Manny Valdehuesa .
WITH barangay elections already behind us, the winners inducted into office, comes now the task of assuring good governance for our community.
Good governance is the essential requirement for developing and maintaining our community, for growing its economy, and for assuring benefits for everyone. The same requirement assures the stability and progress of all levels of our Republic, of which the barangays are its basic units.
There’s no substitute for good governance. Every citizen should know what it means and what it consists of. And everyone should do his part in assuring good governance for his locality, especially in his barangay—where he has an official role.
As a member of the Barangay Assembly, the community’s legislative governing body or parliament, every citizen has a say in the conduct and content of local governance.
Barangays with citizens who are inattentive or neglectful of their civic duties are the scourge of our democracy. It is in them where abuse, incompetence, or corruption take place and thrive with impunity.
This is so because the citizen’s role is an essential part of the governing processes of the barangay. Every citizen has a role and an obligation to initiate measures for the welfare of the community and to approve or disapprove proposals by the officials.
The actions of the sanggunian are merely part of the governing process—much like the acts of a corporation’s board of directors—which are subject to approval by the stockholders. Citizens are the barangay’s stakeholders, the sanggunian its board of directors.
Attention and involvement of the citizens constitutes the community’s check-and-balance mechanism. If they’re inactive, neglectful, or inattentive, nothing can prevent corruption or abuse at this primal level of the Republic. Their power of Initiative and Recall becomes a useless tool for preventing or punishing corruption and abuse.
At upper levels (municipal and higher) checks and balances are assured by the separation of powers among the three branches of government—which does not subsist in the barangay’s parliamentary form of government.
But most Filipinos are not even aware of the parliamentary nature of the barangay’s government. They don’t even have an idea of what constitutes good governance. Others who seem to know don’t seem to care, failing to do their part in it. So the officials are left pretty much to do what they please with impunity, rendering governance at grassroots level basically dysfunctional.
Unless citizens perform their role in the proceedings of the Barangay Assembly, which is the community’s supreme governing body, no one can hold the officials accountable for acts of omission or commission effectively.
We have dealt extensively with the tasks involved in governing the barangay in this column, including the essential role of the constituents. As long as the officials perform their tasks, and the citizens are active in the governing processes, good governance will reign.
Thus, every citizen should know how to tell if there’s good governance. There are various methods and procedures for assessing the performance of government, some requiring elaborate checklists, others long manuals and seminars, and still others too abstruse and technical—using charts, graphs or mastery of mathematical formulae—as to be of any use to a lay person.
For practical purposes, every citizen can simply adopt a thumbnail guide to assessing good governance in the jurisdiction. Whether in the barangay, the municipality, city, province, or the nation, four attributes generally characterize good governance: transparency, accountability, degree of citizen participation, and a level playing field. Let us review these one by one.
Transparency means that the government’s operations, transactions, and activities are done in the open and made known to the public, especially to the constituents. And the information should be accessible on request.
It is important for people to know what programs or projects are being planned or undertaken, by whom, for whom, with what resources or budgets, and within what period. The projects should also be properly justified and explained.
Public knowledge and information about these activities enable citizens to make an intelligent judgment about the wisdom, usefulness, or appropriateness of government’s acts and decisions.
Thus, public officials are duty-bound to comply with reporting requirements on all its activities such as progress reports. The President’s “State of the Nation Address” before Congress every year is one such report. The same goes for the provincial governor, the municipal and city mayor, and the barangay chairman on the conditions in their respective jurisdictions.
Apart from annual reports, up-to-date information should also be issued through announcements, newsletters, and other means of information like social media. It is the way to win and maintain the public’s confidence.
Transparency strengthens public trust and solidifies the bond between government and people. It is an essential indicator of good governance. Keeping the local government transparent is also part of a citizen’s role. And it is done by attending meetings and public hearings, monitoring sessions of the legislative unit (sanggunian), taking action when something is amiss, and actual participation in sessions of the Barangay Assembly to which he belongs.
Doing so ensures that people’s views will be factored in all decisions and plans and not overlooked or disregarded. Public hearings and proceedings concerning big-ticket contracts and projects are meant to prevent graft and corruption or abuse.
The low turnout of citizens in these local government activities accounts for the high level of graft and corruption throughout the bureaucracy, generally causing bad governance and, ultimately, weakening Philippine democracy.
So if you wish to be an asset to our republic, heed the motto of the Gising Barangay Movement: “Government is everybody’s business. If you’re not involved, you can’t expect good governance!”
(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; member, government peace panel during the administration of Corazon Aquino; awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)