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The recent elections for Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan posts only underscore what has been an open secret for a long time. In a great many places, these supposedly non-partisan posts are being contested by politically-aligned or highly-partisan ward leaders of competing political clans.

These positions are crucial for the latter since the occupants now form the base  of their political power, upon which the intricate linkages are built between and among political clans and dynasties up to the national level. The success or failure of many of the political dynasties to hold on to or grab the political power  depends , to a large extent, on controlling all (or at least the majority of) barangays. The obvious method, of course, is putting loyalists as chairman and/or members of the Sangguniang Barangay, including the SK representative in the SB.

Money also plays a major role in the growth of partisanship in the barangay and SK systems. The introduction of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) turned what once were mainly voluntary public service positions into much-coveted posts for politicians and their minions. These became sources of income, campaign funds, and largess for a dynastic clan and their followers–in many cases, including the institutionalization of corrupt practices.

It is not unusual–in fact, it is already a ritual–that before every barangay and SK elections, there is a clamor in Congress for their postponement. Ironically, it is always because of supposed “election fatigue” and costs of holding such elections. Invariably, these are postponed when most of the incumbents are identified with the administration, or held when there appears the need to replace unreliable or hostile barangay and SK officials.

Barangay and SK elections have become thinly-disguised partisan affairs and the same alignments, strategies and tactics as in the town, district, and provincial elections are often practiced, including vote-buying and election violence. The electoral contest is often intense, bitter and fierce, affecting relations among families, friends, and peers in the community even beyond the 3-year term of the elected officials.

The end-result is the basic alienation of barangay affairs from the local constituency except for the required government services such as clearances, permits, or those related to immediate community crises. SK, in many cases, became a playground for sons and daughters of politicians, where they learned not the ideals of democracy but the fundamentals of traditional dynastic politics. Many barangay residents lost interest in or take for granted participation in barangay affairs, leaving wide open the door for the entry of partisan ward leaders of politicians.

The formation of barangay and SK leagues superstructure up to the national level only aggravates the partisanship as corresponding political dynasties on the upper levels get into the act and support their own candidates for the barangay and SK posts at their levels.

In this sense, the current system is a failure, draining vast amount of public funds into personal pockets or for private ends. We need to review the barangay and SK systems, from concept up to its present practice in order to draw up the necessary lessons and institute reform measures.

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