Monday, October 25, 2010

Grassroots democracy

What started out as a ploy to give the impression of legality to
tyranny has developed into this country’s clearest expression of
grassroots democracy.

The “barangay” system was hastily adopted by the Martial Law regime of
Ferdinand E. Marcos as a mechanism to ratify the 1973 Constitution,
which allowed the president who had already won reelection in 1969 to
remain in power beyond the two-term limit mandated by the 1934

The then-new charter, drafted by the dictator’s minions in the 1971
Constitutional Convention, handed the chief executive virtually
dictatorial powers. It was ratified by a mere show of hands in the
rural villages, which used to be called barrios and urban
neighborhoods that the regime had turned into the nation’s “basic
political units.”

For the most part, however, ba-rangay officials acted as the
dictatorship’s eyes and ears against “troublemakers,” which included
the political opposition and dissidents.

To be sure, village and neigh-borhood leaders were expected to perform
other functions such as law enforcement, dispute mediation, disaster
response and sanitation. Carrying out these tasks led to a feeling of
empowerment, especially after national political leaders began to rely
on barangays to muster the warm bodies for rallies, elections and
other political exercises.

Today the barangays have become a force to reckon with. Through the
years the national government has been plying them with “incentives,”
including a share in the Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA), which
amounts to a whopping P51 billion this year.

The increasingly important role barangays play in our national life
has led to a corresponding rise in public involvement and interest in
village and neighborhood politics.

Voter participation in barangay elections has been growing, according
to Director James Jime-nez of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

“Voter turnout in the affluent villages averages from 60 to 70
percent,” Jimenez said at the Kapihan sa Sulo media forum Saturday.
“But in the poorer barangays as much as 90 to 95 percent of registered
voters take part in the barangay polls.”

This Monday voters again are due to troop to polling precincts across
the country in order to elect a new set of officials in their
barangays. Filipinos aged 15 to 18 will also get to vote for
Sangguniang Kabataan (SK), or Youth Council, officials.

Monday’s polls will cost the Comelec an estimated P3 billion.

Residents of gated and other upscale communities used to scoff at
barangays because they tended to involve only their poorer neighbors.
However, with bigger amounts of public resources now made available to
these political units, authorities expect greater involvement in
barangay affairs from the previously snooty inhabitants of “exclusive

Zero waste
Environmental advocates were among the first sectors to recognize the
potential of barangays and SKs.

On the eve of Monday’s village and neighborhood polls, the EcoWaste
Coalition urged voters to back pro-environment candidates in the wake
of Super Typhoon Juan.

“Our country, a recognized disaster hotspot, needs grassroots leaders
who will take up the cudgels for our fragile environment,” said
coalition President Roy Alvarez.

“As they are at the forefront of public service, our barangay and SK
leaders have a tremendous role to play in fulfilling the community
task of protecting and conserving the environment amid the changing
climate,” he noted.

“Now more than ever, we need non-corrupt public servants who will
clean up our streets and rivers of garbage, halt toxic pollution,
plant trees and guard our mountains against destructive activities
such as logging, mining and dumping,” he added.

“So please include the candidates’ environmental track record and
platform when you vote,” Alvarez said.
“Go beyond the candidates’ looks, popularity and resources.”

One of the key challenges barangay and SK leaders face is how to
prevent and reduce community trash, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

Republic Act (RA) 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act,
provides a useful framework to guide communities in keeping their
neighborhoods clean and green by not resorting to littering, dumping
and burning of discards, the coalition said.

RA 9003 requires the establishment of materials recovery facilities
(MRFs) or ecology centers in barangays in order to energize
community-driven recycling and lessen dependence on dumps, landfills
and other polluting disposal facilities.

“Unfortunately, there are still many barangays that have yet to comply
with RA 9003,” coalition Vice President Romy Hidalgo said.

Citing information from the National Solid Waste Management
Commission, the EcoWaste Coalition said that only 6,141 MRFs operate
in 6,744 barangays of the country’s 42,000 barangays.

Of the 1,695 barangays in Metro Manila, only 435 are being serviced by MRFs.

“It is our hope that our new batch of barangay and SK leaders will
recognize the gravity of our waste disposal problem and pursue
climate-friendly ‘Zero Waste’ solutions,” Hidalgo said.

Zero Waste, according to the coalition, is the most practical
community action that barangay and youth councils can initiate and
carry out, together with residents, to promote ecological community
values, conserve resources, stop the discharge of climate damaging
pollutants and boost local economies.

“It is the best approach to turn our barangays into litter-free and
healthy communities that our children can safely and happily grow in,”
Hidalgo said.

A 2009 report by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, a
member of the EcoWaste Coalition, listed the basic elements that
should form part of a community shift from waste disposal to Zero
The basic elements include:

• reducing waste disposal in landfills and incinerators to zero;
• investing in reuse, recycling and composting jobs and infrastructure;
• requiring that products are made to be non-toxic and recyclable;
• ensuring that manufacturers of products assume full social and
environmental costs of what they produce;
• ensuring that industries reuse materials and respect worker and
community rights;
• and preventing waste and reducing unnecessary consumption.


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