POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 28 October 2010, Thursday
Barangay Elections Miss the Boat
Back in the day, balanghay meant boat. From history lessons, we learned that it was the main transportation of our Malay forebears from parts afar to the islands of Pilipinas. Over time, the term has come to signify the smallest political unit recognized in our society – the barangay. And just last Monday, we held elections to choose the newest batch of barangay leaders.
Artist’s rendition of a balanghay. Image from here.
A lot went wrong with there. Where do we even start discussing this?
Those of us of – ahem – a certain age can probably remember a time when ‘barangay captain’ was a term of respect. In Spanish colonial times, the capitan del barangay was a person of prominence in the town; often wealthy, sometimes not, but always someone that the others in the neighborhood looked up to. Think “Kapitan Tiago” in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Time wore on, and society underwent drastic changes, especially after the war. But until maybe the ‘70s, before the imposition of martial law, barangay captains, for the most part, were responsible people regarded as elders, defenders, arbiters.
But several decades ago, politics in the dirtiest and ugliest sense of the word transformed the position into one so highly politicized that it is no different from those higher up the food chain. Some candidates for barangay positions – captain and councillor – now spend extravagantly to woo and buy votes.
Vote buying is still rampant. In our barangay alone, the incumbent trucked in loads of voters registered in our precinct from Cavite and Batangas, where many of them had moved to after the biggest employer in our area moved its operations to Cavite last year. Food and drink was provided in fiesta proportions. To no one’s surprise, the incumbent won again.
Elections in the Philippines are always chaotic. Image from here.
Politicization at this level was also very apparent in whether or not support to the candidate was given by the mayor of the city. Said one of the opposition candidates in our barangay (he lost), “Our team went to visit the mayor. The moment he recognized us, he waved us off, saying, ‘Kay (incumbent) ako!’ We were shocked and said, ‘We know. We just wanted to pay you a courtesy call!’”
The irony was that this opposition team is also siding with that same mayor. However, the mayor had to choose, and he chose the incumbent, a canny pol of many years who helped carry the mayor’s father, also mayor of our city for decades, to victory in the polls. You scratch my back…
And what was the prize they fought for? Thirteen million pesos barangay budget annually, perhaps to reach as much as 17 million pesos if plans push through to build a mall and condos on the property of that major employer that transferred.
Where’s the respect? Where’s the responsibility? Where’s the ethics?
Our politics is juvenile. On a societal level we are not maturing in politics, only sliding deeper back into the barbarism that we never really shook off – we’re only several islands away from Mindanao where elections are settled by guns and knives.
If a corrupt, crooked, or inept barangay captain is voted into office, that means there is something wrong with the way people choose their leaders. Filipinos are given the right to choose – the right to vote. If we get crooked politicians, we have no right to complain, because we put them there. We deserve the kind of government we have because we do not choose wisely.
Today, being barangay captain is mostly about power and money – not respect or responsibility.
Something is very wrong here – and it’s our fault. ***