Demand for better leaders starts in the barangay
As voters troop to their respective polling precincts today for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, Filipinos must remember that village officials hold power that could significantly impact their lives and their communities, with their work serving as a reflection of how the nation is being governed.
While today’s polls may appear less noteworthy compared to national and local government elections, governance experts and advocates said the barangay must be held in high regard as a political unit.
Manny Valdehuesa, chairperson of the group Gising Barangay Movement, likens the barangay to a “small republic,” complete with four essential elements: defined territory, population, government and sovereignty.
“When we vote (today) what we are in fact doing is renewing the mandates of more than 42,000 governments and the foundation of our republic in all these communities,” Valdehuesa said.
Under Section 384 in Book 3 of the Local Government Code, the barangay–as the basic political unit–serves as the “primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects and activities in the community. It must also serve as a forum where the people’s collective views may be “expressed, crystallized and considered,” and where disputes may also be resolved.
“For many people, barangays serve as the face of government. When they are efficient, the government is also efficient,” said Dr. Alex Brillantes Jr., a political scientist. “Same goes when it fails.”
“Barangays can also be the weakest or the strongest in the chain of governance, as it delivers basic services and ensures law and order in the community,” said the former dean of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance.
Similar to the national government, the barangay also has the three branches: executive, in the form of the barangay chair or Punong Barangay; legislative, in the seven Sangguniang Barangay members; and judiciary, in the Lupong Tagapamayapa.
However, Valdehuesa said unlike the national government, it acts as a parliament as it is headed by only one official: the barangay chair.
“In fact, what makes the barangay unique and special are its parliamentary form of government and its direct democracy,” he said in a paper titled “Essential Attributes of the Barangay.”
“It is through this unique system’s processes that every people is enfranchised… It is what empowers the grassroots–which constitute the primal base of our political structure,” noted the former Asia-Pacific regional director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Beyond fiestas, ball games
While it is the smallest political unit, the powers of the barangay officials do not only extend to ensuring a happy fiesta or sponsoring basketball leagues that are often seen in the candidates’ platforms.
Under the Local Government Code, the barangay officials can tax and police and are expected to maintain public order in the community. Part of the duties of the Sangguniang Barangay are enacting ordinances and authorizing the Punong Barangay to enter into contracts in behalf of the community.
Both Valdehuesa and Brillantes said under the principle of subsidiarity, an effective and efficient barangay can really aid in the delivery of services to its people.
“What the lower unit can do and do well should not be delegated to the upper units,” Valdehuesa said, citing issues like garbage collection, traffic and informal settlers that should anymore beleaguer the national government.
For instance, if disputes were efficiently settled in the barangay level through the Lupong Tagapamaya, then the court dockets can actually be decongested of these smaller cases that can be resolved through conciliation panels.
“Our courts are so clogged,” Brillantes said. “This is why the justice system in the barangay, I think, is very important.”
“But sometimes, there is too much partisan politics that they’d rather point to a higher level” rather than solve it within themselves, added the former director of the Local Government Academy of the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
Sources of income, corruption
To deliver these services, barangays have several sources of income, such as internal revenue allotment, real property taxes, fees from local permits and licenses, and even payments from extractors of national wealth, such as mining, fishery and forestry.
But the experts warned that if left unchecked by the voting public, the barangays can also be beds of corruption and breeding grounds of political dynasties–ills that already burden other political units.
With over a million candidates vying for the posts today, both for barangay and SK positions, Brillantes said these officials must be reminded of the primary reason behind their intent to hold office.
“Some see the positions as an opportunity to exercise power… But we have to emphasize to them the role of public service,” he said. “Their responsibilities to the community are much bigger than the power they wield.”
Valdehuesa said the huge number of candidates seeking power can also be seen as a more troubling sign. “I consider it as an indicator of how widespread the corruption has become, of how universal the appeal has become of the privileges that the barangay offers.”
Elected officials receive honoraria, allowance and other stipends that may be authorized by law or the barangay, municipal or city ordinance. They are also entitled to insurance coverage and free medical care.
Be heard; attend assemblies
But to bring change in the barangays, the efforts should not only come from those who would win the positions, but from the voting public itself.
Valdehuesa said more people should attend the Barangay Assembly, for instance, where all constituents can actively participate on how they want to be governed.
“The barangay is supposed to be an intimate neighborhood of people who are intimately bound for each other,” he said. “But somehow that sense of community is lacking in our society.”
“To me, there is a need to rediscover that sense of community that would [push] a person to rise above his own self-interests or family interests to advance a common good.”
Brillantes, meanwhile, said that while Filipinos have a long way to go in terms of political maturity, the citizens must also learn to demand better performance from people they have placed in positions of power.
“We need to have rage as a people over issues we see in our own community, may it be lack of basic services, uncollected garbage or double parking in the streets,” he said.
As Filipino voters choose the new leaders of their communities, Brillantes said they should be reminded that their responsibilities do not end there.
“Elections do not end with elections. It goes beyond that,” he said. “We should continuously monitor their performances and build their capacities to govern.” /muf
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