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Taking back power

Do you feel that things are getting away from you, that you are in a situation fast spinning out of control while you look on helplessly? Well, you may derive some comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  And that indeed, you can do something about it.

What I am suggesting will be for the long term. But you will feel the power returning to you quite quickly.  And as the saying goes, the long term starts now.

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What exactly am I suggesting? Simple.

Attend your Barangay Assembly next Sunday, Oct. 9. That’s the first step.

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Whatever for? I’ve got better things to do, I can almost hear you say. But before you turn the page, please consider the following: Everyone of us lives in a barangay, right? Well, did you know that the writers of our Constitution considered the barangay “the institutionalization of people power”? Here’s why:

In a paper titled “Essential Attributes of the Barangay,” Manny Valdehuesa, aka Mr. Barangay and head of the Gising Barangay Movement, notes that:

The barangay has the essential elements of a republic—a defined territory, population, government, and, though  limited, sovereignty. And the Big Philippine Republic draws its life force, direction and political will from these small barangay republics—42,029 of them as of last year. Valdehuesa warns: “It takes only one barangay to form a band of terrorists who can hold the nation hostage or place it in the grip of terror.”

The barangay has a full-fledged government. It has the power to tax and to police, even the power of eminent domain. And like the Big Philippine Republic, it has three branches of government—executive (barangay chair and his/her office), legislative (Sangguniang Barangay), and judicial (Lupon Tagapayapa).

But here’s where the differences with the Big Philippine Republic begin, because in a barangay, there are no separation of powers. The barangay has a parliamentary form of government, because all three branches are headed by the barangay chair.

The second major difference (the people power part) is that it has a legislative governing body, the Barangay Assembly, which is a parliament except in name. This, in fact, is the barangay’s supreme governing body, consisting of the entire constituency (ages 15 and above who have been residents for at least six months).  And since it consists of all voting constituents, it is literally a constituent assembly—i.e., it is superior to the Sangguniang Barangay since its acts, decisions and resolutions express the sovereign will of the people of the community.

Moreover, because every constituent participates in its deliberations directly (or ought to), its governing process is a direct democracy like in ancient Athens, or in the modern-day villages of Israel and Switzerland.

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How’s that for people power? To wit: The Barangay Assembly can discipline or recall the chair and  kagawad  for loss of confidence (Sec. 69-75, Republic Act No. 7160, the Local Government Code). It may also initiate legislation, propose, enact, or amend ordinances, approve or disapprove official acts, undertake the process of initiative or referendum with respect to local policies or ordinances, and approve or disapprove the barangay’s annual budget (Ch. VI of RA 7160).

The barangay, like other local government units, is a public corporation, with the Sangguniang Barangay as its board of directors.

But the  Barangay Assembly serves also as its stockholders meeting, with the stockholders’ certificates being the voter IDs. Like any corporation, the barangay can increase its resources  by investing, lending, or borrowing, by creating enterprises, by establishing revenue-generating projects, etc., and the Barangay Assembly can participate in these developmental aspects.

Beautiful, isn’t it? That was the plan. The reality is quite different, making a mockery of people power. Why? Two reasons, according to Mr. Barangay: First, “It doesn’t occur to people (meaning us) that like congress or any collegial or corporate body, the Barangay Assembly is powerless unless it is in session, deliberating formally. Only if they do can they initiate policies, make decisions, or approve/disapprove acts of their government. By doing so, they can they initiate/legislate reforms from the grassroots up!”

And second, “The government’s failure to introduce, explain, or implement these barangay processes (per the Local Government Code) explains why, instead of being our Big Republic’s firm foundation, the barangays are its soft underbelly—dominated as they are by traditional politicians (trapos) who corrupt it with patronage and manipulate its voters as an electoral machine. Weak barangays cannot produce a strong republic!”

So there you have it, Reader. On one hand, the Constitution and the law empower us, as barangay constituents, to be members of the barangay parliament and practice direct democracy. But first we have to attend the Barangay Assembly and see for ourselves how our indifference and ignorance of the law, helped by lack of information dissemination on the part of the government,  have allowed the trapos to usurp the powers we should have.

Let’s take back that power. Attend the Barangay Assembly and future assemblies, and see what we can do to clean up the country and move it forward, by starting with our barangay. On Oct. 9.

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TAGS: barangay assembly, Essential Attributes of the Barangay, the institutionalization of people power
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