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Local Elections

On October 25 of this year, the nation troops yet again to the polls in order for citizens to choose their barangay executives and youth leaders. But as writer-analyst Benjie Oliveros noted, these elections are viewed to be of lesser-significance than the preceding one last May. This is certainly deplorable.

It is arguable that the bedrock of local autonomy is the barangay LGU. This is where government can most effectively serve its constituents because it is where government immediately and directly encounters them. For unlike national government offices which also directly provide services, the barangay LGU is supposedly embedded in the very community of the each citizen. And yet, it is also here, at this crucial site of interface between government and the public it serves, that the former is less than successful in achieving its aims.

This is largely because too often, barangay officials become beholden to municipal, provincial, and national political leaders, seeing in them the benefactors or patrons to whom they must submit their fealty. Too often also, municipal, provincial, and national-level politicians see and treat barangay officials as pawns in their own machinations of staying in power. As Oliveros puts it, barangay officials "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."

Compounding the matter is the fact that many citizens perceive the barangay and SK elections as an afterthought to the national polls. As a result, these very local elections frequently turn into an exercise in strategy for these political bigwigs, and not the authentic determination by the local community of their political leaders at the grassroots.

It is lost to many of us that the true significance of the barangay and SK elections is in its embodiment of the principles of local autonomy and political decentralization. The barangay LGU is the venue for people's direct participation in deciding on government's programs and policies, as well as monitoring their implementation. The choice of barangay officials-and to a large extent, of SK leaders-is decisive therefore in this regard.

Ultimately, we can leave these local elections in the hands of crafty and manipulative politicos who have their vested interests; or we can, by taking serious consideration of the barangay and SK polls, affirm and exercise more concretely democracy's hallowed tenet: a government by the people, of the people, and for the people.