UC forum underlines good barangay governance as key to national transformation

December 18, 2011

History tells us of seafarers that peopled the Philippines during pre-Hispanic times using a vessel called "balangay," the basis for the term "barangay" the Philippines' smallest political unit.

As these seafarers settled in villages across the archipelago, the communities started to elect leaders called "datu." Former Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr. however, explains that the datu is not the country's equivalent of royalty by any means, because this position is not earned through bloodlines: "It is not inherited, it is not permanent, and the selection of leaders is based on merits," he said.

Sen. Pimentel, now Distinguished Professor of Local Governance at the University of Makati's (UMak) Pimentel Center of Local Governance (PCLG) said even at the village level, there is still an emphasis on the selection of "qualified people." He explains that every endeavor requires specific expertise as he provides the analogy, "A senator may not necessarily be an expert in making furniture."

Speaking before Baguio's barangay officials in a forum on "Good Barangay Governance for National Transformation" at the University of the Cordilleras (UC) Theater last November 28, Sen. Pimentel, author of the Local Government Code of 1991 said even if it is the smallest political unit, the barangay remains to be a force in governance because the law is designed to provide barangays with more discretionary latitude than the local government in terms of development.

"The barangay development council has priority appropriation over the P157B internal revenue share of the 42,025 barangays in the Philippines," Sen. Pimentel said. This fact places barangays in the forefront of development endeavors that directly impacts their constituents, he said, adding "Barangays are the first source of development power."

Venues such as the UC forum organized through the combined efforts of the Pimentel Institute of Leadership and Governance chaired by the former senator, the UC Center for Governance and Public Policy, the UC Department of Political Science, the Baguio chapter of the Liga ng Mga Barangay and the City Government of Baguio, becomes the platform through which Sen. Pimentel articulates his "good governance" advocacy.

He said over twenty years after the passage of the Local Government Code, some barangays are not yet fully aware of the extent of their powers under the law. Sen. Pimentel's retirement from the Senate thus enabled him to pursue his nationwide advocacy in his current capacity as elder statesman.

Part of UC's 65th year initiative of sharing institutional resources, competencies and knowledge, the university has launched the UC Center for Governance and Public Policy last September 17 through a Memorandum of Agreement with the UMak-PCLG to further carry-out Sen. Pimentel's aspirations, and by extension to provide a North Luzon learning center for barangay and local government officials through certificate or degree offerings in governance and public policy.

As Baguio's barangay officials took the opportunity to seek advice from Sen. Pimentel on matters involving barangay and local government rows, he said the tangible aspect of governance such as qualifications and development initiatives must be tempered with the intangible attributes of public service.

"Because it has been emphasized that a public office is not a monarchy, public officials in a democracy are not masters but servants," Sen. Pimentel said. "This is true not only for elective government officials but also those who were appointed to public positions."

He said where the people's "sovereignty" and "rule of law" is always paramount, "public officials have the obligation to respect the dignity of the people regardless of party politics." Sen. Pimentel said the Code allows barangays to engage in political exercise without local or national administrative influence under the "principle of subsidiarity" that calls for political officials not to meddle in barangay affairs.

This, he said, is key to the avoidance of barangay constituencies being used to advance political ambitions to the extent where violence are resorted to by political enemies. The use of the term "kalaban sa pulitika" (political enemies) is a thing of the past, Sen. Pimentel said because "pinapatay ang kalaban" (enemies are killed). "What we should foster is the culture of healthy rivalry" ('katunggali') which regards political rivals as "worthy opponents," he said.

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