Editorial: Resurfacing the barangay-A A +A
Sunday, October 27, 2013
MANY view the Oct. 28 holiday as primarily a break from routine, a chance to go on vacation. The import of this day is lost in the long weekend hiatus.
Many regard the barangay elections as not worth the hassle they would otherwise render, not without complaint, to line up for hours to cast their votes in a presidential and senatorial election.
Who knows these folks that run for local posts? The ignorance and apathy is mixed with revulsion for barangay rivalries, a pettiness that frequently ruptures into violence.
Accountable to the people
How easily we forget the first lesson in social studies: the barangay is the basic political unit.
Barangay chiefs and councilors have the opportunity to affect the welfare of communities, for better or for worse.
This insight was starkly demonstrated in the aid-giving controversy stirred around Maribojoc Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. of Bohol, who prevented Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) volunteers from assisting citizens because of a disagreement on distribution procedures.
“The barangay: the smallest yet greatest political unit” was the title of the speech Rep. Edcel Lagman gave to barangay officials of the first district of Albay during the oath-taking ceremony in 2007.
As the “most enduring legacy of our pre-Hispanic past,” the barangay institutionalized important traditions of governance, said Lagman. Accountable to the people, the “datu” earned the right to lead by distinguishing himself in battle or in handling crises.
“Datus were indeed genuine public servants who gave premium to the interest and welfare of the barangay,” Lagman stressed.
In today’s election, campaign promises to serve or be the “face of new politics” should be tested in the fire of actual service. The Evascos who ride on the backs of tragedies to assert their political whims at the expense of public welfare hand on a platter to voters more than a resumé of qualifications and experience: they show their sincerity about serving the public. Or lack of it.
Pawns of power
Before the arrival of the Spaniards, Lagman observed that public office was open to all genders. Our “democratic” ancestors demonstrated that “gender did not matter so long as the datu had the trust and confidence of the people”.
Spanish colonizers exploited this working system to serve the interests of the empire.
To better control their subjects, the Spaniards made the barangay an adjunct of the system, renaming the “datu” as “cabeza de barangay,” a member of the local elite that
was under the thumb of the “gobernadorcillo” and the “alcalde mayor.”
Lagman said male-dominated politics began in the era as the cabeza had to be a man, elected by other men of the “principalia” and blessed by the parish priest, another man.
For today’s local positions in the barangay, women demonstrate that gender is not a barrier for a mind and heart for service. The violence marking barangay elections bears the scabs of machismo and aggression, challenging today’s women leaders.
Throughout an evolution that began with the pre-Hispanic datu to the Spanish cabeza, the American period’s barrio captain, the Commonwealth period’s “tiniente del barrio” and the Marcos regime’s barangay captain, it was the Local Government Code of 1991 that instituted “punong barangay” and its centrality in governance.
According to Lagman, “the barangay is key to the effective and speedy delivery of frontline services.”
In Bohol, reeling from not just the aftermath of a natural disaster but also the equally destructive divisiveness of a political exercise, even if postponed, barangay officials must also, on top of other demands, have the expertise and maturity of crisis managers.
Lagman said that, as a “microcosm of national governance,” the barangay offers the “best leadership training school” since the punong barangay exercises all three powers of the executive, legislative and judiciary. He also said that daily exposure to building consensus in the community trains barangay leaders in channeling action.
Underscoring the sensitivity of barangay electoral positions is their responsibility for public funds. Understanding that their “office or position” is only “loaned (to them) by (their) constituencies,” elected officials of the barangay must perform as the “primary link of the government to the grassroots”.
“If we are to progress as a nation, it is imperative that the foundation of our government be rock-solid lest the whole structure crumbles,” Lagman said.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 28, 2013.