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Why take part in local governance

Manny Valdehuesa .

AS a people who profess to be committed to democracy, our political record, especially with respect to elections, show us to be immature voters. We are easily manipulated. We are too readily swayed by campaign promises. Too many are susceptible to election bribery like vote-buying or selling. And too many take the antics of grandstanding trapos without testing or examining them for credibility.

As if that were not bad enough, we have not learned the wisdom of ancient political philosophers who said that “the penalty for those who do not participate in politics is to be governed by yout inferiors.”

This is so true of the more knowledgeable sectors of our community. Because they do not participate or get involved in performing their civic duties, those who are less qualified or badly motivated (their inferiors) do the governing.

Rarely does one see in one’s community the professionals, even the educators and faith-based groups, participate in the affairs of their local government. They don’t even bother attending their Barangay Assembly (the supreme governing body of their community) and so do not contribute their ideas and insights to its deliberations and decisions. It is a great pity, because their participation is what good governance badly needs. Otherwise inferior ideas and decisions prevail in the community.

The law mandates the barangay to be governed as a direct democracy—meaning, its constituents do the managing directly and collectively by taking part in its governing process. This is consistent with the state policy of local autonomy and in accordance to the principle of subsidiarity.

But it’s the barangay officials—supposedly the community’s public servants—who are doing all the governing. So instead of a direct democracy in operation, it is an oligarchy (a government run by a few) that governs. The few arrogate the role of the constituents and make all decisions. They determine the policies, do the planning, and handle all operations by themselves. And they so without so much as consult the constituents or seek their approval.

Worse, the constituents (sovereign citizens!) let them get away with it, letting them take matters into their hands. Consequently, instead being empowered, the constituents emasculate their own powers as the officials manipulate them and their resources, doing so with little or no accountability.

When the community, supposedly the principals of our republic, neglect or ignore their civic duties and responsibilities, they render their sovereign nature meaningless in the political life of the community.

This failure to participate—and the resultant takeover of the community by trapos—is trivializing democracy at the grassroots, the foundational level of our Republic. It belittles the role of the community’s supreme governing body—the Barangay Assembly and its members—as they are sidelined.

A parliament except in name, this Assembly is the local legislative governing body; but it is dysfunctional for lack of attention, participation, and interest in its proceedings. To let it be coopted or dominated by the public servants encourages the latter to carry on like masters instead of servants.

Even the local NGOs ignore the Barangay Development Council which they’re supposed to animate with their participation. If they’re uncaring about their duty and responsibility to animate local governance, they neglect a very important role. If they tend to activities that have more to do with socializing than with governing, they short-change the community. Social clubs like the Rotary or Jaycees readily come to mind.

If they’re preoccupied and distracted by social activities, especially of the vain sort, their duty to help govern or even man the community’s tasks takes a back seat.

The larger implication of this failure to perform citizen duty has been to deprive Filipinos of the experience of governing. To this day, our citizenry has not learned to exact accountability or responsibility from their public servants. Lacking such experience, it becomes unrealistic to expect them to govern a large entity like a federal state consisting of hundreds of barangays.

Until Filipinos acquire the knowledge, ability, experience, and maturity to govern their own community, can they govern a federal state properly? It would be the height of recklessness to let them. It would only cause politics and government to be dominated all the more by ambitious but incompetent boxers, entertainers, and traditional politicians (trapos). Then, as with today’s barangays, the new federal states will also be controlled by the same pretentious bunch.

Let’s face it: most Filipinos remain uninformed or ignorant of their role and obligations as citizens. As a result, public officials take it for granted that—since their constituents are uncaring—they can also be uncaring. Worse, they can take liberties with their borrowed powers and the community’s resources for their own purposes. Which is why so many are emboldened to use, misuse, abuse, or manipulate whatever is placed in their care.

A constituency governed by its inferiors: this is the reality in our barangays and local government units today.


(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, Cory Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail:


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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