COMMENT: Barangay Notes at Random

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 31 Oct) – Last Monday afternoon, as the last ballots dropped into the boxes nationwide, the hallelujahs and hosannas praising the barangay as the basic political institution, the rallying calls to vote – “to see Philippine democracy work” – and to vote “right”, and the warnings not to vote for “wrong candidates” were “all sounds and fury, signifying nothing”. Read the papers. Listen to the radios. View the television news channels.

Barangay Election 2013 came and went — as usual like the local and national elections.

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Manny Valdehuesa from Cagayan de Oro City, president and national convenor of Gising Barangay Movement, for weeks featured the barangay and barangay election in his MindaNews column, “WORM’S EYEVIEW”. His last three articles practically summarized his series.

October 26 (Political Corruption starts with Misguided Voters), he exhorted voters not to sell their votes.

He opened: “A vote importuned by patronage, cast in exchange for money or goods, or obligated by favors or political indebtedness is a misguided or corrupt vote. Such a vote confers an undeserved honor to a candidate with misplaced or dishonest ambition. It rewards him with something he doesn’t deserve: public trust.

Unfortunately, once this vote is cast, it bestows a leadership role, along with authority to manage or oversee the resources of government and society. And it grants him access to all sources of power, pelf, and pageantry; a sort of winner-takes-all bonanza.”

And closed: “Oversight and vigilance are needed in every barangay, especially in the neglected or little-noticed sitios and puroks where the most vulnerable sectors live. It’s in those neighborhoods that patronage is dispensed, where ward leaders operate and prowl the households, where votes are bought wholesale, and where the hakot of flying voters begin and end. No candidate, local or national, gets elected unless he corrals the votes in these obscure corners.

“But unless every concerned citizen tends to his own barangay, who will?”

October 27 (The election is over but the counting), he sounded exasperated:

He opened with a paragraph printed in bold letters, 24 point-type size: The Election Day is still a day away, but let’s face it: even now we know that a lot of questionable votes will be cast and these will prove decisive in the final tally. There will be flying voters, fake voters, spurious voters, even ghost voters. So in many cases, the winners are already known.

“It’s fairly easy to tell who the winners will be. Simply figure out who spent the most, where the money went or in whose pockets it landed, and which group scored the most violations. In Barangay Bel Air, Makati, for example, we know for whom over a hundred spurious votes will be cast: they are all registered as residents of the same address, which, news reports say, happens to be the residence of the incumbent Barangay Chair.”

And closed: “Finally, it should be obvious by now that it takes more than exhortations, “voter-education” campaigns, appearing in the precincts on Election Day—or even prayers, novenas, and threats of damnation—to influence the political choices of one’s community, let alone reform its political culture.”

October 28 (Voting is merely one stepto reforms), he recapitulated the significance of the barangay elections.

He opened: “The quest for reforms, for clean and honest government, must be unending. And it must start with the vote we cast in our barangay. Some may say reform is an impossible dream. Still, it is no cause for despair, for not trying. There is no excuse for not striving.”

And closed: “Time now for Mindanaons to wake up their barangays, take their destiny in their own hands, and stop relying on demagogues, oligarchs, and autocrats and their dynasties!”

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Manny Valdehuesa is the Filipino who has so much faith in the election as the instrument of reform in the corrupt-ridden Philippines – as dirty, or perhaps dirtier, as the Augean stable in the Greek legend. Manny believes the cleaning must start with the barangay election — a Herculean job to be done not with two big rivers re-routed to wash the stable but with the weak-flowing barangay creek.

However, if the majority of Filipino voters are of Manny’s mold, the Philippine election will become mightier than the two Augean rivers to cleanse the Philippines of its Augean mess.

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Is the barangay election the right layer of the Philippine political system from which to start cleaning the system of frightening corruption? The theory, “Start from the basic”, is sound if that basic is sound. But, the barangay, as a contradiction, is unsound.

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Ramon Casiple, a political analyst and head of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, (Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 27, 2013: Control over gov’t money sparking violence in village polls – political analyst) observed “the big disparities of what has been ‘in theory’ and what has been in practice”:

One big disparity: Under the Local Government Code, the barangay chair should receive not even a salary, but only an honorarium of at least P1,000; the barangay councilors only at least P600 each. But in practice, they get much bigger honoraria depending on the barangay income from “Internal Revenue Allotment, a regular budget, corporate taxes. That’s what makes [the elective barangay positions] attractive.” [To corroborate: The kagawads of Barangay Lagao, General Santos City are said to enjoy P12,000 monthly honoraria.– ppd]

Another big disparity: In theory, the law says barangay elections should be nonpartisan. The Omnibus Election Code bars candidates from representing or receiving aid from any political party. But in reality, barangays are important to mayors. That’s where the fight is. If you hold the barangays, you have ready-made machinery for ward leadership. Control of barangays through their leaders has become a fight by ordinary politicos.

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Barangay candidates have political patrons, are affiliated with political parties or alliances. Barangay officials, on top of their “sparse benefits”, receive perks from their political patrons. In Quezon City, Casiple said, “all barangay captains are given a car”.

Both Valdehuesa, in his series of column articles, and Casiple, in his press statement, attest to state of corruption during barangay election and of barangay officials after their election. They are part of the systemic corruption of the entire unitary system of the Philippine government.

