Control over gov’t money sparking violence in village polls—political analyst
MANILA, Philippines — “Too much barangay election-related violence. What’s with these small people? Is government money really worth all the trouble? And to the lowest levels. Ugh.”
This was disgusted observation made by Muntinlupa resident Joseph Dechavez, after days of being bombarded with reports of shooting across the country involving candidates for barangay (village) office.
Dechavez’ observation is a widespread one. With the barangay being the smallest government unit, isn’t it all much ado about nothing?
To answer this question, political analyst and Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) head Ramon Casiple underscored the disparity of what has been “in theory” and what has been in practice.
For instance, under the Local Government Code, the barangay chair should receive not even a salary, but only an honorarium of at least P1,000; the barangay councilors only at least P600 each.
But in reality: “The prize is big: Internal Revenue Allotment, a regular budget, corporate taxes. The barangay has an income. That’s what makes it attractive,” Casiple said, in a phone interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Saturday.
Another big disparity between what is stated in law and what is in practice: Partisanship.
“In theory, the law says [barangay elections] should be nonpartisan,” Casiple said, referring to a provision in the Omnibus Election Code barring candidates to represent or receive aid from any political party.
“But in reality, they’re important to mayors. That’s where the fight is. If you hold the barangay, it’s a ready-made machinery for ward leadership. It has become a fight by ordinary politicos,” Casiple said.
Casiple said this partisanship has translated the “perks” otherwise not stated by law, granted by higher government units. Off the top of his head, Casiple cited, as example: “Here in Quezon City, all barangay captains are given a car. “
The local government code lists only sparse benefits for barangay officials—a Christmas bonus, insurance coverage, free medical care in public hospitals, free tuition for their children, civil service eligibility, and a preference in appointment to any government position after their term.
Casiple said cases of partisanship could be reported as election violations to the Commission on Elections or the Department of Interior and Local Government.
Casiple recalled a time when the barangays weren’t so politicized. “Before the 1950s, barangay officials weren’t elected. They were like homeowners’ associations, formed based on only consensus,” Casiple said.
“But in the 1970s, during the dictatorship of [former] President Ferdinand Marcos, the barangay system became his channel to control the communities,” Casiple said.
Despite the barangay system’s faults, Casiple still underscored the importance of a “basic unit of government who will deal with immediate problems” in the community.
“The mandate of a basic [government] unit as first responders is important. If you remove it you’d have to invent another system,” he said.
A system going straight to a higher office would end up overloading the local government unit and affecting efficiency, he noted. “The barangay system was precisely set up to break up [government functions] to be more manageable,” Casiple said.
But since there have been moves in Congress, recently, to abolish the Sangguniang Kabataan, “our position is if you’re going to review the SK system, include the barangay system as well,” Casiple said.
He added that according to the local government code, the systems’ effectiveness should actually be reviewed every 10 years.
Dechavez maintained all the fuss would be for naught—especially for ordinary citizens. “Not voting,” he told the INQUIRER. “Not worth the trouble.”
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