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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Wenceslao: Observing a barangay assembly

THE Sun.Star Cebu office along P. del Rosario St. is in Barangay San Anotnio, one of the small barangays in Cebu City. In the almost two decades since I began working with Sun.Star, I never got a chance to set foot in the San Antonio barangay hall. Not until yesterday. Barangays throughout the country conducted assemblies yesterday. My elementary school batch mate, San Antonio Barangay Councilor Rainier Vistar, invited me to speak in their assembly.

Weeks ago, when the talk was about the proposed postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections originally scheduled for this month, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez suggested the scrapping of barangay elections altogether and having the president appoint the barangay chiefs instead, this time without the barangay councilors. It was obviously a wild suggestion that’s why nobody picked it up.

As I listened yesterday to San Anotnio Barangay Captain Alan Masecampo report about what the barangay officials did last year, it dawned on me how much governance in the barangay has changed after Republic Act 7160, or the Local Government Code of the Philippines, was enacted. The organization and processes in the barangay have become so solidified and institutionalized that tampering with these would be wrong.

I got an inkling of this several years ago when office rules had me undergo additional medical checkups and ask
for a barangay health clearance. I went to Barangay Lipata in Minglanilla and while waiting for the person-in-charge, I observed the goings on at the barangay hall. The services offered there, especially on health, were fairly well set already. This is a result of years of perfecting the setup.

In the barangay assembly, I found out how wide the range of services offered by the barangay is, many of them an offshoot of the directives issued by the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG). Go to your nearest barangay hall and you’ll see barangay health workers, midwives, nurses, etc. running things systematically. You do not destroy this setup using wild suggestions.

What the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte should do instead is to strengthen the setup in place and develop it further. The administration of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, already did its share for the barangay by ordering the regularization of the holding of barangay assemblies. Barangay assemblies, if handled properly, strengthen governance in the barangays by empowering barangay constituents.

I stayed until the end part of the barangay assembly in San Antonio yesterday and I can say that the assembly did its purpose. It allowed barangay constituents to understand better the running of the barangay. It also gives them the chance to present policy suggestions.

Because San Antonio is small, its share in earnings from real property taxes and its share in the internal revenue allotment (IRA) are modest, especially in comparison with giant barangays in the city. But per report from the barangay officials, they were able to make do with their meager income, which amounted to “only” P3 million in 2015. What is interesting, according to the report, is that, despite the limited income, the barangay was still able to provide diverse services to its constituents and still has P5 million in the bank.

I left the assembly noting how alive democracy still is in many of the country’s barangays.

(khanwens@gmail.com/@khanwens)
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