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Government of, by, and for the people

By Manny Valdehuesa Jr. .

I’VE said it before and I’ll say it again: A hands-on experience in actual governing is necessary for our people to ripen to political maturity. Knowledge and practice in the dynamics of democratic interaction and collaboration are important. They are the keys to being empowered.

Over the years, largely ruled by leaders who couldn’t shake off their colonial mentality, our people are not yet free enough or confident enough to deal with officials they vote into office, unable to make them accountable or responsive to the needs of the citizenry.

Not only that, as constituents and the source of all government authority, our people have yet to learn to repudiate officials who prove incompetent, unworthy of the public trust, or corrupt. As a result, even the most scandalous or corrupt officials in their own community are not held to account.

It is a serious weakness of our democracy that no official has been dispossessed by their own constituents of the power delegated to them. They are simply tolerated and left to themselves or, in many cases, simply buy their way out through bribery. And so they are ale to continue to do harm to government and society.

It’s mostly because our brand of “democracy”—if one can call it that—emasculates rather than empowers our citizens. Decades of tolerance of ersatz democracy—by both the government and the people—have not enabled any of our communities to govern even the small jurisdiction that is their barangay.

As a result, the people of our neighborhoods still do not possess the experience or self-confidence that is derived from participating in the governing process. Unable to assert their sovereign right to participate, they ignore or belittle their role in government. How else can almost 90% of our political units be ruled by shameless autocrats and dynastic politicos? And how else can these trapos indulge their egos, holding on to public office for as long as they like?

The irony is, no one in power is even self-conscious or apologetic about this flagrant power-greed. They simply do all the governing, not bothering with the demands of accountability or the principle of consent-of-the-governed. Is it any wonder that our society is bereft of statesman-like leaders?

Shame, atrocious manners, scandalous behavior now rule Philippine Society. And its decent elements are marginalized. Human dignity and even church institutions are subjected to profane, foul language, no less by the president. And the people give him unprecedented levels approval.

Yet the law empowers our people to express or assert their sovereign will in various ways. They are members of their Barangay Assembly, their local parliament. It is their local legislative governing body.

When people are prevented from initiating local laws or ordinances—tasks that give meaning and substance to the concept of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people—democracy cannot develop properly. These tasks are the essentials of autonomy, which in turn is the essence of federalism.

Involvement and participation enable people to appreciate and learn the art and craft of political science and good governance. Doing so is Democracy-in-Action. It exemplifies the principle that power must rise from below; that the power and authority of government emanate from the citizens and not from their presumptuous officials.

But too many if not all of our officials have no taste for accountability or understanding of the principle of consent-of-the-governed. They are fake democrats. They do not understand that the people’s political maturity is our Republic’s best assurance that it will be firmly anchored upon People Power.

Not to involve the people in the governing process is to betray the public trust. It is to violate the people’s inherent right to secure their own welfare and create their own prosperity. And it is to keep them dependent upon the ministrations of their public servants. And this explains why most Filipinos—sovereign citizens all!—continue to rely on directives from above.

It is time we disabuse ourselves of the attitude that power resides in the halls of Imperial Manila. And it is time to remind the people of Davao that there should be no room in our democracy or in their city hall for dictators and dynasties.

When enough Filipinos awake to their bounden duty and right to govern their own community and government, that is when we can confidently proclaim that democracy reigns in the Philippine Archipelago. Because only then will there be an Assertive Brand of Sovereignty to guide our Republic.

 

(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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