THE Local Government Code of the Philippines defines the Barangay as the basic political unit that serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community. It provides a forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered, and where disputes may be amicably settled.
The Barangay Justice System or Katarungang Pambarangay is composed of members commonly known as "Lupon Tagapamayapa" which acts as the pacification committee. Their function is to conciliate and mediate disputes at the Barangay level so as to avoid legal action and relieve the courts of docket congestion. These Lupon are also tasked to effect extrajudicial settlement of minor cases between barangay residents.
Information provided by the Department of Interior and local Government states that the Katarungang Pambarangay is an out-of-court resolution of conflicts by the community members themselves under the guidance of the Punong Barangay and without intervention of legal counsels and representatives.
According to the Revised KP Law, the lupon is composed of the Punong (Chairman) Barangay and 10 to 20 members. The lupon are normally constituted every three years and holds office until a new lupon is constituted on the third year. They serve without compensation except for certain honoraria, allowances and other emoluments as authorized by law or barangay, municipal or city ordinance.
Accordingly, almost all civil disputes and every criminal offense punishable by imprisonment not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding P5,000.00 are subject to amicable settlement under the KP when parties involved are individuals who are residing in the same city or municipality.
What disputes and offenses are not covered by the Katarungang Pambarangay? Section 408 of the LGC enumerates that the KP is exempted on disputes where one party is the government or any subdivision or instrumentality, a public officer or employee and the dispute relates to the person, offenses are punishable by imprisonment exceeding one year or a fine P5,000.00, offenses where no private party or individual is offended, where the dispute involves real properties located in different cities or municipalities and disputes involving parties who actually reside in barangays of different cities or municipalities and such other classes of disputes which the President of the Philippines may determine in the interest of justice or upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Justice.
Can an individual file a case directly in court? According to the question and answer portion of a book entitled “Comprehensive Guidebook On Katarungang Pambarangay” authored by Juanito S. Ortiz, the answer is no unless personal confrontation of parties has already taken place and resulted to a failure in the settlement of such case. What happens when a case outside the jurisdiction of the KP is settled amicably at the barangay level? The guidebook states that any settlement or arbitration on disputes not covered by the KP does not have the force and effect of a court judgment and they are merely private contracts and cannot be enforced through execution by the Lupon or court. Conciliation is the extension of the amicable settlement in the case the mediatory effort of the Punong Baranagy did not result to reconciliation within the 15 days from the start of the proceedings. Arbitration on the other hand is the alternative way of settling disputes under the KP whereby contesting parties agree in writing on the decision or judgment of the Punong Barangay or the Pangkat.
In Barangays where majority of the inhabitants are members of indigenous cultural communities, local systems through the council of elders such as the Datus in Mindanao and the Pangats in the Cordillera are recognized without prejudice to the applicable provisions of this Code.
Any legal question which may confront the Punong Barangay in resolving objections to venue herein referred to may be submitted to the Secretary of Justice, or his duly designated representative, whose ruling thereon shall be binding. As a procedure for amicable settlement, a Barangay resident who has a cause of action against another individual involving any matter within the authority of the lupon may complain, orally or in writing to the lupon chairman of the Barangay upon payment of a filing fee which may amount to a minimum of P20.
Upon receipt of the complaint, the lupon chairman shall within the next working day summon the respondent, with notice to the complainant(s) for them and their witnesses to appear before him for a mediation of their conflicting interests. If he fails in his mediation effort within 15 days from the first meeting of the parties before him, the Chairman shall set a date for the constitution of the pangkat in accordance with the provisions of the LGC and KP.
While the dispute is under mediation, conciliation, or arbitration, the prescriptive periods for offenses and cause of action under existing laws shall be interrupted upon filing of the complaint with the Punong Barangay. The prescriptive periods shall resume upon receipt by the complainant of the complaint or the certificate of repudiation or of the certification to file action issued by the lupon or pangkat secretary but such interruption shall not exceed 60 days from the filing of the complaint with the Punong Barangay. Further, in the event that a party moves to disqualify any member of the pangkat by reason of relationship, bias, interest, or any other similar grounds discovered after the constitution of the pangkat, the matter shall be resolved by the affirmative vote of the majority of the pangkat whose decision shall be final. The pangkat shall arrive at a settlement or resolution of the dispute within 15 days from the day it convenes in accordance with Section 410 of the code. This period shall, at the discretion of the pangkat, be extendible for another period which shall not exceed 15 days, except in clearly meritorious cases. (To be continued…)