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Who says we are ready to go federal?

Manny Valdehuesa .

A FEDERAL system presupposes the existence of regions or provinces that demonstrate a) that they are capable of, or already practice, a modicum of autonomy or self-government, b) that they desire to enter into an agreement with other regions to form a national government that shall oversee national/federal affairs while reserving to themselves the right to administer their own (state) affairs as component units of the republic

In other words, the urge to go federal must come from below, not from the top. To impose the federal system from the top would be a mistake—especially if it is done by legislation or through a constituent assembly.

It would be an artificial creation, dictated unilaterally by presumptuous “representatives” without even ascertaining whether the people they represent desire it, are ready for it, and are actually clamoring for it.

Not only that, it is important to determine whether both the people and the leaders have demonstrated capacity for self-governance or even just autonomy.

The spirit and practice of autonomy, of self-government and its processes, are essential for the success of a federal system. It was lack of this spirit and practice that drove Indonesia to abandon the federal system—which they adopted at the outset of independence—and replaced it with the unitary-presidential system.

Thus far, our federal proponents have not even checked to what extent our national policy of local autonomy has become institutionalized in local government units: regional, provincial, municipal, or barangay. So on what basis can they claim that Filipinos are ready for the federal system?

We have not even fulfilled the mandate to govern ourselves in our own small community, the barangay. It has been over a quarter of a century since the Local Government Code proclaimed this mandate. More than two decades and a half! We left the fulfillment of autonomy entirely to our village officials—as if autonomy can be fulfilled by activating only one side of the equation.

Autonomy requires that both the constituents and the officials (their public servants) be active participants in governing their jurisdiction.

This lopsided participation has resulted in the capture and manipulation of political power by the officials, many of whom are undereducated and misinformed. And that explains why the provisions of the Local Government Code of 1991 has been interpreted to their advantage. Touted as the “autonomy law”, this Code has had no real impact on governance and people empowerment where good government matters most: at the grassroots.

If any doubts this, just walk around and see the disorder, the filth, and the poverty in the neighborhoods—even in parts of upscale or gated villages, where misery lives cheek-by-jowl with the abundance of their village’s resources and the wealth of its residents.

Since municipalities and cities are really just clusters of barangays, the demeanor of their barangays is reflected in the chaos and disorder in the city.

Let’s face it: The state of our local governments and the appearance of their jurisdictions—and the never-ending reign of trapos and oligarchs in them—are eloquent arguments against the presumptuous advocacy of the federal promoters.

How many of our city’s barangays—and the poor in them—fester in a state of penury or neglect? Isn’t this an indicator of how pathetic our society is in the art and craft of self-governance?

Every resident of a barangay is sovereign citizen, with a mandate to be actively involved in his local government—as a member of its parliament, the Barangay Assembly. As such, everyone should check his status of involvement. Do you allow an oligarchy consisting of the chair and the kagawads to rule your jurisdiction without your active participation? If so, you are repudiating the barangay’s unique form of direct democracy and parliamentary form of government.

Without your participation, the barangay’s parliamentary government becomes inutile—since the officials, your public servants, are carrying on as if they are integral to the presidential-representative form of government that operates at upper levels. The chairman in not a “little president” or a “captain.” The sanggunian is not a “little congress”, it is a board of directors.

If you let your barangay officials control or manipulate your community’s affairs, you are turning its government into an oligarchy. And you are disempowering yourself and your neighbors, who are all officials of your local government—as members of your local parliament (the Barangay Assembly) whose powers supersede the powers of all of your local officials.

Everyone who think and behave like this is rendering himself unfit for consideration in a federal system—which requires that its citizens be assertive and actively involved in government. More on this next.

 

(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: valdehuesa@gmail.com)

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