Participatory Democracy

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[by Ike Señeres]

IN theory, democracy is really supposed to be participatory. The Constitution and its many laws are in place to make that possible, but up to now, the present reality seems to be very far from the theory. Suffice it to say that even if the mechanisms are already in place, a lot of work still has to be done, much of it in the form of advocacies, programs and projects.

(image source:
(image source: Press Syndicate/Ted Rall.
Used under Creative Commons)

In my previous columns, I have already written extensively about participatory democracy in the barangay level, by way of participation in the Barangay General Assemblies (BGAs). In recent news reports, there has been a lot of coverage about constitutional provisions for a People’s Initiative (PI), a process that would allow ordinary citizens to pass a law as if it was also passed by the Congress. In a manner of speaking, the PI process is also a form of participatory democracy.

As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for”. That is akin to the saying “You reap what you sow”. Perhaps that is really the essence of democracy. You get something if you invest something. If you invest nothing, then you get nothing. Even if our democratic rights are vested upon us by the Constitution, we also have the option of disregarding our rights, perhaps even waiving these. That is probably what happened in the case of barangay governance, because the turnout in the barangay elections is only about ten percent.

Unlike the Sangguniang Barangay wherein the members are only those who are elected in the barangay elections, everyone in the barangay could attend the BGAs, and anyone above 18 could vote for or against all resolutions. According to the Local Government Code (LGC), BGAs are supposed to be convened at least twice a year, but there is no limit as to how many times these could be convened within a given year. How much more participatory could that get?

Aside from the BGAs however, the LGC also provides for the creation and activation of Barangay Development Councils (BDCs), a formal body wherein about half of its members should come from the private sector, as represented by members of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). Again, how much more participatory could that get? Taken together, the BGAs and the BDCs could work very well with each other, each one serving a different purpose. As I see it, all that is needed is to coordinate the schedules and the agendas of these two bodies, and the people in the barangay could practically write their own destiny.

As I see it, the coordination between the agendas of the BGAs and the BDCs is only a matter of scheduling. Even if the BGAs are essentially meant for individual participants, the NGOs could still get involved there as groups, acting on behalf of their individual members. The key to that, I think, are the caucuses that could be convened by the groups of active NGOs, so that they could coordinate their agendas before they go to the BGAs.

Just like any assembly or meeting, the ultimate outcomes are really the formal resolutions that could be approved by the BGAs, sitting as full assemblies. As I wrote in my previous columns, the BGAs are in effect the stockholder’s meetings, and these have greater powers than the SBs that are in effect merely board meetings by comparison. The only action that the SBs could do is to ratify the resolutions approved by the BGAs, and the SBs could not change anything.

For practical reasons, it would be good for the NGO caucuses to already prepare draft resolutions for submission to the agendas of the BGAs, instead of writing these drafts during the actual meetings. This would be too late of an action to do, and it would be a waste of time. In order not to waste time, it would be best to show the draft resolutions to the caucus members ahead of time, instead of showing these to them during the meetings when these are already ongoing.

I believe that it is about time that the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) should allow absentee voting in the BGAs, via internet and mobile means. Although the admissibility of electronic evidence is already provided for in the Electronic Commerce Act (ECA), there appears to be no ruling or legal precedent yet that would allow absentee voting. It may be farfetched, but perhaps it would be possible to try it in one BGA, in order to set the precedent.

As provided for in the LGC, the BDC is just the first layer of LDCs that go all the way up to the Regional Development Councils (RDCs). In theory, all the agendas and resolutions in the lower councils are supposed to go up to the higher councils. What this means is that the agendas and resolutions in the BDCs should actually go up to the Municipal Development Councils (MDCs). In reality therefore, the NGOs or the caucuses of NGOs could always bring their advocacies to the municipal level, if and when they would not succeed at the barangay level.

I recall that there is a popular actress who is said to always get what she wants. Perhaps it is the opposite in the case of barangay residents who could actually get what they want, except that they do not seem to care enough to get it. Meanwhile, many corrupt and incompetent local politicians are having a heyday in lording over barangay governance, perhaps also enjoying the public funds that they are putting into their private pockets.
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