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COMMENTARY: The Barangay in the new charter

MELBOURNE (MindaNews / 02 April) — In the eyes of society, all criminals are vile villains. This is a bitter fact of life that has numbed many in the country to the brutality of the War on Drugs.

But silence should not be mistaken for apathy. The administration’s dogged determination is appreciated but their strategy and methods will not escape scrutiny.

In this regard, Inquirer columnist, Jose Ma. Montelibano, is correct to point out in his March 24, 2017 piece that, “communities have not been recruited as the primary partners of government in a war against drugs. The one most affected are excluded from the solution.”

While talk of crime rates going down is valued, the fundamental purpose of keeping the peace and maintaining pubic order is to preserve the health and harmony of the community. And Montelibano rightfully warns, “if communities are not motivated and supported by an intentional program of government to find their unity and protective wall again, even killings by the hundreds of thousands will never win the war.”

It is worth recalling that President Rodrigo Duterte’s historic win was founded on his promise of change. And the 16 million Filipinos who voted for him expect a complete overhaul of the political system. The Consultative Committee (Con-Com) on constitutional reform has been tasked to fulfil this commitment.

The mandate of the Con-Com is to “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution including but not limited to the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance, and economic policies.” Finding “an intentional program of government” to re-establish the “unity and protective wall” of Filipino communities certainly falls within this purview.

Accordingly, the Con-Com 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 as follows:

“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 re-classified as the country’s basic social unit. This change is very crucial in revitalizing the bayanihan spirit. This reform triggers the national process of reintegrating in the public consciousness the notion that the community is far more important than the individual.

The Con-Com should actually prescribe a special section for the Barangay in its draft charter. Apart from overhauling its nature, the Barangay’s raison d’être can be specifically defined as inculcating in every Filipino a deep allegiance for the common good (aka the bayanihan spirit).

Consequently, the role of the Barangay in local governance shall be revamped. Currently, the Local Government Code (LGC) assigns regulatory powers to this lowest level of local government (i.e. sanitary permits). Authorities of this nature should be removed. Instead, the Barangay Council should be tasked exclusively with the preservation of community harmony and camaraderie. Section 391 of the LGC is a good reference list of what this mandate specifically entails.

Hence, the new section can also prescribe for the Barangay Assembly which shall be defined as the community forum to be held at least every quarter wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed and considered. The institutionalization of the Katarungang Pambarangay as the community mechanism wherein disputes may be amicably settled can also be provided.

Other matters concerning the Barangay such as the election of the council, their term of office, qualifications of officials and so forth can be left to Congress to determine. In this regard, the Barangay Assembly and the Katarungang Pambarangay should be further enhanced in terms of putting more resources in building modern facilities, in providing up-to-date training for the relevant personnel, and professionalizing their salaries.

In sum, the Con-Con should heed Montelibano’s warning that, “When communities lose their togetherness and become wracked by apathy and partisanship, they become most vulnerable to drugs and corruption.”

Truth be told, the lack of community empathy now slowly dominating public attitudes makes the complete breakdown of our society a very real and frightening possibility. Therefore, any nation-building effort must involve a drastic move to defeat this threat of individualism and selfishness in our midst.

It must be emphasized however that the autonomy of the Barangay must remain intact. Its purpose is redefined precisely to firm up its insulation from the partisan politics. Its pre-colonial character is restored to reinforce its role as the lynchpin of true democracy.  (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. 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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