Thursday, June 21, 2007

Democracy and Peoples Participation

1. Democracy

The conventional undertanding of democracy is in the frequently-qouted, western-inspired line: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. When taken by the Filipinos, it was rephrased into a government "off" the people, "buy" the people, and "poor" the people.

But seriously, democracy as a political system is a governance mode that relies heavily on citizens participation. To ensure this, two crucial elements of democracy are the legitimacy of its governmental leaders (consent of the governed to be led) and the acceptable selection process for the preoples' representatives in government (electoral process).

Again, going to the Philippine context, both elements are problematic and eventually becomes the cause of an alarming culture: cynicism, indifference, and pragmatism. "Hear no evil, see no evil." "Mind you own business." "Go to the courts and prove me guilty." "I need money, cant eat principles." These are some of the more popular phrases among Filipinos today.

It is not surprising therefore that peoples participation in Philippine democracy is reduced to lip service nowadays. In fact, it has become an afterthought. The priority is the economy. And as long as that is allegedly done, those in power can get away with everything else.

It is in this political and cultural mess that the elections for barangay leaders will be done this year, barely a few months after the national election. Im afraid that these electoral exercises will be a slap to the quest for peoples participation. Thus, it may be worth our time to revisit the Local Government Code (LGC) and the mechanisms for participation it has tried to institutitonalize.

2. LGC and empowerment

The LGC is a concrete step towards decentralization and devolution. In theory, this process would bring the government closer to the people and provide greater access and participation for the ordinary citizen. The ultimate goal is peoples empowerment.

Interesting provisions in the LGC (as far as peoples participation is concerned) are the following: a) ngo/po/private sector representation in the local special bodies such as barangay devt. council, pre-bid and awards committee, local school board, local health board, local peace and order council ; b)power of recall; c)initiative and referendum, d) public consultation, e)mandatory hearings.

3. LGU Tasks

It is depressing to note that the culture of participation still yet to be seen among many local government units who have opened up to these LGC-mandated mechanisms. And it gets worse when you look at the major works of the local government units such as organizational management, development planning, delivery of basic services, inter-governmental relations, and even its relations with the ngo/po/private sector. The apparently diminishing premium on participation is alarming.

4. Evolving nature of the barangay

But partly because of the LGC, the barangay may be a good battleground for peoples participation. Being endowed with quasi-corporate and mass movement character, aside from being a governmental unit, the barangay is now empowered to champion peoples participation. Its relatively enhanced access to and control of resources, as well as greater mobilizing power for its constitutents, ultimately provide wonderful opportunities for peoples participation.

5. Challenges

The 2007 Barangay election will be a battle of independence or subordination among the barangay leaders. Independence from partisan interest and political agenda will be a tremendous challenge for candidates. Subordination to these agenda and interest is the destiny of the winners.

Unless peoples participation is taken seriously, this will always be the cycle in our electoral system and governance scheme.

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