SOMEONE ELSE'S WINDOWS: Barangay elections then and now by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 Oct) – Who would have thought that today’s barangay elections could become as festive, if not raucous, as say, elections for local and national posts? Nothing but the name differentiates barangay elections from the contest for higher political posts. One sees the same level of adrenalin rush that pushes candidates as well as supporters to outdo their rivals in the fight for name recall come election day – flyers, posters, tarps, giveaways, and yes, even media ads.

There are covert wars going on too, with intrigues and slander as the chief weapons. But in areas where violence has become commonplace and regarded as a “normal” occurrence, the guns not propaganda do the talking. Money, of course, also determines the outcome.

During the 2007 barangay elections, even candidates for barangay captain in some small barangays were reported to have engaged in vote-buying to the tune of between 200 and 300 pesos per voter. Those running for kagawad (council member) spent much less. In Barangay Casisang in this city where I presently live, destitute voters would be happy to vote for a candidate for a measly sum of 20 pesos – giving them 50 pesos was already a bonus. Credentials are good but the voters need cash.

So, what has caused the deterioration of barangay politics? At the root of all these evils is the gradual morphing of barangay elections from being non-partisan exercises into highly partisan ones. Local officials, including congresspersons, show no qualms in declaring who they are siding with and do everything in their power to assure the victory of their bets as a way of strengthening their hold on local politics. In addition, the power of barangays to manage their own Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) has lured would-be grafters to the contest.

This wasn’t the case decades ago when the only incentive to becoming a barangay official was the respect of one’s constituents and performing altruistic community service.

Father became a barangay captain a year or two before I finished elementary, in my original hometown. I remember that he and his council members were elected without extravaganza and through a system that was no less democratic than the present one. A town official called the barangay residents to a meeting in a high school campus, announced that the purpose of the assembly was to elect the barangay officials, set some rules and, after an hour or maybe less, it was all over.

After the nominations, those who were 18 years old and above made their choice simply by raising their hands, or what is popularly known as viva voce. There were no complaints, no quarrels and arguments, and of course, no dagdag-bawas (vote padding/shaving). And, strange but true, it was hard to find people who wanted to be nominated. In short, barangay elections then weren’t a source of conflict.

Looking back, I’d like to think that only a few wanted to become barangay officials because there was no monetary reward to begin with. Even barangay captains started without honoraria and other perks. There was no barangay office. Our house doubled as father’s office and he had to shell out his own money for paper, pens and coffee and snacks for visitors and during meetings. And since we had no typewriter (the word computer wasn’t in our dictionary then, hahaha) he had to make certifications, memoranda and other documents in his own handwriting.

In the late 1970s, the municipal government started giving barangay captains a monthly honorarium of 300 pesos. Father would often ask me to claim the amount from the treasurer’s office. And, even if it was already a small sum, he’d always remind me to leave 50 pesos for the clerk who prepared the voucher. Fifty pesos at that time was worth at least 10 kilos of rice if memory serves me right. I’m sure Father was the only barangay captain [in our town] who did that because the clerk always thanked me profusely.

When Father sought reelection, barangay elections were already covered by the secret balloting system. His lone opponent, a politician who earlier lost in a mayoral contest, reportedly went into vote buying. A liaison sent by the mayor came to our house and offered Father a bagful of money to defeat his opponent at his own game. Father refused; he lost by 70 votes.

In our barangay at least, barangay elections have never been the same again after that. A reign of greed had begun. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaViews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com)