The Importance of the Much-Ignored Barangay Elections

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

The barangay elections are, perhaps, the most ignored electoral exercise in the country. During the May 2010 national elections, an old couple, who were ahead of me, patiently waiting in line under the heat of the sun, commented that if it was just an election for barangay officials, they could have just left. And this reflects a general sentiment. Most do not even bother to vote during barangay elections.

But unbeknownst to many, the election of barangay officials is a hotly contested one. It is not merely a contest where idle people or loiterers compete to become the local lord. Political parties surreptitiously field their candidates to be able to establish their grassroots network. In fact, local politicians have the habit of bribing barangay officials during elections.

Barangay elections are held between, and not during, national and local elections supposedly to prevent it from being influenced by traditional political parties. But political parties do try to influence the results of barangay elections, albeit secretly. Why? Because of the power barangay officials wield.

They are the ultimate link to communities and therefore, to votes. Having many barangay officials under a political party's control or influence multiplies its network of campaigners and vote-getters. It should also be remembered that the powers and functions of barangay officials are not insignificant. It is supposedly the final implementer of government programs. According to the Local Government Code, "As the basic political unit, the barangay serves as the primary planning and implementing unit 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, and where disputes may be amicably settled."

As such the barangay determines and implements the following:

(i) Agricultural support services which include planting materials distribution system and operation of farm produce collection and buying

(ii) Health and social welfare services which include maintenance of barangay health center and day-care center;

(iii) Services and facilities related to general hygiene and sanitation, beautification, and solid waste collection;

(iv) Maintenance of katarungang pambarangay;

(v) Maintenance of barangay roads and bridges and water supply systems

(vi) Infrastructure facilities such as multi- purpose hall, multipurpose pavement, plaza, sports center, and other similar facilities;

(vii) Information and reading center; and

(viii) Satellite or public market, where viable

By virtue of these functions, the barangay has control over substantial resources. For example, the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Intergrated Delivery of Social Services (KALAHI-CIDSS) program, which got a $140 million funding from the Millenium Challenge Corporation alone - the World Bank also funds the program - is being coursed through the barangay. The funds amounting to around P450 to P500 thousand ($10.4 to $11.5 thousand) are deposited directly to bank accounts of the barangay.

Added to this, the terms of barangay officials are even longer than that of local officials and district representatives. Barangay officials have terms of five years, while that of local officials and district representatives are only for three years. Thus, the role of barangay officials, who would be elected this October 25, would be crucial in two succeeding elections: the 2013 local elections and the 2016 national and local elections.

More important is the fact that the barangay is supposedly the only venue where the people could participate in determining government programs and monitoring its implementation at the local level. But of course, this would only be true under a genuine democracy, as the Filipino people's experience during martial law, when the barangay was created, and thereafter would show.

On September 1974, then dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree 557 forming the barangay as the smallest unit of government purportedly to serve as venue where citizens could take part in 'shaping government policies.' Marcos used the barangay's mandate to justify the extension of martial law in 1976 by purportedly getting the 'affirmation' of citizens' assemblies at the barangay level.

However, this should not prevent the people from participating in and trying to influence the results of barangay elections, in areas where possible, to make the barangay serve the interests of local communities. At the same time, this would strengthen the people's capacities to push for the election. of progressive and pro-people candidates in future elections.


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