RIDING THE BALANGAY ANEW05.10.10
Aired on October 4, 2010
Narration by Emily Bolinas
RIDING THE BALANGAY ANEW
The choice of the name barangay in the 1970s for the smallest unit of government was meant to evoke the boats used by our forebears to traverse the seas. It showcased the nature of the small community as one whose survival depended on mutual assistance and cooperation. To this day, the barangay plays a vital role in connecting citizens with government, even in highly urbanized areas. Local government leaders like mayors and governors also realize that they cannot govern without the help of barangay officials.
It is often suggested that strengthening democracy begins at the barangay level. There are mechanisms through which wider participation in barangay affairs can happen. For instance, the Local Government Code provides for the barangay assembly, which can recommend particular measures for the council’s consideration and can scrutinize the council’s semestral reports. This mechanism has the potential to ensure that, especially in smaller communities, people have a say in what the barangay government does.
However, in some urban areas, the ideal of the barangay as a small community has been diluted by the excessively large populations of some of them. A good case in point is Barangay Commonwealth, the largest in the country, which has become site for informal settlers and source of patronage votes for politicians. Another aspect of concern is the Sangguniang Kabataan system. It has often become a breeding ground for the children of barangay and other local leaders to practice old politics. Calls for its abolition have been made over the years.
There is one aspect of barangay government that has received very little attention, however, and this is one where we can hear echoes of Israel’s history. Moses was overloaded with having to settle disputes that could be settled by tribal leaders. His father- in- law Jethro advised appointing leaders to settle minor disputes at lower levels before going to Moses himself. Likewise, the barangay justice system exists to ensure that minor disputes, both civil and criminal, could be settled at the lowest possible level without any of the parties going to court. Such a system is itself a reminder of the way justice is done in our tribal cultures, using more conciliatory approaches rather than resorting to violence or complex legal procedures.
Our involvement in barangay affairs stretches beyond next month’s polls. We can make sure barangay officials can be held to account. We can also encourage and initiate measures and projects for better communities. Most of all, we can ensure that as communities, we can find alternative ways of doing governance, like settling disputes, that are closer to both our culture and the biblical concern for justice. We can ride the balangay anew and build a better nation from the bottom up.