THE first glimpse or impression Filipinos had of the notion of government was the barangay, the lowest political unit of the country. Said to be non-partisan, the barangay of centuries ago were better than today. The barangay officials were respected individuals in the area— si Kapitan ginagalang. Their work was voluntary and they did not receive any incentive from the national government. They worked because they loved and cared for their communities. As a senior citizen would say, “sila yung ginagalang at matatakbuhan.”
In fact, when the first Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, “they found well-organized independent villages called barangay. The name barangay originated from balangay, a Malay word meaning sailboat.” We were used to a functioning system of government at the community level then and as it matured, we just lost the sense of service it used to be known for.
Take a typical Friday payday and it rains and you see the whole metropolis stuck in a humongous traffic jam. You would think you would see the barangay kapitan, kagawad and the tanod all out and helping. They are not. They don’t. And to think that today, they have salaries and a share of the Internal Revenue Allotment, far different from pre-Spanish times.
Imagine a Philippines where the barangay are functioning. That would push the officials at the municipal, city and provincial levels into doing their jobs, and not wait for the national government to intervene or worse, for the president to do their jobs. Imagine the kind of issues raised to the president? These issues could have been handled by the local governments, thus freeing the valuable time of the president for bigger issues. One year after the start of the Duterte administration, we see how inutile some local governments are. They wait for the national government at every turn. Decentralization and deconcentration already granted by the Local Government Code, and only a few can muster the will to chart a destiny for their people. That’s why there is a growing constituency for federalism because of the failure of some of the local government officialdom.
The barangay has a kapitan and is assisted by the barangay council composed of eight members, including supposedly the chairman of the youth council. Just to show how corrupting the barangay environment has been, the successor generation of leaders (sangguniang kabataan), learning the ropes of governance, has created bad talents and some unbelievable monsters. Today, they even have a barangay hall, and tanod, some barangay heads treat as their private armies.
The barangay is also responsible for the barangay justice system or the katarungang pambarangay, composed of members commonly known as lupon tagapamayapa. Its function is to conciliate and mediate disputes at the barangay level so as to avoid legal action and relieve the congested court dockets. But placed in the hands of a corrupt leader, you will have a situation where no action is taken on a several-years-old petition because the kapitan favors the party being complained about. In this one case, the object of the complaint has converted the street into a parking lot for his four vehicles and placed fighting cocks on “his pavement.” That is Barangay St. Peter in Quezon City, a residential community but because of the kapitan’s permissiveness, one apartment has been converted into an auto-repair adjunct of the Banawe auto-supply stores. The laws are there but they are not being implemented. Go around Quezon City and you will see how badly some communities are managed.
Nepotism may be an issue at the national level but when you look at the barangay, you will find families on the payroll. They live off the positions of their relatives and create their own dynasties. Barangay elections should be held every three years beginning 2007, but have often been postponed. Why? Because most of the barangays do not do what they are supposed to do.
With 42,036 barangays, how do we reform at this level? That is why you heard a collective sigh of relief when PRRD suggested appointing the barangay captains. Bring it back to the old days when the most respected in the community gets to lead and manage.
Discipline is not in our DNA. But if the barangay in cities would only show care for their communities, most of the basics—traffic management, clean and green, public safety (from community policing to disaster response)—can be done by them. So, the challenge for the second year of the Duterte administration is to get the locals to join the change train. The president has power of supervision over the local government units. The mantra of do your job or be shipped out would be a welcome development for the second year.
Duterte’s victory has opened the presidential door for local chief executives to aspire for. But do you have a Davao City? Build one and show to all why the breeding ground for the presidency is on the ground.