Today, the whole nation elects the officials who will run their respective barangays for the next three years.
There are a lot of candidates to choose from. More than 800,000 are contesting 294,196 positions.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) tells us there are 170,000 barangays all over the country, each electing a chairman and seven councilmen. A total of 94,124 candidates hope to sit as chairman, while 715, 012 candidates dream of serving their constituents as kagawads or councilmen
Why so many candidates? If you ask these people why they are running for the positions, you will almost always get a stock answer: to help ensure peace and order in the community and to build roads and alleyways or to keep them in constant repair, among others.
All these are laudable objectives. In fact, a chairman and his council are judged according to the way they succeed in them.
The need to maintain peace and order is acutely felt in urban areas, and especially so in the slums, where hundreds of thousands of people make their homes any which way they can. The police are nowhere near so that it is the chairman and the tanods (village police) he has appointed who respond to distress calls.
There is another motivation. And that, not surprisingly, is money, especially in rich barangays.
The richest of them all, Barangay 176 in Caloocan, gets as much as P89,781,904 in Internal Revenue Allocation or IRA, followed by Commonwealth in Quezon City, with P68,815,209.
But regardless of a barangay’s financial status, the maximum honorarium the chairman can get is P23,000 a month, councilmen or kagawads are entitled to no more than P14,000 a month each.
Not much, really. But then, senators and congressmen get only a monthly salary of P40,425 each, and they live in palatial homes, drive flashy cars, send their children to exclusive schools abroad, and, you get the idea.
Barangays use IRA and other incomes for public works projects. Alas, in most cases, these projects are non-existent. If there are actual projects, they are substandard or grossly overpriced with the contractor required to pay the chairman and councilmen a commission.
Surprisingly, Barangay Payatas, also in Quezon City, makes it to the list of richest barangays, with an IRA of P44,140,120.
It comes as a surprise because it is in Payatas, where the poorest of the poor live. A few years back, part of the mountain of garbage came crashing down and buried a number of scavengers. The news and pictures flashed all over the world made the barangay an icon of poverty. That is a sad commentary on the way the officials spend the barangay’s share of the taxes.
The amount of IRA is not that big, but then Payatas and others like it have other sources of revenues. Moreover, the city government takes care of most of their requirements: health care, education, and road maintenance.
We must acknowledge though that barangay officials play an important role.
As previously observed, it is they whom people report crimes to and call for assistance from. The reason is simple. They live among their constituents, and that is something that cannot be said of city (or municipality) and national officials.
One is tempted to say that the funds lost to corruption is nothing if you consider the fact that barangay chairmen and councilmen touch our lives as no other government officials do. They have to deal with drug dealers in the city and the marauding communist rebels in the countryside.
The great majority redeem themselves in the eyes of the people. If they don’t, they lose their re-election bid.