Empowering the Barangay

Empowering the Barangay

Under the barangay system of governance, our forefathers in the pre-colonial Philippines already possessed a working judicial and legislative structure that meted out justice to all and maintained peace and order in every community. The illustration here is an artist’s rendition of a so-called “umalohokan” or town crier delivering an announcement from the village chief known as a Datu. (Photo via http://www.mts.net)

Good governance requires working toward common ground. It isn’t easy.

— United States ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra

WHILE Filipinos nowadays are fairly knowledgeable of the Spanish, American, and Japanese eras in our history, the same cannot be said when it comes to the pre-colonial Philippines when our country was under Malay rule, which is a shame because even before the coming of our three (or we can count four if we consider the short rule of the British) colonizers, our ancestors were pretty much living in a veritable paradise.

Yet this seemingly Garden of Eden wasn’t perfect even if that era could be considered as the closest thing we Filipinos ever had to what appears to be a Golden Age—actually a sentiment shared by Dr. Jose Rizal, members of the Katipunan, noted historian Teodoro Agoncillo and even some church historians.

And a century later, when the first Spaniards arrived on the islands in the 16th century, they unexpectedly found well-organized independent villages called barangays, though they saw it as merely a backward land peopled by uncivilized natives who needed saving from their barbaric and pagan ways and their eyes opened to Catholicism.

But they retained the political units known as barangays, a term that originated from the Malay word for sailboat or balangay, and renamed them barrios.

Looking back before the arrival of the Spaniards, the first barangays actually started as relatively small communities of around 50 to 100 families which became a pseudo-political unit under the early Malay rulers of the archipelago.

All citations regarding pre-colonial barangay lead to a single source, Juan de Plascencia’s 1589 report Las costumbres de los indios Tagalos de Filipinas. However, historian Damon Woods challenges the concept of barangay as an indigenous political organization primarily due to a lack of linguistic evidence. Based on indigenous language documents, Tagalogs did not use the word barangay to describe themselves or their communities. Instead, the barangay is argued as a Spanish invention from an attempt by the Spaniards in reconstructing pre-conquest Tagalog society.

By the time of contact with Spaniards, many barangays have developed into large communities. The encomienda of 1604 shows that many affluent and powerful coastal barangays in Sulu, Butuan, Panay, Leyte and Cebu, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Pasig, Laguna, and Cagayan River areas were flourishing trading centers and some of these barangays had large populations.

In Panay for instance, some barangays had 20,000 inhabitants and in Baybay, Leyte there were an estimated 15,000 inhabitants, in Cebu, 3,500 residents, in Vitis, Pampanga, and Pangasinan, 7,000 and 4,000 villagers, respectively.

There were also smaller barangays with less number of people. But these were generally inland communities; or if they were coastal, they were not located in areas that were good for business pursuits. These smaller barangays had around thirty to one hundred houses only and the population varied from one hundred to five hundred persons.

The explorer Miguel López de Legazpi, who later became governor of the islands, found communities with only twenty to thirty people.

Traditionally, the original barangays were coastal settlements of the migration of these Malayo-Polynesian people (who came to the archipelago) from other places in Southeast Asia.

Most of the ancient barangays were coastal or riverine and this is because most of the people were relying on fishing for their supply of protein and their livelihood. They also traveled mostly by water up and down rivers, and along the coasts. Trails always followed river systems, which were also a major source of water for bathing, washing, and drinking.

And even in these modern times, these details gave importance to what is now known as the modern barangay, which has been retained and used as a unit of governance unto the 21st century.

Service to the people

In recognition of the importance of the participation of the country’s more than 42,000 barangays in effective governance that would deliver sound public service to the people, President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. (PBMM) is set to uplift government service from the core—the barangay level—that is believed would create a ripple effect up to the national level to benefit every Filipino family and individual.

Just days after his inauguration as the 17th president of the Republic, many of the plans that the former senator had enumerated and vowed to pursue and implement during the election campaign are already starting to come into fruition and among them is activating the barangays to actively participate in delivering the service that the citizenry need and deserve.

And political observers see this as one of the most significant programs that the PBBM government is set to implement—that of developing the barangays and empowering them to play a more active role in nation-building, aligned with the various plans and programs of the government to reinforce public service.

“Barangays serve as the core government units in the country, created to ensure that every Filipino can have access to government and social services, tasked to maintain the peace and order within communities, and support the national government by improving the lives of constituents. Barangays mirror the kind of governance demonstrated by local and national agencies—expert management by a competent leader is essential,” Marcos Jr.’s executive secretary Atty. Victor ‘Vic’ Rodriguez pointed out.

Knowledgeable in terms of barangay management since he has served as barangay chief—his initial foray into public service and in fact, the youngest to hold the position at the age of 19, Rodriguez identified that one of the new chief executive’s main programs would be to improve the services of every barangay.

This, though, needs the full support of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), led by secretary Benjamin ‘Benhur’ Abalos Jr. and undersecretary Felicito Valmocina and to achieve this all village chiefs will be required to undergo capacity-building training, which, at present, is being implemented only in Quezon City.

“The solution, therefore—increase the budget of every barangay to ensure that public service functions are carried out, crucial amid today’s trying times,” the Executive Secretary stressed.

Truly reaching out to the public to them has been the Marcos administration’s key tactic even during the campaign, when they communicated their platforms using not only traditional mass media but also maximizing social media.

Uplifting government service from the core — the barangay level — will prove to be one of the most brilliant strategies that this new administration will make, especially if the programs are implemented effectively.

The ripple effect that these improvements will create from the barangay, to local, provincial, and to national levels will truly benefit all the 110 million Filipinos that the PBBM government now answers to.

FOR your comments or suggestions, complaints or requests, just send a message through my email filespolice@yahoo.com.ph or text me at cellphone numbers 09054292382 for Globe subscribers and 09391252568 for Smart. Thank you and Mabuhay!


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