Barangay leaders of today and yesterday compared

THERE’S no more stopping the May 14, 2018 barangay elections. And no stopping the heated lobbying for support – whether in cash or in kind – from incumbent political officials.

Conversely, the incumbent mayors and their wannabe rivals could be sources of such support. Nowhere is this more evident today than in the rumored political rivalry between Congressman Jerry Treñas and Mayor Jose Espinosa III of Iloilo City, who are said to be vying for the latter’s post in 2019 despite their relationship by affinity, their wives being sisters. Both have held meetings with barangay captains in the past month.

Where a re-electionist barangay head is already “tied” to the incumbent mayor, the wannabe mayor scouts for a strong rival to that barangay official.

As provided for in Section 384 of the 1991 Local Government Code, the country’s 42,025 barangays serve as “the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community.” It is such mandate that makes them allies of the incumbent local government officials even if they are supposed to be “apolitical” or non-partisan, hence independent of the mayors and other city or municipal officials.

Everybody knows that such “non-partisanship” is a farce engendered by clan politics where elections are dominated by influential and often dynastic families. It amazes the village people that rampant vote buying and harassment now characterize barangay polls. The previous barangay elections on October 25, 2010 were marred by violence involving candidates and supporters shooting and stabbing each other literally and figuratively.

If it were true that aspiring barangay leaders aim to serve, they don’t even have to run. Service in private capacity with no pecuniary motive would be even more honorable.

The truth of the matter is that, except for the small minority, they are there for “self-service.” It is already public knowledge that they make much more money than their meager wages. It’s their means of lucrative livelihood today – unlike yesterday.

Yesterday – meaning the years before the 1972 declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos – there was no doubt of their sincerity to serve because they did so with neither salary nor allowance. And so it would be insane for pre-martial law barangay aspirants to buy votes.

We chose our teniente del barrio (what is now punong barangay) and the kagawads by viva voce consensus rather than secret balloting. It was therefore most likely for the philanthropic candidates to win.

To this day, I remember that midnight when our unforgettable teniente in San Pedro (a barangay in San Jose, Antique) woke us in behalf of a sick resident. He begged of my father to drive the man to the hospital on our passenger jeepney at his expense.

In the 1960s, our teniente also played a leading role in bayanihan undertakings – as in ligaw-balay or uprooting of a bamboo house to be transferred to another location. He would personally ask the able-bodied men to carry the house and later reward them with a round of tuba.

Barangay politics as we know it today is a “download” from the martial law era. Just like in those days, to reiterate, today’s barangay leaders kowtow to powerful politicians – and even to drug lords – for logistical support. And so we hear them shamelessly advertise themselves as “kandidato ni mayor” or “kandidato ni congressman.” In time, they would return the favor by supplying votes for influential politicians during national and local elections.

Of course, the winning barangay candidates would not project themselves as tools of traditional politicians but as their partners in making local governance accessible to all. ([email protected]/PN)

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