The just-concluded barangay and sangguniang kabataan elections basically confirm what we all know or suspect. A supposedly non-partisan election exercise turned out be just as partisan as the other elections. Money flowed–whether for formal campaigns or for vote-buying. People were killed and schoolhouses burned in intensely-fought places. Wives, sons, daughters, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and close family friends of traditional politicians were all over the place as candidates. As never before, local political dynasties lorded it over the barangay and sangguniang kabataan elections.
Originally, there was the barrio with its barrio council (in various forms). Barrio officials were either appointed by town executives or elected by barrio assemblies. The concept however was basically a local organization for self-government and community development.
The barangay system was perfected by dictator Marcos in his time in order to enforce an unpopular rule and attempt to keep a tight grip on the local populace. His local officials appointed barangay officials and organized them into a national federation (local officials likewise were organized into their own associations). The youth were organized in the Kabataang Barangay led by the dictator’s daughter Imee Marcos.
When it was retained in the post-Marcos period and enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code , the barangays were clothe with local autonomy. Unfortunately, these were put under the direction and supervision of the local mayor, who in turn represented the national government. This relationship, reinforced by direct presidential authority exercised through the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Liga ng mga Barangay, provided the foundation for the corruption of the barangay‘s local autonomy.
Barangays in the post-Marcos period so far failed for the most part to attain a true level of autonomy. These depended mainly on their share of the internal revenue allotment doled out by Malacañang and their local mayor and project funds from higher authorities. In time, these learned–not the real lessons of cooperative community development and self-government–but the dubious lessons of patronage politics. In time, many barangays became mere appendages of the incumbent mayors and local political dynasties.
The Sangguniang Kabataan system likewise was coopted and corrupted by the political dynasties. It became a convenient training ground for the dynasts’ own political heirs. It was also another source of power, pomp and corruption because of their integration into government.
The barangay and sangguniang kabataan political systems have a potential for achieving their original constitutional intent. However, serious reforms–backed by serious political will–are needed to rescue these from the clutches of traditional politics and make them serve the real interests of their constituencies.