The barangay and the Sangguniang Kabataan elections have come and gone, leaving 35 dead and 27 wounded.
This is too much of a price to pay for an election that was intended only to ensure grassroots participation in our village lives. What is it with us Filipinos that we cannot conduct any election without resorting to violence?
We started electing our political leaders way back in 1907 when we first elected the members of our first Philippine Assembly. Back then, only men voted. With all our supposedly democratic traditions, we should be embarrassed that after all these years, other countries with less experience in democracy have matured politically much faster than we have. We are stuck in a time warp and cannot seem to learn. One would think that 111 years of electing our political leaders is enough time for us to have matured to accept political defeat graciously.
As this last political exercise has shown, we have not.
In spite of the Police and the Armed Forces coming up with their customary assessment that the election was relatively peaceful, it was most certainly not a peaceful election. One might argue that compared to previous political exercises, 35 dead is much less than previous elections. But one life lost is one life too many. To think that this is just a barangay election where the stakes are much lower than other elections.
This might signal the kind of violence that we can expect in the 2019 midterm elections. The Police and the Armed Forces must therefore be better prepared and start planning early because May 2019 is not really that far away. Barangay elections are not supposed to be a political struggle involving life and death. But here, there are only two types of candidates. The one who is cheated and the one who wins. No one loses an election in this country.
Over the years, the complexity of barangay politics have changed. Maybe it is because in many barangays, what is being fought for have changed and gotten a lot bigger. Big money which was unheard of years ago is what is now being fought for in big barangays. We now read about barangays having P150 million funds which explains the intensity of the campaigning. The price of winning has become something that can easily trigger violence. This income is separate from that derived by many barangay captains in local and national elections. Barangay captains as provincial and other national politicians have realized have become important in generating votes for them. We therefore hear about barangay captains being sponsored to go on trips abroad including, for instance, a cruise on the Nile.
One downside of barangay politics over the years is that we now have barangay officials involved in crimes like illegal drugs and gambling. There are also barangay officials who are notorious in allowing squatting not only to generate votes for themselves but generate added income. Vote buying in barangay elections was unheard of before. But now, it is more the norm than the exception especially in highly urbanized cities. The price also has increased to P500 which tells us the price for next year’s elections. Maybe it will not be less than P2,000 for mayor and P3,000 for congressman. Vote buying after all is not immune to inflation.
There is clearly a need to reform the process of how we select our barangay leaders. Paying P500 for a barangay vote just shows how the exercise has deteriorated. There have been some politicians who have come out with proposals to abolish barangay elections in its current form and instead chose barangay officials in some form of town hall meeting or simply appoint the officials. That way, the government can save on expensive election expenses.
Having barangay officials devoid of destructive politics can really be a big help in simplifying barangay political participation. Maybe another way of doing it is to split the big barangays into smaller entities to lessen the temptation for corruption and other illegal activities and will actually make barangay activities very much more manageable.
In this age of terrorism, the barangay is actually the first line of defense of the state by providing valuable information.
Law enforcement is another area where the barangay can help the police by providing police auxiliaries. In fact this is already being done with the barangay tanods but more training is needed to provide them with new and additional skills.
Disaster mitigation and assistance is another area where the barangay could be a big help to the government but like in law enforcement, the government must provide training and equipment.
To achieve these, our political leaders must lead the way in reforming the barangay instead of looking at it as a source of leaders to help them win their next elections. If we listen to our mayors, congressmen and governors, it is always a contest of who has the most number of barangay captains. It is therefore doubtful whether we can expect any reform being led by them.
President Duterte sometime ago came out with some pronouncements with regard to reforming the barangay system. He did not, however, follow it up. The fact that he did not vote in the just concluded exercise should tell us a lot.
Meanwhile, the SK election is another that should be reformed or abolished entirely. The SK election is supposed to be a training ground for our up and coming public officials. But the way it is being done is that these young people are being exposed to so much corruption so early and being thought that politics is dirty.