Why Filipinos are politically immature
A reading of the Local Government Code (Republic Act No. 7160), particularly where it defines the nature and role of the barangay and its Assembly (Book III, Title One), tells us that the barangay’s prescribed governing system is direct democracy, as distinguished from the representative democracy of the upper levels. It’s a variation of what has been practiced since the time of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates in Greece, where it was devised to enable people to govern themselves.
Direct democracy continues to operate today in villages of Switzerland, Israel, and other countries. Also called “pure democracy,” it lets a citizen participate actively in the governing process, giving him or her a piece of the action in a democracy.
It is only proper that people participate in the government since its acts and decisions affect every citizen directly or indirectly. A citizen’s right and duty to participate is affirmed by our laws, detailing where and how one actually participates. The venue for participation is the Barangay Assembly, which is the community’s legislative governing body or parliament. The process is in taking part in the Assembly’s proceedings—in its exchange of ideas, in making proposals for good governance, in crafting ordinances, and so forth.
Note that this Assembly consists of every constituent within the community who is of voting age. Thus, it is quite literally a constituent assembly. It is the community’s highest authority. Its sovereign citizens elect the local leaders as well as the national. It is they who create the government.
Unfortunately, there has been a serious failure of information about these. The Local Government Code has not been properly or duly promulgated and explained. There has been a dearth of initiative in explaining and implementing the Local Government Code, our so-called autonomy law.
Neither the officials nor the citizens recognize the value of having hands-on experience in governing. So they don’t bother to activate their parliament. They don’t meet as a community regularly. When they do, it’s at the behest of the officials (their public servants!), with no formality or acknowledgment of their sovereign role.
This failure to assume the mantle of local governance accounts for the weakness of Philippine democracy. It is not founded in its grassroots, the source and the force of People Power.
The Philippine Republic and its democratic framework must be firmly anchored on its citizens. Only sovereign citizens can uphold its integrity by creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Unless Filipinos accept the responsibility of governing their community, the barangay, the basic unit of our political system, the grassroots will remain the soft underbelly instead of the durable foundation for our republic. It cannot effectively be the dynamic source and generator of People Power, but just an unreliable, sputtering generator of it.
When will the bureaucracy awaken to its task of chaperoning our people toward political maturity? And when will civil society awaken to its all-important role of bringing direct democracy to life?
For too long have we dilly-dallied on the path toward political maturity. Shame on us and our poorly performing bureaucracy!
Need we be reminded that we Filipinos were the first in all of Asia to declare ourselves to be a Republic and a democracy? Need we be needled into convening our more than 42,000 barangay-based parliaments, thus crank up the force of citizen sovereignty that must underpin a strong republic?
Manny Valdehuesa ([email protected] com) is former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of the Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; and PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist awardee. He is president/national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc.
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