Democracy at the village level

>> Monday, September 26, 2016

Ike Señeres

There is a saying that “what you don’t know won’t hurt you”, but it seems that that does not apply to our knowledge about the Local Government Code (LGC), in relation to how governance at the barangay level ought to work. That is so because what we do not know barangay governance is actually hurting us, in so many ways that we do not even know.
There is also another saying that “you get what you pay for” and that seems to be more applicable in this context, because if we do not pay attention to our rights and obligations in barangay governance, then we could not even expect to get much in return. As it is supposed to be, democracy is a social contract, and if we do not do anything to make good on that contract, then we should not really expect good things to come our way.
With all the attention that the proposed parliamentary system is getting at the national level, very few seems to have noticed that the parliamentary system already exists at the barangay level. That is so because there is no separation of powers at the barangay level, unlike at the national level.
When people get frustrated about their lawmakers at the national level, they could not do anything except to wait for their terms to end, and then not vote for them when their terms end. At the barangay level however, it is possible for the Barangay Assembly to overturn any and all decisions of the Barangay Council. That is so because the Barangay Assembly is the equivalent of the Stockholder’s Meeting and the Barangay Council is only the equivalent of the Board of Directors.
Even if it is true that People’s Initiatives and recall elections could both be done at the national level and at the barangay level, it is much easier to do that at the latter level, because lesser people are involved, and therefore, lesser numbers are needed to make these two instruments happen.
As it is now, there is already a precedent for a People’s Initiative to be conducted at the barangay level, and that happened in Barangay Milagrosa in Quezon City in 2011. The local residents voted to pass an ordinance stopping the influx of squatters and drugs in their community, bypassing the Barangay Council. A successful recall election was held in Puerto Princesa in 2015, replacing the Mayor. There is no precedent yet for a Barangay Chairman to be replaced by way of a recall election.
Governance at the barangay level has gone a long way since the days of the Barangay Captain, an official who was practically the local deputy of the colonial Military Governor. Old habits seem to die hard however, because the Barangay Chairman is still commonly called “Captain”.
In reality however, the “Chairman” is supposed to be primus inter pares among all the other members of the Barangay Council. He is also Chairman of Barangay Assembly, but he is powerless if and when the majority would act against him to outvote him. It seems however that the title “Captain” is used beyond the figurative sense; because many Chairmen would tend to adopt a militaristic style rather than a democratic style, thus defeating the democratic purposes of the Barangay Council.
If only the residents of a barangay would know their actual democratic rights, the crooked Barangay Chairmen could easily be hit by a triple whammy, so to speak. First, the resolutions of the Barangay Council could be overturned by the Barangay Assembly. As another option, the residents could also opt to just conduct a People’s Initiative to either pass a new ordinance or to repeal an existing one. If they are not happy with that, they could also call for a recall election wherein the incumbent could still run, but he will be automatically removed if he loses.
If they so desire, the barangay residents could also participate in the Barangay Development Council (BDC), by way of their representatives that will be chosen among the local Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). In a manner of speaking, it could be said that the BDC is the lower council where the residents could participate in local development planning. Needless to say, it is in the BDC where the barangay residents could say what they want to say as to where and how the money from the Internal Revenue Allocation (IRA), and the Special Education Fund (SEF) should be appropriated.
In a manner of speaking, it is also in the BDC where barangay residents could participate in municipal, provincial and regional planning, because in theory, the outputs of the BDC are supposed to be elevated to the Municipal Development Councils (MDCs), the Provincial Development Councils (PDCs) and the Regional Development Councils (RDCs).
Also in a manner of speaking, it could also be said that the barangays are actually the little “republics” that are the building blocks of the bigger “Republic” at the national level. If at all it could be said that corrupt politicians are lording it over in barangay governance; that is only happening because the local residents are not exercising their democratic rights as provided for in the LGC. So to speak, apathy leads to misery.
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