledo told me then, that the Code would enable Filipinos to firmly embrace the new day that People Power had ushered in, doing so through an assertive brand of sovereignty.

Too bad that no one, not even the DILG, nor Malacanang or Congress, saw to the Code’s proper implementation beyond claiming credit for its passage.

It is lamentable practically nothing has changed even after more than two generations after the Code became law. The trapos are still dominant, the people powerless.

Employing dirty tricks, subterfuge, and circumvention, the trapos continue to make short-shrift of anti-graft-and-corruption laws. And so they can freely manipulate the primal level of the political system, the economy, and society in general.

It’s what happens when the citizenry’s sovereignty and power is coopted by officials. They become passive and dependent upon self-serving officials who are supposed to be their servants.

Ask a simple question today: is there a local government where autonomy reigns? Meaning, the people (the contituents) and not just the officials play a role in governing it? Is there even one barangay that exemplifies autonomy or self-government? Too bad, because the full functioning of autonomy would have paved the way federalization effectively!


(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific and the PPI-Unicef’s awardee as outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: valdehuesa@gmail.com)


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