THE barangay is the basic political unit in the country. This May, we will have the long-delayed for officials of the barangay, which is the frontline of government. If barangays work, we will have better local governance and the national government will not have to attend to matters that local government can very well take care of within their jurisdiction, such as public order and security. Alas, the barangays are now just too politicized to even do the needed work. Before, barangay officers were respected and did their jobs for free. Today, barangay captains and councilors receive salaries and benefits and wield power like kings and queens.
The barangays were indigenous to the Philippines. They were already existing since the “16th century, when Spain found well-organized independent villages called barangay. The name barangay originated from balangay, a Malay word meaning sailboat. Marcos used to call the barangay part of Philippine participatory democracy, and most of his New Society writings praised the role of baranganic democracy in nation-building. That was then. Today, some barangays are a major source of problems since they do not perform, or worse, their officers engage in illicit activities, from illegal drugs (9,000 barangays are said to be in Duterte’s drug list) to illegal numbers game to illegal tupadas and a lot more.
The last barangay elections were held in October 2013. So, the 42,036 barangay officials are all holdover for the past five years. You’d think they have mastered their work? You’d think our communities are made better off? Nope, barangay governance is at its worst. That explains the decay and total breakdown of local governance in Metro Manila and urban cities. While in rural Philippines, some barangays are now the fiefdom of barangay captains where the families and relatives are employees or seasonal workers. And some scholars say the training for the proverbial political ladder begins in the barangay.
Before, it used to be the most respected in the community who are asked to consider leading the barangay. Today, “bata ni mayor” is the key requirement. Never mind the ward leader mentality for so long as they do their jobs but look at the metropolis. Traffic could be eased if at the barangay level, they go out and assist during rush hours. Garbage can be efficiently managed if they ensure that trash is not thrown just anywhere, especially in esteros and tributaries. Zoning can be effective if they do not allow commercial establishments in totally residential areas. Crimes can be prevented if they seriously do the barangay watch. Streets can be cleared of illegally parked vehicles if they ensure that residents do not just park anywhere in total disregard of the rights of neighbors. Urinating and defecating anywhere can be stopped if transients are asked to leave or be referred to the city hall for proper handling. Even children of informal settlers need to be reined in because they become pranksters and troublemakers without much guidance from parents since they roam around the streets in gangster fashion, shouting and throwing things and trashing pavements and gates. They even enter opened gates and loiter around.
That’s how it is in Barangay St. Peter, Quezon City. When a neighbor was complained against by long time residents of more than 50 years, for illegally parked vehicles, the barangay captain, instead of convening the lupong tagapagganap, took the side of the person being complained against. He asked that a homeowners group be set up to deal with the problem and that was his solution, truly a political approach. The subject of the complaint continues to this day to park his non-working vehicles though he has a garage, which he rents out. He tells the complaining neighbors: “Pag-aari mo ba ang kalsada?” He has also placed a cage of fighting cocks, geese and chicken outside the garage by the curbside, thereby affecting the ingress and egress of the next-door neighbor.
Then a family renting an apartment in the area decided to have a sari-sari store and a vehicle repair service in front of their unit. Just like that. This is a residential area mind you. The repairman uses the whole street as his repair area doing audio, vehicle horn and tint repair, and throwing in wild abandon all the trash that comes with it. Worst, he will switch on the vehicle speakers in loud decibels during siesta time or test the vehicle horn. And you cannot stop it because he claims to be from the area. How can people just open shop without barangay permits? And seriously impair the rights of neighbors?
May 14 is the date for barangay elections. If you want to change the way things are in your barangay, kick out your barangay captain and infuse new blood in the barangay councils. You have that power, use it wisely. Get your voices heard. Yes, it is non-partisan event but it is often violated because local chief executives want their own elected. Remember, they are now paid and they are our servants. Drill that into them. If grassroots democracy is to flourish, we need to cut out clan politics. You want to help Digong pursue political reform and clean our political stables, let us put in our barangays proactive individuals, problem solvers, strict implementors of laws so that frontline services can be made a lot better. Then we can say we have started the long delayed political revolution in our time.