Brgy elections: ballots and brouhahas

The enduring love the Filipinos have for democracy has been tested several times throughout the country’s history. The three groups of colonizers controlled the participation of Filipinos in the government. Former President Ferdinand Marcos stayed in power for more than 20 years – a term more than what was allowed by the Constitution.  More than three centuries have passed and still, electing government officials in the national, local, or barangay level remains to be the living proof of how Filipinos value democracy.

The efficiency of the country’s electoral process was put to the test again as the Filipinos elected their respective Barangay Council and Sanggunian Kabataan (SK) leaders last month. Approximately 42,025 barangay chairmen and 294,175 kagawads were elected for both the barangay and the SK.

The elections were generally peaceful according to PNP chief Raul Bacalzo, but the electoral process was still smeared with controversies. Problems that plagued the May 2010 national elections resurfaced during the barangay elections, prompting some politicians to go as far as calling for the system’s abolition.

Vice President Jejomar Binay expressed his desire to do away with barangay elections because of the “unnecessary” expenses and other problems that accompany the system. In a interview, he cited the lack of credibility of barangay officials as one of the reasons for its inefficiency.

Ballots and brouhahas

Campaign-related violence, procedural anomalies and low voter turnout were the common problems in the recently concluded polls. Mudslinging during the 10-day campaign period prior to the elections was a sign of the many recurring electoral troubles.

Tess Galindes of Barangay 631, Zone 64 in Sta Mesa, Manila, recounted that there was mudslinging despite her barangay’s candidates being from the same clan.

Magkakamag-anak kasi yung mga tumakbo sa amin. Pero yung gulo naman kalimitan nanggagaling sa mga supporters nila [The candidates who ran in our baranggay are all related. The disorder mainly came, however, from their supporters],” Galindes furthered.

Dr. Rizal Buendia of the Political Science Department explained that kinship doesn’t work anymore in preventing mudslinging in today’s politics. For Buendia, the barangay politics is a reflection of personality politics at the local level.

“It bridges and breaks relationships. Therefore, there is a need to rethink patronage clientelism,” he said. “It’s not a kinship thing anymore, sa huli, kapangyarihan na lang yun [in the end, it’s really just about power]!”

Such bad blood even among relatives during the campaign period may have set the tone for the violence to occur during the elections.

In an article from, Director Benjamin Belarmino, chief of the National Task Force HOPE Bravo 2010, said that there were 78 election related cases that happened from Sept. 25 to Oct. 25 – from COCs filing to election proper.

Comparing the recent barangay elections to the previous one, Belarmino pointed out that though the number of incidents of violence increased; the number of deaths was lower. 72 people were killed during the 2007 elections while only 39 deaths were recorded during the October elections.

Most of the election-related violence happened in Mindanao, particularly in ARMM.  2,301 of the country’s 42, 025 barangays were placed under Comelec’s watch list due to disorder in the said areas. 768 of the 2,301 barangays were in ARMM. It was also in Mindanao where ballot box snatching was rampant, which caused some barangays to declare failure of elections.

The violence, however, was not confined in Mindanao. Polling centers in Payatas, Quezon City faced similar apprehensions when the votes tallying had to be moved to the city hall for security reasons.

Buendia confirmed that the barangay elections are more violent than the national elections because of the elected officers’ ability to access government funds and use the money for personal reasons. He added that the violence is also attributed to the proximity of relationships in a barangay or community.

Sa local mas madugo. Iba ang dynamics ng local [The barangay elections are more violent. It has different dynamics]. Everyone knows everybody and it breeds conflict; Magkakapitbahay, nagkakanda-awayan [Even if they’re neighbors, they get into fights],” He elaborates.

Anomalies in the electoral procedure were also questioned during the Barangay elections. Missing names on the voters’ lists, flying voters, and confusion in the arrangement of precinct clusters were among the many chronic complaints last month.

Cassandra Bautista, a PPCRV volunteer at Barangay Ayala Alabang shared that the missing names in the voters’list disrupted the system of voting.

There was, however, a low voter turnout in the more affluent barangays. It took Bess Ong (’82 LIA-COM), registered in Brgy. Mariana in New Manila, Quezon City, only 10 minutes to vote compared with the long time it took for her to vote last May elections.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez explained in an interview with that such barangays have low voter turnout because they can easily provide their families’ basic services such as education, healthcare and utilities.

There were also many cases of disqualification. 4,400 candidates were disqualified because they already exceeded the number of terms allowed for a barangay official to serve. Barangay officials are limited to two terms and only 15 to 18 years old are allowed to run for SK positions.

Can relate?

Buendia described that the larger scale of the national elections makes it less personal than the barangay elections – a level that is closer to the citizens.

The comparison of smaller units being more personal than larger administrative bodies is not limited to state politics. Even in the University, similar political dynamics are present.

In the 2005 General Election (GE) Special of The Lasallian, intense verbal accusations between batch government candidates, Santugon’s Sanam Mirpuri and Tapat’s Jessica Gallegos, pointing the finger at each other’s political party.

Similarly, in the 2009 GE Special of The Lasallian, then Santugon presidential candidate Aimee Chua shared how members of the opposing party were “falsely” accusing her of implementing unpopular policies such as the dress code and the increase in library fines.

The recent Freshmen Election also proved the candidates’ thirst to be part of the USG. The political parties went as far as filing several complaints against each other.

Going back to the grassroots

The issue of whether or not the barangay system should be reformed, retained, or abolished is still up for debate.

Binay proposed that the city mayors be given the power to appoint the barangay officials in order to ease the bureaucracy within local government units (LGU). He also adds that the kagawad position must be abolished since it doesn’t significantly contribute to community development.

Mikee Rualo, SK Chairman-elect of Barangay 406 Zone 42 District 4 Manila argued otherwise.

Ngayon ngang may system na ganyan, magulo na. How much more kung wala pa? Di kaya ng LGU alone na ihandle mga barangay, lalo na sa provinces na sobrang malalayo [The situation is already bad enough with the system in place, how much more when we take it out? The LGU alone cannot handle the governance of the barangay, especially in far-flung provinces].”

Louie Montemar of the Political Science Department agreed with Rualo. “For practical purposes, you have to cut up the big state into chunks so you can manage it. On a daily basis, the state is ran at the barangay level, but most people don’t realize it,” he explained.

For Montemar, the barangay system is one of the most important ways Filipinos could encourage participatory democracy. “When people participate in the development and political process, they determine the trajectory of their life’s course. You can do that only in small groups of humans: localities. In our case, barangays,” he concluded.

Despite the criticisms on the barangay system, it still remains the basic way the citizens interact with their government. Appointment instead of election will eliminate the mandate of the people. Once the barangay elections are abolished, the state of development in Filipino communities may deteriorate.

Jan-Ace Mendoza

By Jan-Ace Mendoza

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