Manny Valdehuesa .
THIS business of manipulating the barangays, basic units of our political system, by canceling or rescheduling elections in them (to suit the convenience of the trapos) has got to stop.
It unsettles the people at the grassroots. It weakens their political will. It prevents them from asserting their authority over officials of their community—people who are supposed to be their public servants.
Ultimately it emasculates them, making them helpless against corruption. And this accounts for why—although they have the power to recall and replace the corrupt, the incompetent, and the unreliable—they do not wield it for the good of the community and society. They lack the confidence or are discouraged from doing so.
Suspending, rescheduling, or postponing barangay elections at will not only belittles the sovereign role of the people, it undermines the stability of the Philippine Republic, which is anchored on the grassroots. And so the Constitutional dictum, “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them,” rings hollow in our society.
Officials who take liberties with the fate of the barangays, belittling them, betray the public trust and have no business staying on in office.
The problem is, barangay citizens (who are supposed to be their Bosses) are used to tolerating the presumptuous, unilateral acts of their “servants.” It has been more than a generation after the Local Government Code was enacted, but Filipinos still don’t know how (or don’t care?) to assert their rights or to wield their authority even where rampant violations are staring them in the face.
Now that the filing of Certificates of Candidacy for barangay positions has ended (last April 14), let’s hope barangay people will awake to their duty to their community; the duty to elect competent, honest, and dedicated public servants.
And let’s hope that there will be no further suspension, postponement, or manipulation of the people’s right to choose the officials of their own community. (I’ve lost count of the times barangay elections have been debased and manipulated over the years.)
The frequent manipulation of this basic rite of democracy has benefited mainly the incumbent barangay officials and the political bosses who count on them to deliver the captive votes of their neighborhoods. And the people end up with the short end of the bargain, left to suffer in frustration when their officials commit malfeasance, misfeasance, or outright plunder with impunity.
As a result, more and more people at the grassroots are getting skeptical—or cynical—about ever seeing good, honest, dedicated governance.
Those who manipulate the barangays from Malacanang, the DILG, or Congress don’t seem to know or care that every time they do so, they erode the people’s faith in democracy, diminish respect for the political system, and undermine the rule of law.
It is worse when they do it peremptorily, unilaterally, or without due consultation.
Just weeks ago, when the decision to proceed with the elections was announced, it came on the heels of an inexplicable failure to observe Barangay Assembly Day last March 31—the last Saturday of the month.
This twice yearly schedule is decreed by Presidential Proclamation No. 260, s. 2011, which also requires it to take place again on the 2nd Sunday of October.
But March 31 came and went without a word of explanation. Not even an excuse for causing the failure to enable people to congregate as is their right.
And so what could have been a splendid occasion for the people to participate in the governing process of their community was summarily precluded from happening.
Because of this failure on the part of the Department of the Interior and Local Government and Malacanang, it would not be a surprise to find the people more deeply apathetic, disinterested about their role as citizens, and uncaring about whether there is good or bad governance in their community or society at large.
(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.. E-mail: email@example.com)