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WORM’S EYEVIEW: For a Strong Republic, let’s have proper barangay elections

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 29 June) – Let’s prepare well for the barangay elections in October. There’s enough time to consider and decide what changes we want for our neighborhoods: who should take charge, what programs and projects to initiate, what policies to adopt. The outcome will determine the character of our society and republic.

Keep in mind that the national condition is but the sum total of reality in the 42,000 barangays that make up our nation. As cells are to the human body, the barangays are to the body politic, our republic.

To keep the body healthy, its cells must be healthy. Even one cell can afflict the body and cause illness. So also can even one barangay stress our republic and create instability. All you need is one barangay to recruit a platoon of rebels or a band of terrorists to hold the nation hostage.

It is essential therefore for the people of every barangay to tend to its affairs in order to keep our republic secure and stable. If democracy is operative in every barangay, democracy reigns in our republic. If every barangay is productive, we have a productive republic.

It’s the little things in our barangay that make up the big things in our republic.

Thus, if we want to straighten out or strengthen democracy throughout our republic, we must ensure that it is operative in our neighborhood, the barangay. In other words, the reform effort must involve us and, if possible, start with us in our own community.

Reform begins with the way we think and do things. It becomes reality if we exemplify it as a way of life, a habit, and an attitude. And for it to last, it must be inclusive. It cannot be left to others or to the neighbors. Everyone must pitch-in. And to be successful, keep three things in mind.

First, it’s important to awake to reality so you’ll see how our leaders have turned our democracy into an oligarchy—government in which power is in the hands of a few. In your city or barangay, do the people have power? Are you or your barangay assembly consulted or do they just go ahead and do what they like? Who are the oligarchs in Davao or in Bukidnon?

And yet the power/authority is supposed to be with the people. It’s time to stop the bad autocratic habits of oligarchs and the barangay is as good a starting place as any, aided by the Rule of Law. For example, oligarchs have managed to reduce our exercise of sovereignty to just one act every three years: casting a vote on election day, and we’re not even sure if our vote is counted. As if this isn’t bad enough, they’ve also managed over the years to suppress citizen authority (People Power) by not holding consultations, public hearings, referendums, or the like as mandated.

Refer to the Local Government Code where it ordains that the Barangay Assembly shall convene at least twice a year (Section 397). Note that they have effectively substituted “at least” with “at most.” Contrary to the Code, DILG has institutionalized the practice of having the Barangay Assembly meet only once in March and once in October each year. This has robbed the constituents and their local parliament (Barangay Assembly) of the option to meet as often as they need to deliberate on the community’s agenda or to resolve its problems.

On the other hand, we have allowed it to go on for so long that it has become accepted practice—routine and taken for granted! And we don’t complain. We don’t question or raise the issue. We don’t even have them report or account for their performance, not even for their expenditures. What do they take us for, Granted?

Worse, we let their Pork-addicted bosses in Congress bribe our neighbors with dole-out and all sorts of patronage to buy voter loyalty and support.

Worst, year after year we allow their bosses to set aside for themselves humongous Pork Barrel allowances to fund these handouts and other activities including their share of the loot while leaving our poor neighbors stranded in the poverty trap!

Second, it is important to remind ourselves and our neighbors that barangay elections are not personal battles between ambitious candidates. These elections are meant to be an event where civilized ideas for the community’s development compete for our attention and approval.

In other words, the issue is how the barangay is to be developed—economically, culturally, politically. It should not be about who becomes the Boss. Nor is it about who gains a livelihood from the barangay’s resources or its Internal Revenue Allotment. And it certainly should not be about grabbing the power to manipulate the community for any purpose. Service to its development, welfare, and progress is the primary consideration!

Not the least of our reminders to self and others is the law which prohibits partisanship and divisive rivalries in the barangay (Section 38, Omnibus Election Code). Nothing personal or selfish should sully the conduct of barangay elections. The accent must be on developmental advocacy, not politics—there’s enough of it at upper levels!

Moreover, the proper venue and format for electoral competition should be neighborhood debates and forums—moderated ideally by a council of senior citizens and academics of the community. Any intention, talk, or attempt to engage in vote buying and other corrupt practices must be firmly dealt with and condemned by the community. And there must be no compromise.

Third, because the campaign for votes will be waged at the level of intimacy (our neighborhood, the barangay) the conduct of the elections should adhere strictly to neighborliness, honesty, and fairness in order to maintain harmony and the integrity of the grassroots. And this is where the value and crucial importance of our role in these elections come in. This is our chance to assert our desires and expectations as the citizens in whom the sovereignty of our republic resides and from whom all government authority emanates,

Since the barangay and its citizens are the wellspring of sovereignty, the seat of People Power, and the source of all government authority in our republic, it is essential that we choose (and cause to be chosen) only competent, mature, and trustworthy leaders. To fail in this is to establish a weak platform for our republic—which stands atop the barangay, the primary base of our democracy and political structure.

For our sakes and for the sake of our republic, we’ve got to elect independent-minded, trustworthy, and responsible barangay chairmen and kagawads!

Too long have we tolerated barangays with officials that are incompetent, immature, power-greedy, or beholden to leaders with questionable motives and predatory practices. We cannot expect to build a respectable and Strong Republic with such type of grassroots leaders.

The challenge for us in this year’s October elections is to practice Assertive Sovereignty so that the leadership of our barangay will be renewed or replenished with worthy grassroots leaders—who will then forge a strong foundation for our republic. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Manny Valdehuesa is the president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc. He can be reached at valdehuesa@gmail.com.)

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