Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Big Fish in a Small Pond

By failing to enact the bill postponing the barangay elections, Congress has set the stage (finally) for the Barangay Elections this coming October 29. Up for grabs are the positions of barangay chair, barangay kagawads, SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) chair and SK kagawads in some 45,000 barangays all over the country. Since previous barangay elections have been postponed repeatedly, this present crop of barangay officials have been holding office for nine years already. In fact most of our SK representatives in Iloilo City no longer belong to the teenage/youth sector and many are already married with children of their own.

Barangays differ widely in terms of land area, voting population and income. Iloilo City, for example, has some 180 barangays and the average voting population size of each barangay is only about 1,500 voters. There is even one barangay in the City Proper which now has less than 10 voters (its old residents, mainly informal settlers, were relocated because Robinsons bought the land and built a shopping mall in the area). There are some barangays which can be considered "cities" in their own right: Barangay Addition Hills in Mandaluyong City reportedly has 40,000 voters while Barangay Commonwealth in Batasan Hills, Quezon City is said to have a whooping 48,000 voters! Some barangays are famous for being rich (Barangay Forbes Park in Makati for the old rich and Barangay Ayala Alabang in Muntinlupa for the noveau riche) while others have acquired notoriety for being breeding grounds of criminals.

Officially, barangay officials receive no salary. Unofficially, they receive allowances and various emoluments from their mayor, their congressman, etc. Also, barangay captains are regularly "spoiled" by their mayors and congressmen by taking them out on junkets, night-outs, etc. and granting their requests for "funding." Barangays get a certain percentage from the IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment): 20% as mandated by the Local Government Code. MalacaƱang has recently promised to increase the barangays' IRA share by some 14% (read this Manila Times article). On top of that, barangay officials also get to enjoy a variety of perks. For example if there's a hotel (or better yet a motel) in his vicinity, the barangay chairman might enjoy free check-in privileges or if the barangay chairman is a she, she might bag the supply contract for all the tissue paper and soap for the hotel. Business establishments in general try to be friendly and accommodate their requests because barangay officials can always revoke their permits and barangay clearances.

I have a cousin who used to be a barangay chairman (not in Iloilo City) but he lost his reelection bid. When I asked him why he lost (by only 20 plus votes mind you), he said that perhaps he did not "give in" to his constituents' requests enough. It also did not help that his opponent belongs to one of the biggest clans in their locality. More than money, family counts a lot in barangay elections and the one who usually wins is the one who has the most blood relations in the barangay. "Approachability" seems to be the other most important trait people look for in their barangay officials. Nakagat sang ido si Junior? Call the barangay captain. May rumble sa kanto? Call the barangay captain. Wala gatas si baby? Utang anay kay Kap. Nag away kamo sang asawa mo kag gin-palayas ka sa inyo? Sleep ka anay sa balay ni Kap. Another cousin of mine used to be active in the SK and I often kidded her that she will become barangay chair someday. But her chances for the post were diminished because of a very sad development: she passed the Bar. Now, people in the community call her "Attorney" and are now hesitant, even intimidated, to approach her. Because she is now a lawyer, her "approachability" factor in the barangay plummeted. This is probably the main reason why barangays are dominated by "istambay" types (read this splendid column by Neal Cruz of the Inquirer). Voters don't want lawyers, doctors, academicians, etc. as their barangay chairman because these "prominent" individuals are generally "mahirap utusan" or "nakakahiyang lapitan." "Istambays" (a bastardization of the word "stand by") are more easier to approach and can relate better to the mundane problems of ordinary people.

You can usually see them drinking Red Horse beer (or if times are hard, Tanduay) in the neighborhood sari-sari store. "Istambays" almost always know the latest gossip and goings-on in our locality and they practically know everyone living in our neighborhood. Their world is the barangay. And far from being the menacing type usually depicted in the movies, I find our local neighborhood tambays engagingly friendly, very helpful and respectful. I surmise that for many of them, becoming Barangay Chairman is perhaps the highest ambition they can aspire and hope to achieve. After all, being a big fish in a small pond is always better than being a small fish in a big pond.


Earskey said...

I always enjoy reading your article.Keep up the good work.

Oliver M. Mendoza said...

Thanks earskey

Anonymous said...


Still in iloilo? Tga baler ka baga? sana magmeet tayu ditu sa iloilo...