Now’s the time to empower those who are not in power! PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 14 September 2014 14:13

By MANNY VALDEHUESA

 

Before P-Noy’s term runs out on them, Mar Roxas and his Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) should make haste to fulfill their mandate to empower the people—which they should have done since this administration took over.

Unless they do, the long-term stability of our Republic cannot be ensured and the reforms they claim to have introduced will be short-lived as traditional politicians (trapos)—just waiting in the wings!—return full force in 2016 to reclaim their accustomed vulture’s perch.

It should have been obvious to P-Noy and Mar from the outset that the unfinished agenda of EDSA and Cory’s administration was the empowerment of the people, nudging them towards autonomy and self-governance—so they can no longer be readily abused or manipulated by trapos.

But instead of doing so, P-Noy curtailed People Power and limited its orderly exercise by decreeing that the Barangay Assembly convene only twice yearly, once in March and again in October.

*****

In so doing, P-Noy not only limited the frequency that sovereign citizens can take up and tend to their affairs, he also limited their right to define the priorities and the substance of governing themselves—by having the DILG dictate the agenda for every Assembly.

Consequently, the people who constitute the Barangay Assembly—their local parliament—still have no effective voice in their community’s affairs; they are beholden to officials who take their cue from the DILG instead of from them.

So it’s no surprise that to this day little or nothing of significance emanates from the government of the grassroots; and it’s mainly because no one from the community’s educated sectors bother to attend the Barangay Assembly or contribute to the substance of its proceedings.

In other words, serious citizens—people with ideas—find little or nothing that challenges or motivates them to take self-governance seriously. This is especially pronounced in barangays where the officials are clearly out for themselves, for the privileges they derive from being in power, and for the control of politics in their turf.

*****

Since democracy draws its strength from people power, and popular will is the foundation of good government, institutionalizing the role of people in the governing process ought to have been the overarching mission of Malacañang and the DILG from the outset.

But the DILG has shown little or no concern for the role of the people—who happen to be the constituents to whom all officials are accountable and answerable.

So there is a serious imbalance between the few who are in power and the many who are the source of their power—and indeed of all power and authority in our Republic.

Clearly, this long-standing imbalance needs to be corrected so that the dynamic relationship required in the polity for a smooth-functioning of democracy will reign.

*****

It’s not clear whether the DILG’s Local Government Academy offers people empowerment courses or seminars dealing with the role of constituents in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

What is clear is that the DILG has programs offering all sorts of perks and junkets including “Lakbay-Aral” trips for elected officials—the public servants who often think they are the government.

In other words, the DILG’s focus on capacitating the officeholders contributes to or creates the imbalance favoring them, to the prejudice of the constituents. Already in power, they are further empowered.

But the people (who are not in power) are left pretty much on the lurch, uninformed about their role in a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

*****

Worse, the people are often marginalized by misinformed officials who think and act as if they are the government while the people are theirs to govern.

This skewed view of their role and mission has kept autonomy from developing. People-powered governance is frustrated by the few who substitute oligarchy for direct democracy and parliamentary government.

And so local autonomy as a State Policy does not take root. It is suppressed by officials who manipulate the governing process, keeping it distant from the people by minimizing their participation.

For example, they conduct the Barangay Assembly like a school convocation where the people sit below while the officials intone their pompous reports and announcements on stage. No one seems to know that this is an all-inclusive Constituent Assembly composed of their bosses, the sovereign citizens; that this is the Stockholders Meeting of the public corporation called barangay; and that it is their supreme governing body—with power to discipline or recall them!

*****

Overall, the effect has been the weakening of the will of the community, which is the ultimate authority in our democracy. Rarely defined or asserted, this popular will is unable to act autonomously or with conviction, not even to question impropriety or corruption, let alone initiate reforms. And so the barangays are not the durable, stable foundation they are meant to be for our Republic.

It’s time for every community or barangay to be empowered. For Mar Roxas and DILG, this means provisioning the constituents with the essential knowledge they need to be able to govern themselves intelligently. Knowledge is power! Keeping the people ignorant is power failure.

They cannot participate in self-governance, or enrich its processes with their ideas and contributions, if their role is unexplained or, worse, arrogated by their public servants. Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Government’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. valdehuesa@gmail.com He writes for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews