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Jun 01st
Home Sections Politics Thinking Universally, Acting Locally in Politics
Thinking Universally, Acting Locally in Politics PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Benjamin G. Maynigo   
Tuesday, 06 July 2010 13:32


By Benjamin G. Maynigo


A rticle II, Section 1 of the Philippine Constitution provides: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”


In the exercise of their sovereignty, the Filipino people regularly choose their representatives to perform designated functions and responsibilities that would constitute the government of the people, by the people, and for the people. This process reaffirms the universally accepted principles of democracy and republicanism or “representative government.”


Last May 10, 2010, the Filipino people delegated their local, provincial, and national executive and legislative powers to a group of people hoping for change in governance and an improvement in their economic life.


W hile they opted to delegate most of the sovereign functions, they also reserved certain powers to themselves which they may exercise when deemed necessary, beneficial and practicable. Among them are:


First, the people can directly exercise the powers of Municipal and City Councils;

Second, they can recall elected Municipal and City Officials;

Third, they can directly exercise the powers of Provincial Boards;

Fourth, they can recall elected Provincial Officials;

Fifth, they can directly exercise the powers of Regional Assemblies in Autonomous Regions;

Sixth, they can recall elected Regional Officials in Autonomous Regions;

Seventh, they can repeal, amend, and make new national laws; and

Lastly, they can also directly amend the Philippine Constitution.


These reserved powers are provided for under Sections 1 and 32, Article VI of the Philippine Constitution with respect to Legislative Powers, People’s Initiative and Referendum; Section 2, Article XVII of the Constitution with respect to amending the Constitution; the Initiative and Referendum Act and the Local Government Code with respect to National and Local Initiative and Referendum, and Recall of Local Officials.


Noted political scientist and columnist Walter Lippmann once said, “Democracy is both a means as well as an end.” In this article, I intend to focus on “Democracy as a means”. This is an attempt to provide a more-democratic mechanism, backbone or superhighway accessible to all freedom-loving Filipinos who might have some great ideas benefiting the Philippines.


In the United States there are thousands of Filipino organizations scattered all over. But the most productive and most helpful to Philippine communities are the hometown organizations. A good example is the Rosaleneans – an organization of those who came from Rosales, Pangasinan, and my hometown and also that of famous writer Francisco Sionil Jose, author of the Rosales Saga series of five novels. There are Rosaleneans in Southern California, Northern California, Hawaii, Washington State and other places. Most of their projects have been social and economic. The extent of their political involvement in our hometown is sending financial contributions to their chosen candidates.


“All politics is local”, then US House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said. In order to build the backbone or superhighway for democracy, we must start locally. We must be non-partisan although political. That’s why converting the hometown organizations to People’s Parliament for Self-Rule would be a good beginning. Such a conversion would institutionalize People Power and brings us closer to direct democracy – a universal precept that millions if not billions of people worldwide still dream of, fight for, and die for.


Can it be done? It is not as hard as some people may think. To assume Municipal Council powers, you initially need only 100 registered voters in the locality; City Council and Provincial Board powers, you need 1000; Regional Assembly powers, you need 2000; Congressional powers, you need 3% of registered voters in each Congressional District (about 4500) and 10% nationwide (5.1 million); and Constituent Assembly powers, 3% of registered voters in each Congressional district (about 4500) and 12% nationwide (6.12 million).


In fact, a proposal is initiated first at the local council which may or may not approve it. If approved, then it becomes a local law; if disapproved, then it is submitted as a local initiative to be decided by the voters directly. If the people are dissatisfied with the actions of certain local officials, they can also exercise the power of recall which requires the signatures of 25% of the registered voters in the locality.


The goal is for Filipinos in the United States working with relatives in the Philippines to convert themselves into a Philippine People’s Parliament, Regional Assembly, Provincial Board, City Council or Municipal Council.


It is necessary for them to register as Philippine voters. For many, they may have to register as dual citizens. Upon registration as voters, they immediately qualify to be a Member of the Philippine People’s Parliament or MP3. To exercise local legislative powers, they will have to partner with relatives or friends who are registered voters until the law is changed to allow the votes of Overseas Filipinos counted for local concerns.


In politics, perception is reality. Politics is a numbers game. Politics is about obtaining governmental power. The perception, the numbers, and the attainment of power in a democracy like the Philippines are all based on facts and figures. – Ben Maynigo


In the process of building this democratic backbone, we are also bridging the gap between perception and reality, between the potential and the actual as I described in the following article:

PERCEPTION VS. REALITY: The Numbers Tell the Story




We could end up with the unexpected and unintended consequence of creating and developing an educated, enlightened, and empowered Filipino and American citizenry.


In the words of former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, “Initiative, like referendum and recall, is a new and treasured feature of the Filipino constitutional system. All three are institutionalized legacies of the world-admired EDSA people power. Like elections and plebiscites, they are hallowed expressions of popular sovereignty. They are sacred democratic rights of our people to be used as their final weapons against political excesses, opportunism, inaction, oppression and misgovernance; as well as their reserved instruments to exact transparency, accountability and faithfulness from their chosen leaders. While on the one hand, their misuse and abuse must be resolutely struck down, on the other, their legitimate exercise should be carefully nurtured and zealously protected.”


This is self-rule and direct democracy in action. Mine is not just a proposed idea. It is law. It is enshrined and protected under our Constitution and our statutes. It is not just governing “with the consent of the governed”, it is ruling with the initiative of the governed.


While the principles are universal and the impact global, the proposed actions are plainly local. # # #


Editor’s Note: The author is an International and Cyber Lawyer with an LL.B and LL.M; An Educator with an M.A. in Human Resource Development; An IT Chief Executive Officer with M.B.A.; Community and Trade Association Leader; Lecturer/Speaker/Writer; Political Strategist; Technology Pioneer. He is based in Washington, DC.

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Comments (1)
When “direct democracy” and “people power” are needed.

by Jose V. Abueva

Representative Democracy. Our Constitution says: “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” (Section 1. Article II.). In our “republican State” with a “representative government,” our people usually govern indirectly through elective representatives.

But our people at all times remain sovereign in principle and law. In yet another sense, the national and local governments are “subsidiary to the people.” Philip Blond explains: “Traditionally, subsidiarity means that no function should be performed at any level that could be performed by a level below it. So in a dramatic reverse of the trend towards centralisation, bureaucracy and monopoly, subsidiarity insists on a radical decentralization, and delegation to the level below it. In practice this means that the State defers to civil society, civil society to institutions, and institutions to individuals (The Guardian).”

Direct Democracy. In fact our Constitution allows “direct democracy” through referendum, plebiscites, and recall of elected officials. Moreover, our people’s direct action for their welfare is encouraged in the constitutional provision: “The State shall encourage non-governmental, community-based, or sectoral organizations that promote the welfare of the nation (Section 23. Article II). This speaks to the vital and irreplaceable role of civil society organizations in our democracy.

And when it becomes absolutely necessary, we the people may protect our freedom and democracy through extra-constitutional means and direct “people power.” As we did in the EDSA people power revolt that ended the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and enabled the restoration of democracy. And at EDSA II in January 2001 when “people power” forced the resignation of President Joseph Estrada, an extra-constitutional act that the Supreme Court would legitimize as “constructive resignation.”

Oligarchy. We recall our lofty political principles and constitutional doctrines because in fact they are often nullified in practice. When too many citizens are poor, uninformed, vulnerable, and insecure, they cannot be sovereign in relation to the minority who govern them and are so much richer, powerful and influential. We know that democracy is consolidated in societies with broad middle classes and thin layers of poverty.

To favor their political interests, our national political leaders design political institutions that concentrate power and authority in the national government at the expense of the local governments, despite the constitutional provision that says: “The State shall ensure the autonomy of local governments (Section 25. Article II).”

Vice-President Jojemar Binay, an experienced local government leader, is proposing a major reform of the barangay as the basic unit of government. Instead of electing barangay officials, he wants them to be appointed by the mayor who shall be directly accountable to the citizens. He argues that most elected barangay officials, in practice, are not accountable to the people who elected them.

The Vice-President is also proposing the abolition of the elected Sangguniang Kabataan (Barangay Youth Council) as an institution that has corrupted the youth instead of training them for democratic leadership.

These two reforms affecting our citizens in their own communities all over the country deserve the utmost consideration by our political leaders and citizens. At the same time workable ways should be found to encourage and enforce the responsiveness, efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the city and municipal mayors.

Community self rule. As our country becomes more populous and urbanized, we see the rise of voluntary village or community home-owners’ associations alongside thousands of barangays. The associations unite their members as a community in a city or big town where residents might otherwise feel alienated by their anonymity. They elect most of their officers and co-opt others to help in the work to be done voluntarily.

With their own private funds, they provide the community with such services as security, beautification, sanitation, maintenance of streets, preserving the environment. They instill and reinforce the spirit of community self-help and self-governance.

In most places the homeowners’ associations and the Sangguniang Barangay (SB) co-exist. Their officers are rarely the same persons. While the former are community-based people’s organizations, the latter are political and governmental in nature.

The SB administers and spends public funds for the same community. In many instances problems and conflict arise between the two sets of governance: one private, the other governmental. Many SBs are not accountable to the community. Some enlist barangay outsiders as “flying voters” during elections and this keeps them secure in their control of the SB.

On the initiative of homeowners’ associations in Greater Manila, Congress passed the Magna Carta of Homeowners’ Associations, R.A. 9904, to promote and regulate the various homeowners’ associations and protect both the associations and their members, as well as to mediate between them, and in their relations with the SBs.

Unfortunately, the Magna Carta has empowered the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board, a national agency under the Office of the President, to regulate all the homeowners’ associations in the whole country. This centralized regulation of a voluntary, civil society and local community self-help initiative violates the principles of popular sovereignty and subsidiarity. The HLURB is an ineffectual and unwanted national regulatory agency that violates the constitutional principle of local autonomy.

Reform and nation-state building. We need “direct democracy” and “people power” to govern each of our many communities. Community homeowners’ associations are best left alone and encouraged. It would be far better to assign their liberal regulation to the nearest city or municipal council consistent with local autonomy.

Congress should look into the local government reforms proposed by Vice-President Binay. It should also consult the associations of homeowners’ associations with a view to amending R.A. 9904.

To build a strong Filipino nation-state let us be true to our constitutional principles of democracy, popular sovereignty, people empowerment, civil society participation in governance, and local autonomy. Let us also observe the vital Catholic principle of subsidiarity first enunciated by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 in his encyclical Rerum Novarum. # # #

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Benjamin Franklin said in 1817: In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. But never in his wildest dream did he realize that by 2010, death would be synonymous with taxes~Bobby M. Reyes