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Barangay Elections 2023

It will be exciting and an excellent occasion for poll watching on October 30. First, the elections for Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan will go manual, not automated, except for a few precincts in Cavite and Quezon City. We will know how votes are counted, if better than by Smartmatic machines. Second, who among the 1.41 million people who filed their candidacies, including 828,644 candidates for the barangay council and 585,843 candidates for the SK, are related to the local and national powers that be, and will they win and gain more ground for their political backers in the following national elections? Who among them will rise to the challenge as game changers, development champions, or develop as traditional politicos?

After postponements and cancellations since 2018, the BSKE will finally take place. The election period began from August 28 to November 29, and the campaign for ten days from October 19 to 28. President Duterte canceled it in 2016, 2017, and April 2020. President Marcos Jr. postponed it again to 2023. All barangay and SK officers were deemed in “hold-over” capacity. The Comelec attempted to move it again to 2026, but the Supreme Court denied the motion. After round-robin attempts, the High Court made clear the BSKE will now be held every three years with the next to be held on the last Monday of December 2025.

Elections for the positions of local leadership, i.e., the barangay chairperson (punong barangay) and seven councilors (barangay kagawad), along with the young leaders in the SK is a crucial life-and-death battle for power among political parties and political dynasties at the local level. The locale is the barangay, the basic unit of society and government. It is the breeding ground for the next generation of politicos. He who controls the barangay controls basic political power.

So now the recorida is alive and well again. The BSKE election will elect 42,001 barangay captains, 294,007 members of the Sangguniang Barangay, and 672,432 SK members for the 42,001 barangays in the country. In Bicol, there are 120,034 candidates for 55,536 barangay and SK positions in 3,471 barangays for the whole region. Camarines Sur has the most significant number of local candidates at 37,687, followed by Albay at 25,559. The rest: Sorsogon at 18,865; Masbate at 17,162; Camarines Norte at 11,137; and Catanduanes at 9,624. These are the aspiring powerhouse builders at the local level. Most will become future trapos, if they are not already, who we shall see as part of the mobilizing teams of more extensive campaign trails and grand miting de avance of political parties and dynasties in future national elections. Many in Congress began their political career in the barangay. I know of candidates who are the children or relatives of the local mayor or councilors.

Political rivalry is fierce; average voter turn-out is 67-70%, and in past local elections, there were killings, vote buying, and election failures in many areas. In Bicol, clan politics is a regular feature of local governance. There are classic incidents of local corruption and misallocation of resources occurring within and among political dynasties. Non-partisanship in the barangay? That is still a long shot.

On the other hand, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. RA 10742, or the Sangguniang Kabataan Act of 2015, is a laudable attempt to cut this Gordian knot. It mandates SK candidates “must not be related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national official or to any incumbent elected regional, provincial, city, municipal or barangay official, in the locality where he or she seeks to be elected.” For the 2023 polls, “T-shirts, ballers, bags, sun visors, caps, umbrellas, handkerchiefs, pens, fans, ballers, candies, food and drinks, and other items of value during and after a campaign sorties” are prohibited.

Why not apply this provision to all elected officials, especially at the national level?

The barangay as an instrument of basic power

For the 2023 polls, I have friends, relatives, and colleagues at work running as barangay captains and councilors, SK chairpersons and councilors. I wished them well and “good luck” that they be spared from any harm as they campaign. I also want them to become champions for good governance and development.

Effectively empowered and mobilized, I believe the barangay can become a genuine community-based engine for democratic governance and development. The 1991 Local Government Code mandates the barangay to institute people empowerment mechanisms through health, women, and human rights boards. It is the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community. The Sangguniang Barangay’s governing council holds legislative, executive, and quasi-judicial powers to enact local measures to deliver basic services and settle disputes. So much potential!

The barangay should serve as an effective training ground for participatory, people-centric, and inclusive politics to help create favorable social conditions for strengthening public trust, transparency, and accountability in governance. There are many empowering lessons and tested practices of exemplary leadership from community-based development organizations, people’s organizations, and people-oriented institutes, DRRM workers, among others. Learn from them!


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