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BLIND SPOT: Who’s your Guy in the Barangay?

The barangay streets are alive with inter-zone basketball games, fiesta banderitas and political campaign ads. I wouldn’t want to call it a circus; but the scenes of these exercises are getting to be somewhat amusing. There’s the usual candidates – natural community leaders who seem to have genuine intentions, neighborhood bigwigs reeking with ambition, and the incumbent who still want to stay/stick to position. All of a sudden, elections have invited local neighborhood figures who would surprise residents of their interest on public service. It just crossed my mind that some people seem to have so much faith on their popularity to place bets on barangay office. “The pre-colonial barangays represented loyalty to a particular head (datu). Even during the early days of Spanish rule, it was not unusual for people living beside each other to actually belong to different barangays. They owed their loyalty to different Datus.” “the barangay of precolonial times was either independent, or belonged to what was only a loose confederation of several barangays, over which the rulers picked among themselves who would be foremost - known as the Pangulo or Rajah. In most cases, his function was to make decisions which would involve multiple barangays, such as disputes between members of two different barangays. Internally, each datu retained his jurisdiction. Historically, the first barangays started as relatively small communities of around 50 to 100 families. Most villages have only thirty to one hundred houses and the population varies from one hundred to five hundred persons. When the Spaniards came, they found communities with twenty to thirty people only.” ( According to the Local Government Code of 1991, the Punong Barangay, For efficient, effective and economical governance, the purpose of which is the general welfare of the Barangay and its inhabitants, shall Maintain public order in the Barangay and, in pursuance thereof, assist the city or municipal mayor and the sanggunian members in the performance of their duties and functions; Call and preside over the sessions of the sangguniang barangay and the barangay assembly, appoint or replace the barangay treasurer, the barangay secretary, and other appointive barangay officials, and Organize and lead an emergency group whenever the same may be necessary for the maintenance of peace and order or on occasions of emergency or calamity within the barangay, among others; the barangay kagawad as a member of a legislative body, shall Enact ordinances as may be necessary to discharge the responsibilities conferred upon it by law or ordinance and to promote the general welfare of the inhabitants therein, Enact tax and re venue ordinances,, Enact annual and supplemental budgets, among others. Interestingly, in pre-Hispanic Philippines, barangay in its roots, is determined not by geographical location or residence, but by political affiliation. Membership to a barangay is determined by one’s connection to the datu. A person becomes a member of a barangay not because he lives in a particular area, but because he is subject to a specific datu. A pre-colonial barangay then, is not a group of people residing in one particular area, but a group of people who are subject under one leader, regardless of actual residence. This is interesting because I imagine a community with neighbors belonging to different barangays such as barangay ni Datu Villafuerte or barangay ni Datu Fuentebella. What is even more interesting is that this is Filipino culture in its rawest form. This may be the reason why political divisions continue after elections. Considering the duties and responsibilities of the punong barangay as provided by the Local Government Code, he/she must seek public order in the community and in the small group of the barangay council. So you’re not supposed to place barangay bullies and braggarts in this position. A barangay kagawad must seek the community’s general welfare, and among others, enact tax laws and budgets. So, your obscure neighbor whom you got to know only during the campaign period has to have an idea of what is common good in your area. So, what’s a local hustler or the dude deep in debt going to do in council meetings? Or maybe, I’m being judgmental. Maybe, the Filipino barangay electorate has to come to the realization that in a progressive direction from the loose confederations of long ago, peace, public order and general welfare are not determined by the datu or your favored community leader, but by a rule of law in a government code, that in its seeming simplicity, the barangay government office requires reconciliation and discretion. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,” Matthew 20:26

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