Manny Valdehuesa .
IT takes citizens with a sense of responsibility to establish a responsible government. Not only those who take their civic duties seriously, but citizens who assert their political authority in order to safeguard and advance the common good.
Responsible citizens know that government is accountable to them. They make it a point to ensure that the government they establish does account for its performance. And they know they can remove or replace their officials through their power of Recall.
This is something every citizen of the barangay should keep in mind as they prepare to vote in the elections, which is just a week away. For accountability is an even more intimate requirement for good governance in the barangay—since it operates as a direct democracy. Its citizens serve as the community’s check-and-balance mechanism.
The failure to appreciate this aspect of the barangay’s government—its being a direct democracy—is one of the great shortcomings of our political system.
Through their membership in their Barangay Assembly, which is the community’s local parliament (its legislative governing body) barangay citizens constitute an official part of government. If they relegate all the governing tasks to their officials, they cancel themselves out in governing their community. And they leave it open to all sorts of abuses by the officials, local or external.
Not only is it irresponsible for citizens to be remiss in performing their governing duty, they cause their own government to be irresponsible.
Today is a good time to look around and ponder the state of affairs of one’s barangay. Does it have an active citizenry? Does it need a change in leadership? Are its neighborhoods orderly, properly maintained, the leaders and the citizens attentive to its needs?
The paramount question of course is, who can best provide the leadership this time around? To improve order, harmony, and cooperation in its neighborhoods. To ensure that sanitation, cleanliness, and maintenance are sustained. To usher the people into the arena of self-governance or autonomy and empower them.
One should consider that the current officials have been in office too long. Did they take advantage of the opportunity presented by the suspension and cancellation of elections since 2014—to streamline or improve arrangements in the barangay? As for those who want to be reelected, do they deserve to stay on?
A cursory view of barangays today is instructive. It reveals how low is the quality of their officialdom generally. If the officials are well-educated, qualified, or competent, is it reflected in their performance or in the quality of life of their neighborhoods? It is not enough to be qualified; one must serve and perform well!
The least that one can expect is order, sanitation, and cleanliness to be maintained, as befits every decent community. Yet, rare is the barangay that does not have its own slum area, tolerating squatters.
Consider also the role of the citizenry. Is volunteerism promoted? In many barangays, there is an abundance of able and experienced citizens in their neighborhoods, especially retirees or senior citizens. They have time and resources to share if they are afforded the chance to serve or be usefully involved. Are avenues of service open to them in the community?
In general, there’s a dearth of development initiatives, which makes one wonder where all the barangay’s revenues are invested. Does anyone know that the barangay is a public corporation, with the same resources, powers, and privileges available to any corporation?
But the real problem can be traced to the people of the barangay and their choice of leaders. Why do they elect such inferior public servants? Irresponsible or incompetent barangay officials are the product of irresponsible barangay voters.
As repeatedly pointed out in this column, the barangay, unlike the upper-level governments, is supposed to operate as a direct democracy. Meaning, its citizens are part of its government; that therefore everyone must take part in making policy and in overseeing its operations. They are official members of its supreme governing body, the Barangay Assembly!
But not even the national government or the DILG seem to know this. Worse, they actually dictate when the sovereign citizens of the barangay are to assemble and what are to be taken up, spoon-feeding them. Then we ask why Filipinos are politically immature.
Manipulating the people in their barangay—the very people that establish government on all levels—has stunted the growth and development of our democracy. It is unacceptable. It perpetuates the vicious cycle that causes citizens to be irresponsible, who then establish irresponsible governments on all levels.
Worse, it is playing into the hands of authoritarian, feudal-minded leaders who can think of nothing better than to declare martial law or establish a revolutionary government—thereby keep the citizenry dependent upon their ministrations and remain irresponsible!
(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific and the PPI-Unicef’s awardee as outstanding columnist. He is chairman/convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)