SOMETHING is amiss in our communities.
All precincts, police or Comelec, are found in the barangay. Every warlord, rebel, or insurgent hides or lives in it. And so does every soldier, policeman, or law enforcer.
Every beggar or destitute Filipino scavenges for food in the barangay of a city or municipality, or lives in it—as does every gambler, cheat, or bandit who preys on hapless victims in its obscure alleys.
Also the lawyers, judges, civic leaders, educators, businessmen, doctors, clerics, bleeding-heart activists, and what-have-you: they all live in the barangay. High walls or fences do not exclude or exempt them from the barangay’s jurisdiction.
But these sectors seem to be ignoring one another. Are the good guys and bad guys avoiding or ignoring one another in their barangay neighborhood?
The rich, the poor, the landlord, the homeless, the religious, the unbeliever, live cheek-by-jowl in the locality but lead mutually exclusive lives—some in affluence, others in penury, and the middle class. And the gap between them keeps widening.
They are together only by accident of geography but hardly interact or behave as a community. So near and yet so far. There is no palpable sense of community.
We know from sociology that it is sense-of-community that motivates inhabitants of a locality to live in harmony and cooperate for the common good. Transcending kinship bonds or narrow sectoral interests, sense-of-community brings together even disparate groups that occupy a common territory. This element is missing in our barangays. And we unwittingly aggravate its absence by undertaking projects that ought to involve as well as benefit the entire community but are sector-based and differentiated.
This sectoral approach accentuates the disparities and inequalities of the community. It makes the sectors compete rather than cooperate, and leaves some of them marginalized while empowering others. It accounts for why the barangay—as a community, as a government, and as an economy—is unable to consolidate its social and economic capital in order to enhance the common good.
The sectoral gaps keep them from coming together and tackling or resolving the relatively small problems of their neighborhoods together. Thus to maintain a semblance of order, the affluent maintain their own militia or private security agency while the poor make do with under-trained, ill-equipped, under-qualified Barangay Tanod.
Where there’s a choice, the children go to different schools while the parents meet in different venues—the affluent in air conditioned places in the poblacion, the rest in the barangay hall where they have makeshift facilities.
So the community is unable to exchange views or analyze the conditions or problems of its neighborhoods together. Nor can it plan together or generate resources for its needs. They cannot complement one another’s capabilities by working together. They cannot move as one.
What will it take the awaken the barangays so they will begin to bridge the gaps, develop a real sense-of-community, and give substance to the bayanihan spirit, a powerful Filipino value manifested mainly in superficial and taken ways?
Bayanihan is collaboration and mutual assistance. It is combining strengths, resources, ideas in order to advance the common good. At least it ought to be, as characterized in the spectacle of house being moved to another location on the shoulders of cooperating neighbors.
It would be so appropriate to exemplify our country or nation-state as a House of Democracy being carried on the shoulders of all the people—not just by our political proxies—towards a just and progressive future.
Combining heads and resources for problem-solving in one’s community is the sure way to rebuild the nation from the bottom up. The top-down approach in planning and development has long been proved ineffective. Trickle-down economics has long been discredited.
What’s needed is to prime the barangays to carry their own burden and cope with their problems. The citizens in them need to be awakened, not just to march to demand reforms, but to exercise the powers reserved to them so they can serve as the local dynamo of development and undertake the reforms themselves.
Only if barangay people actually participate in the governing process can autonomy and local development become reality. And only then can it be said that the Philippine Republic is anchored on the sovereignty and authority of the people—all of the people, not just some.
Mobilizing for autonomy and local development would trigger the reform process more surely than lobbying or holding windy public rallies to demand patronage. As people focus on their own local needs, politicking and power plays would make little sense.
Their immediate concern would revolve around the issue of how to engage the talent and energy in their neighborhoods that are forced to turn to vice or criminality for lack of productive things to do. Power play or political positioning would have to be resolved on the basis of its relevance to the community’s needs.
(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; and vice chair, Local Government Academy. He is chairman/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. firstname.lastname@example.org)