Seares: Dealing with ‘hostile’ barangays: BMO was wrong, so what is right?

News Sense

BMO or Barangay Mayor’s Office first came to the attention of the Cebu City Council when Mayor Tomas Osmeña in August 2016 asked for authority to distribute medicines under his “Long Life Medical Assistance Program.”

Maintenance meds were to be distributed to selected beneficiaries in each barangay. A terrific populist service, a sure vote-getter, as the meds were delivered not twice a month or weekly but everyday (!), apparently to remind the recipient each day that, look, you’re living a longer life because of the mayor and his administration.

That is appreciated less if the meds are distributed through the regular barangay captain and his council. If the bry. chief belongs to the rival party Barug, it is the bry. official, not Tomas or his leader in the community, who gets the credit.

The same thinking works as to most other services from City Hall: (a) Deliver the goodies from the administration, with top-priority to its supporters and (b) credit shall not go to its enemy.

Combative stance

That was the concept of the BMO. A combative stance: “They want to fight, I want to fight also,” Tomas was then quoted as saying. As plain politicking as it can be, only more aggressive and over-the-edge. Here’s why:

[1] The BMO was not authorized by law or ordinance. Even now, it is not yet known how the workers were paid, what the scope of authority and liability was, or whether they were accredited for specialized jobs, such as handling medicines. The executive order mentioning it is about distribution of medicines, Councilor Raymond Garcia pointed out at the time.

[2] BMO personnel -- who were tapped from unelected, non-accountable BOPK supporters -- duplicated the work of elected officials, usurping functions such as issuing clearances and endorsements, as Councilor Phillip Zafra then complained.

[3] BMOs were later claimed to be BDCC or barangay disaster control centers but that was only after their creation was questioned by the City Council. Yet the name BMO has stuck and its excess of functions continued. Under the law on disaster risk reduction and management, work of BDCC is limited thus: “all pertaining to and in times of calamity.” What can be clearer than that? BDDC aka BMO cannot distribute medicines, fix lights and do other tasks the barangay does in normal, no-disaster times.

Promise to be fair

Mayor-elect Edgar Labella announced Monday, May 20, 2019, the abolition of BMOs. So they will go but the problem of discriminating against barangays that didn’t vote for Labella will remain. Labella said he will treat everyone fairly. But demands of party interest, which routinely wants more than one term for its mayor, might make him move as shrewdly as Tomas did.

What can help set things right? DILG, the agency that oversees local governments, can be less of a wimp than it was on the BMO case. Its action three years ago made DILG appear complicit to the irregularity, if not illegality.

DILG opinion

In an opinion received by the City Council on Oct. 26, 2016, then DILG regional chief Rene K. Burdeos let the mayor off the hook by justifying MBOs as BDCCs.

Even without conducting a full-blown investigation, at least DILG should have been clear and categorical on what BMO/BDCC cannot legally do. Thus, it could’ve warned the mayor by telling it as it was. Burdeos said MBOs “do not exist” but their existence was confirmed when Tomas wanted them to distribute the meds. DILG should’ve made it specific: BDCC aka MBO can operate only on matters “pertaining to and in times of calamity.”

Political weapon

A political weapon used by one administration may be used too by the rival administration that succeeds it. Intensifying services , particularly those most felt and appreciated by recipients, most likely will be adopted by the new mayor.

Labella can be diligent and creative on vote-getting strategies without violating law or regulation and disrupting the administrative system. Tomas’s BMOs more than cut corners; they occupied the corners and marginalized the duly elected barangay leaders.


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