WORM’S EYEVIEW: Corruption in the Barangay, Part 3

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 12 Jan) – Are the shenanigans and corrupt practices described in previous articles happening in every barangay? There are exceptions obviously, but knowledgeable contractors (the honest ones) will tell you, as lawyers are wont to say, that such exceptions are what prove the rule.

There are many lapses in the government of barangays that go unnoticed and remain unchecked—from election offenses to administrative violations, to shameless kickbacks and outright thievery, to nepotism and epalism and dynasty-related issues.

Considering that there are 42,078 barangays in our republic, one can only imagine how many billions, nay, trillions!, are incurred in its primary governments because no one bothers to monitor or check their operations, let alone supervise them.

Unchecked Corruption

It is incumbent upon the barangay citizens to oversee and supervise their immediate government. It is their essential role and responsibility to protect their collective as well as their individual interests. The law not only mandates it but provides the mechanism for them to do so.

But to the discredit of the national authorities and the pretentious members of Congress, no proper orientation or training has ever been conducted to capacitate people or community to undertake the task, not even to motivate or foster in them a sense of obligation to do so. As a result, Filipinos are in a perennial state of default as to their essential role at the grassroots.

Unless Filipinos somehow learn to perform this oversight function, which is part of their civic duty as citizens, autonomy or self-governance will remain elusive, and corruption will also remain rampant at the grassroots—thus throughout the bureaucracy.

This is the unavoidable consequence of having a bureaucracy or civil service in which the rank-and-file can line their pockets without fear of punishment or retribution. Wonder no more why the poor of the barangays remain poor while the trapos above them are richer today and will be more powerful tomorrow.

You see, the pork barrel scandal swirling around Janet Napoles today and the faded issue of Jocjoc Bolante’s fertilizer scam are as peanuts compared to the volume of unchecked corruption in local governments.

Neglecting Life on Earth

There is plunder with impunity because a) there are no built-in checks and balances in the barangay (the chairman has de facto control!), and b) the Barangay Assembly that’s supposed to do the checking and the balancing does not convene.

This Assembly is supposed to consist of the barangay people themselves—all who are of voting age. Together and in session they’re supposed “to hear and pass upon” the acts of the officials (Section 398, R.A. 7160), and sanction them if warranted.

But on the rare occasions that they do convene, only the complicit crowd (sycophants and political supporters) bother to attend while the community’s solid citizens ignore it.

People famed for civic-mindedness frequently ask: Why do the Big Trapos and Puppeteers in far away Malacañang or Congress find it easy to corrupt and manipulate voters in our neighborhoods?

Answer: Because the Big Trapos know what’s going on in our neighborhoods while we don’t! They not only know about the cheating, the stealing, and the aggrandizing in our respective communities, they finance the operatives who do it. And they do so through their field commanders in the Capitol or City Hall.

They get away with it because they know that a) citizens and civic leaders who claim to be concerned are too busy with their own vanity projects as to notice anything, and b) the pious circles and prayer groups are more preoccupied with devotions and novenas to secure their afterlife than be bothered about the corruption and ugly politics of life on earth.

Ignorance and Neglect

It is ignorance and neglect that are getting in the way of good governance or autonomy. The social activists and the devout churchgoers are clueless about the millions in assets in their barangay, not just in higher government units, that need to be safeguarded. And neither do they know that it is fairly easy to access barangay funds and siphon the take into the wrong pockets.

This ignorance of what’s afoot, of local wrongdoing, springs from not knowing that there is no separation of powers in the barangay’s system of government; that in fact it has a parliamentary form of government—with the chairman heading all three branches; with the Barangay Assembly as the people’s parliament; which has power to discipline or remove erring officials through the process of Initiative or Recall.

In other words, there is no effective check or balance, no transparency or accountability, in the disposition of barangay funds and other resources.

It is unfortunate that people are not aware of this unique character of barangay governance. As the sovereign citizens of the community, acting through their Barangay Assembly, they have oversight in respect of its overall operations. But unless they actually perform this function there will never be good governance in the community and, by extension, in the Republic.

[Manny was former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific, director at Development Academy of the Philippines, vice chair at Local Government Academy, and 2004 PPI-Unicef awardee for outstanding columnist. He heads Gising Barangay Movement as national convenor and president. valdehuesa@gmail.com.]