We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Philipinnes: People Must be Educated about Direct Democracy of Barangays

Education campaigns are necessary to every attempt at instituting direct democracy. Without some way of demonstrating people power to the masses, no one will understand the benefits of assembling in communities to the extent that would propel them to join. Lessons and methodology must focus strongly on destroying racial and ethnic tensions between diverse individuals and groups within the community. If a curriculum is set up, it must be geared toward building consensus and breaking down social barriers that have prevented many efforts toward direct democracy from flourishing. -Editor

Manuel Valdehuesa Street talk

Monday, May 26, 2008

REPUBLIC Act (RA) 7160 states that in addition to being the primary planning and implementing unit of government, the barangay is also "a forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered."

This makes governing the barangay similar to the direct democracy practiced in the districts of Switzerland (canton) and Israel (kibbutz), and indeed, ancient Athens.

Arroyo Watch: Sun.Star blog on President Arroyo

By assembling periodically, deliberating on issues affecting the community, taking responsibility for their neighborhoods, adopting resolutions, then taking collective action, people govern themselves.

In other words, they manage their community directly - deciding policy, program, and projects - the essence of autonomy, of self-governance. All these apply to every barangay.

The law makes it possible for the community not to rely solely upon higher-ups, not especially those who mistake public service as self-service, or those whose personal agendas offend public interest.

Good governance lies with the citizens themselves - including the task of guiding their leaders by providing them the direction, content, or standards of public service.

And the citizens may also remove their officials between election periods by direct, collective action if they lose confidence in them.

No one seems to appreciate its role or importance in making our republic strong and democratic.

This may be because when the Code was enacted in 1991, neither its authors in Congress nor its implementers in Malacañang and the Cabinet have bothered to launch a campaign to explain its provisions. They didn't know that introducing a new system requires information, education and communication?

Then again, perhaps they knew too well that to have explained the Code's provisions would have empowered and enfranchised the people.

Then it would have been goodbye to the good times, goodbye to dynastic rule, goodbye to election cheating, and, most horrid of all, goodbye to fabulous allowances, commissions, and graft!

Thus, instead of an IEC campaign, they just made half-hearted gestures to autonomy accompanied by pompous demagoguery.

And that is how and why the trapos remain the center of power in the community instead of the people.

Will barangaynons ever take charge? More on this as this column runs on.
Manny is a former UN executive, diplomat, DAP director, and vice chair of the Local Government Academy. He appears here Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays. Email:

Further links: Sagunto Barangay

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