If you want change, get involved

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Tita ValderamaGOOD governance should not just be a byword. It should be more than a slogan.

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If we are to take it seriously, we ought to become part of it regardless of our standing in the community.

The October 28 barangay election is a good opportunity to take part in the effort to reform our political system by choosing the best candidates who actually demonstrate what public service is all about.

The barangay officials are in the best position to feel the pulse of the public on every issue. Because of their closeness with the grassroots constituency, they are in the best position to address the needs of the communities.

Barangay elections are supposed to be non-partisan. It is typically hotly-contested, particularly in recent years when barangays have been given their share in the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) that could run into millions of pesos a year.

Caloocan City’s Barangay 176, for instance, got P89 million of its P100-million budget this year from the IRA that it spends on salaries, purchase of supplies, equipment, and community projects and services.

That’s huge money that they have to manage and allocate judiciously, and not just to distribute as dole-outs to ensure their victory in the succeeding election.

Some LGUs spend most part of the IRA on salaries, employing relatives and political protégés as full-time, and, at times, as so-called 15-30 or ghost employees.

The IRA should entice professionals to get involved in barangay politics and disabuse their minds that barangay officials only settle disputes between quarreling couples and handle other petty problems in the community.

The IRA is the annual share of local government units out of the proceeds from national internal revenue taxes.

The national internal revenue taxes come from income tax, estate and donor’s tax, value-added tax, other percentage taxes and taxes imposed by special laws such as travel tax.

Barangays get 20 percent of the IRA which is divided among each of the 42, 028 barangays across the country, based on the following formula: population – 60 percent, equal sharing – 40 percent.

If the barangay has a population of at least 100,000, its IRA share should not be less than P80,000 a year. The amount is charged against the 20 percent share of the barangays from the total IRA and the balance allocated on the basis of the formula.

The Local Government Code sets the formula for the distribution of the IRA. The national government plows back to local governments 40 percent of internal revenue collections which in turn is shared among LGUs with barangays receiving 20 percent; provinces, 23 percent; municipalities, 34 percent; and cities, 23 percent.

For 2014, the share of the barangays from the IRA will be P68. 3 billion, up by P7.8 billion from this year’s P60.5 billion.

Being the so-called first-responders during calamities and disputes in the communities, the IRA certainly can make the people feel government presence.

This is where public vigilance is called for. This is why the barangays should not be partisan. The public should watch out against partisanship, favoritism, and indiscriminate spending of the public money starting in the barangay level.

Apart from the IRA, barangays also have taxing power. They are authorized by law to generate income from taxes on stores or retailers with fixed business establishments and gross sales or receipts in the previous year of P50,000 or less in cities, and P30,000 or less in municipalities at the rate not exceeding one percent on gross sales or receipts.

It is unfortunate that many Filipino voters don’t take the barangay elections seriously.

The statistics are quite alarming.

According to Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca, 31 percent or 104,186 of the 336,200 barangay officials across the country had not gone beyond high school while 44, 309 made it past elementary school.

Without belittling the academic achievements or non-achievements of the current crop of barangay officials, I believe that education is key in politics even in the barangay level.

The barangay, the smallest geographical political unit, would be a good training ground to those who wanted to beat well-entrenched political dynasties in Congress and other public offices.

If we are to institutionalize good governance as a key principle in our political system, we should start from the barangays.

We should elect candidates who are accountable, effective and efficient, transparent, responsive, consensus-oriented, and passionate about public service.

These are the major characteristics of good governance as outlined by the United Nations.

The World Leaders at the 2005 World Summit concluded that good governance is integral to economic growth, the eradication of poverty and hunger, and sustainable development.

The views of all oppressed groups, including women, youth and the poor, must be heard and considered by governing bodies because they will be the ones most negatively affected if good governance is not achieved.

For good governance to exist in both theory and practice, citizens must be empowered to participate in meaningful ways in decision-making processes.

The upcoming barangay election presents us the opportunity to be involved.

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