WE must heave a sigh of relief that the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections are finally kicking off with the filing of certificate of candidacy (COC) on its way. After two postponements, and the recent threat of another postponement by the House of Representatives and President Duterte’s statements suggesting he wanted instead to appoint the Barangay Chairmen (Punong Barangay) amid alleged involvement of barangay officials in the drug trade, it is likely that no further delay will be forthcoming.
Because electing our leaders is one of the foundations of our democracy, we cannot downplay the importance of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in the democratic process of our nation. As what had been the norm of our national officials to postpone the elections in the barangay whenever they find it necessary, the implication of postponing it is bigger than we thought. Any postponement of elections erodes the foundation of our democracy.
Being the basic unit of the government directly grounded at the community level, the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections play a crucial role in governance. The local government unit at the barangay level is after all the first responder on issues and problems in governance that affect the general interest of the communities around the country.
It is not a joke to be elected as Punong Barangay. In fact, the weight of governance rests on the shoulders of the local chief executive at the barangay level. A Punong Barangay has to attend to the delivery of social services, health and nutrition, waste management, community daycare and the war on drugs of President Duterte. Aside from these tasks the Punong Barangay has to accomplish, he/she presides over the Lupong Tagapamayapa which hears cases of local and domestic concerns, such as oral defamation, unsettled debts, and marital conflicts.
As enumerated under the Local Government Code, the Punong Barangay is required to enforce laws and ordinances within their jurisdiction, including negotiating and signing of contracts, among others.
The head of the barangay has to do more tasks to maintain peace and order and respond to calamities that hit the village. For every new law and program, the Punong Barangay is required to complement and undertake tasks for their implementation. Who else are ordered to complement the task like the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s cash-transfer program for the poor but the barangay heads. They are primarily the point person in the identification of the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps). The additional tasks go on depending on the new laws and programs the national government has to implement that require the participation of the barangay.
Given the list of tasks the Punong Barangay and other barangay officials have to accomplish in his/her term, we must not take for granted the barangay elections and seriously consider the character and capabilities of the candidates we are to elect if we want good governance to start at the grassroot level.
While the national officials see the barangay elections as if it does not matter whether or not it will push through, the barangay constituents have the duty to stand resolutely that our right to elect our barangay officials must be conducted as the law provides.
What is bigger than the barangay elections is sustaining the fabrics of our democracy which at present is always threatened by the authoritarian tendencies of the present dispensation.
For the meantime, the move to change the Constitution with the aim of transforming the form of government from unitary to federal system takes a backseat. It must be noted that leaders in Congress have always reasoned that we could do away with the barangay elections to give way to change the Constitution. Since the movement for federalism is not dead yet, we must be vigilant that our right to elect our leaders must not be railroaded to give way to vested political interests and other evil designs.