The appeal is to voters – not to allow themselves to be misguided (Read: corrupted) for “political corruption starts with misguided voters”. Who really start political corruption – the misguided (corrupted) voters or the political leaders who misguide (corrupt) the voters?

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The entire system needs cleansing from frightening corruption. Can the corrupted voters in the corrupt base controlled by corrupt political leaders start the cleansing?

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Casiple’s testimony to the disparity of theory and practice concerning the barangay is food for thought. The barangay is a contradiction.

The barangay is founded on this principle: To bring the government closer to the people. It means the government is away from the people. We are a democracy. Is government not “of the people, by the people and for the people”? If so, government must always be with the people, not away.

Is that not a contradiction?

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However, it will be explained: But in our democracy, government is not directly by and of the people but through their elected representatives. The people elect representatives to the national government (Congress), to the provincial government (Sangguniang Panlalawigan) and to the municipal government (Sangguniang Bayan); or to the city government (Sangguniang Panlunsod).

Then the fact: After their election, the representatives forget the people. They only represent themselves, their cronies and their patrons. Hence, government is not for the people.

So, the barangay was instituted to bring government closer to the people. The barangay governments are given a small share of government revenues for operational expenses and services. The fact: in most small barangays, the funds are just enough for operations; in a few big or rich barangays, the funds go to the perks of the barangay council members. In either case, the barangay government is hardly for the people.

Then the red tape: Barangay people can bring their problems to the barangay government that may bring it to the city or municipal government that may bring it to provincial government that may bring it to the national government. Then the national government would give order that will pass down to the provincial, to the city or municipal, and to the barangay governments. It would not be a surprise that people just bear their problems.

Bringing government closer to the people? A contradiction! A farce!

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How soundly is the barangay established?

In size: In municipalities, at lease 2,000 (Local Government Code); in actuality: from less than 500 to 1,000 -3000, rarely 4,000-5,000. In cities: at least (5,000); in actuality: in small cities, mostly smaller than 5,000; in big cities, some to as big as 10,000-30,000 or more.[Example: By the 1995 census, of the 26 barangays of General Santos City: Eleven have population of more than 10,000 six, 10,464 to 19,376; two, 29,869 and 27,582; two, 34,658 and 38,515; and one, 41,219. Fifteen have less than 10,000ten, 2,091 to 4,754; five, 6.037 to 7,628.]

In income: They get small percentage of the revenues generated within their areas. The steady source of income for barangays is the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment). The barangay gets 20 percent of the total IRA for LGUs (local government units); this is divided among all the barangays of the municipality or city.

By election: The schedule of local and national elections is fixed by the Constitution; that of the barangays, by law. Had President Aquino III not objected, R.A. 9340 could have been amended to reset the election last Monday to a date “to be determined by the COMELEC between October 28, 2014 and February 23, 2015” as provided in R.A 10632 that was originally to postpone the synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan election – postponing only the latter.

Look at how the barangay election has been gerrymandered. R.A. 6679 move the May 9, 1988 election to March 28, 1989 and set the next election to the second Monday of May 1994. Since the Local Government Code fixed the term of barangay officials to three years, the next election was second Monday of May, 1997. R.A. 8534 changed the term of barangay officials to five years; R.A. 9164 set the next election to July 15, 2002. R.A. 9340 set the 2007 election on the last Monday of October 2007 — not July 15 — “and every three (3) years thereafter”.

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That’s how sound the barangay is as a political institution! The terms of office and elections of barangay officials have been at the pleasure of the Congress and the President.

Yet, the role of the barangay is very vital: “As the basic political unit, the barangay serves as the primary planning and implementing unity of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community, and as a forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered …” (Section 384, Local Government Code of 1991).

Can the barangay do the first step to reform of the country’s corrupt unitary system?

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Paragraph 3 of Section 1, R.A. 6679 states: “The barangay elections shall be nonpartisan and shall be conducted in a expeditious and inexpensive manner.” This is opposite what has been happening – in the words of Ramon Casiple, “disparity between theory and practice”. This must be what Manny Valdehuesa and others in the country like him want to happen.

Was this what President Ferdinand E. Marcos wanted to happen when in established the barangay? Was this what succeeding presidents and congresses, including the Cory Aquino Constitutional Commission, wanted to happen? Is this what President Aquino III and Congress want to happen?

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Just a parting note: The barangay is just a bit player in the sad comedy of Philippine unitary system. The presumptive barangay leaders, as candidates during elections and as officials after, only act as their models in the higher tiers of the unitary system do. The people are entertained during elections; after, they see government not closer than it usually is away. That’s the sadness of the comedy, the farce.

What can be done? Through a revolution – preferably like that in1986 – clean the political system from top to bottom. Keep the system clean while harnessing real people power in entrenching good government from the bottom to the top. That will take generations to do for that will need continuous people reform – the formation of individuals through good education and good model from generation to generation.

We had the opportunity after the 1986 People Power revolution. But the people entrusted their power to traditional politicians riding on the revolution. Traditional politics returned with the first election. The non-politicians appointed as OICs (officers-in-charge) easily converted to trapos or tradpols.

The corruption today was unseen in the 1930s. It is the apex of the moral degeneration of the Filipinos following World War II that then Sen. Lorenzo Tanada warned of in a privilege speech in 1949. Now expecting a reform through barangay election is fervent wish. Is it the way?

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)

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