Redefining barangay in new charter
The administration’s dogged determination in fighting crime is still very much appreciated. For in the eyes of many, all criminals are vile villains. This is a bitter fact of life that has numbed most Filipinos to the brutality of the war on drugs.
As part of its battle strategy, the administration is now pushing for the postponement of the barangay elections. All posts shall then be declared vacant even though only 40 percent of incumbent barangay officials may have links to illegal drugs. The plan also includes President Duterte appointing a new set of barangay leaders.
While postponing the elections is constitutionally permissible provided Congress enacts the appropriate legislation, the appointment of barangay officials is not.
The Constitution defines the barangay as a territorial and political subdivision. It is classified in the charter as a local government. Correspondingly, it is not part of the national government. Indeed, the latter is defined in the Administrative Code as “the entire machinery of the central government, as distinguished from the different forms of local governments.”
Under Article X, Section 2, the barangay enjoys local autonomy. The oft-cited rationale for this directive is to “liberate the local governments from the imperialism of Manila.” In fact, local autonomy has long been understood as a degree of “self-immolation” on the part of the national government because local officials are now accountable to their constituency instead of the central authority (i.e., Malacañang).
Inherent and indispensable in such a governance regime in the Constitution is giving the people the responsibility to directly choose their community leaders. Hence, giving the President the power to appoint barangay officials deprives Filipinos of their constitutionally endowed power to select their own local officials.
Furthermore, implied in the power to appoint is the power to remove. Therefore, the power to appoint barangay officials automatically affords the President the power of control over them. This directly contravenes Article X, Section 4, which grants the President only the power of “general supervision over local governments.”
Still, the administration should be commended for training a spotlight on barangay leaders. Without a doubt, they play an important role in arresting the growing number of self-centered Filipinos. If left unchecked, this me-first paradigm can evolve into a complete lack of respect for the common good. The logical end of this progression is a life of crime.
Accordingly, the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) on constitutional reform should consider returning to the original meaning of the barangay by directly amending Article II, Section 1 and, by implication, Article X, Section 1 and Article XV, Section 1. The new provision will thus read: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them. The barangay is the foundation of the nation.”
The barangay shall therefore be reclassified as the country’s basic social unit. Additionally, the Con-Com should also prescribe a special section for the barangay in its draft charter, explicitly prescribing its raison d’être as inculcating in every Filipino a deep allegiance for the common good. The aim here is to establish bayanihan as the national ethos.
But it must be emphasized that the barangay’s autonomy must remain intact. Its purpose is redefined precisely to remove it from partisan politics. Its precolonial character is restored to reinforce its role as the linchpin of true democracy.
The constitutional recognition of the barangay as the foundation of our nation triggers the process of reintegrating in the public consciousness the notion that the community is far more important than the individual.
More importantly, this reform can ignite the community solidarity necessary to sustain a deep level of cooperation and commitment to one another. To visualize the impact of this change in relation to national development, think Banaue Rice Terraces.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.
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