Parliaments of villages

>> Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ike Señeres

In theory and in practice, a parliamentary system combines all the three functions of government, namely judicial, legislative and executive. While many sectors of our society are advocating the adoption of the parliamentary system at the national level, many among us are seemingly unaware that that system is already in place at our lowest level of governance, namely the at the barangay level.
In a manner of speaking, it could be said that we are still dreaming in our head that we could have that system at our national level; we already have it right under our noses, not just in one place, but in more than 42,000 places all over the country. Moreover, it could actually be said that we not only have one big Republic, we actually have 42,000 small republics all around us.
 One feature of the parliamentary system is that the Prime Minister and his allied Ministers could immediately be changed if their ruling party loses the majority, and that is usually expressed by way of a vote of no confidence. Again, perhaps unknown to a lot of people, a Barangay Chairman and his allied Council Members could readily be changed by way of a recall election, following a process that is in a way similar to a vote of no confidence.
Of course, it follows that the Council Members who are performing judicial, legislative and executive functions would also be changed. At the very least, it could be said that this is a democratic process that would ensure the continuing confidence of the local people in a village government, but unfortunately this process is seldom used.
 It is indeed a grand irony that the people who are calling for a shift towards the parliamentary system are really not doing much to take advantage of the parliamentary system that already exists at the village level.
In a way, it could be said that that amounts to wasting an opportunity, because if more people are sold to the parliamentary form because of their positive experiences, then it would not be difficult to convince them to also adopt the same system at the national level. As the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and with that as a guideline, these advocates should really just use their energies to make the parliamentary system work at the village level.
 It is also a grand irony that political parties are banned from participating in village elections, but despite that ban, the politics almost always becomes very intense in these elections, to the point of becoming violent. Perhaps that is one provision that should be changed if and when the Local Government Code (LGC) is amended, to directly allow the participation of political parties at the village elections, because after all, they are already doing that now one way or the other, albeit indirectly.
If we agree in theory that a political party is supposed to have an ideology, then we could probably also agree that banning the participation of political parties in village elections in effect paves the way for the entry of village leaders who are ideologically barren.
 Although it does not necessarily follow, the adoption of the federal system of government in the Philippines would almost certainly bring in also the adoption of the parliamentary system both at the national level and at the level of the prospective federal states. If that is a realistic scenario that could probably ensue, it would probably be a good idea therefore to start propagating the parliamentary form at the village level, in effect using the village settings to practice for what could probably ensue later on at the national level. I say that because after going through over a hundred years of the presidential system, it is not that easy to unify the judicial, legislative and executive functions into one combined system.
Perhaps the LGC purposely excluded the political parties from the barangay elections based on the assumption that these parties would destroy the spirit of community cooperation at the village level. Add to that assumption the perception that politics is bad, and it could not do any good for the community. In reality however, politics is supposed to be a neutral process that is intrinsically neither good nor bad. Presumably, only the political parties could turn out to be bad, but in reality, not all political parties are bad either. In that sense, banning the political parties from village elections on the assumption that they could not do good is like throwing away the baby along with the dirty bath water.
As the saying goes, “you get what you pay”. That goes with another saying that “if you feed peanuts, you get monkeys”. Translate that to mean that we get the leaders that we deserve. That means that if we do not do anything good to actively participate in the local parliamentary process, we should not complain if the process is dominated by bad politicians. At the risk of sounding too pessimistic, I would still say that not unless we would learn to appreciate the advantages of the parliamentary system at the local level, we would not also value it so much if we will have it at the national level. As another saying goes, “be careful what you ask for, because you might just get it”. If we ask for the parliamentary system at the national level, we might just get it. What then shall we do with it?
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