Why vote in barangay elections? | Inquirer Opinion

Why vote in barangay elections?

05:08 AM May 07, 2018

Under the banana leaves that shielded us from the searing heat of the sun, Mary Grace told me she was running for barangay chair. We were in her community’s garden in the municipality of Pontevedra in Capiz, and she had just finished telling a visiting group of urban planners how her community organized itself to build resilient housing after being devastated by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.” I told her I would vote and campaign for her if only I were registered in her barangay. I meant every word.

As Mary Grace herself told the urban planners, it was her participation in our Community Mortgage Program (CMP) housing project that developed her leadership skills. Her story is consistent with sociologist Emma Porio’s study, which showed that the CMP has enabled women to assume key roles in organizing communities, in negotiating with local politicians, and in navigating the bureaucratic maze to secure permits. This experience gave them the skills and confidence to later assume public roles. According to the study, a quarter of women leaders of CMP communities go on to achieve public status as barangay leaders, or as health and social workers. (Porio’s study is included as a chapter in the book “Empowering Squatter Citizen” edited by Diana Mitlin and David Satterthwaite.)

We need effective leaders to run our barangays. We need people like Mary Grace, who hold a track record of leading communities with accountability and integrity. From the way she shepherded her community, which has become a showcase for community-driven, affordable and resilient housing that local and international development planners visit to learn from, Mary Grace can certainly help more families by expanding her involvement to the barangay level.

Many of us may dismiss the barangay elections as small-time political derbies that are not worth making the trip to the precinct for. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Section 384 of the Local Government Code states: “As the basic political unit, the barangay serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects, and activities in the community, and as a forum … where disputes may be amicably settled.” Barangay officials are thus crucial front-liners in the provision of community services, such as housing, water, and electricity, as well as in the preservation of peace and order.


Indeed, the competence of barangay leaders can spell life or death, especially in low-income neighborhoods. For example, poor communities often rely on the barangay to provide them with street lighting, which may seem insignificant to us who live in well-lighted, gated subdivisions. For the poor who often have to walk home through narrow alleys, the provision of this small infrastructure can save lives. And, of course, it is not difficult to see how a successful dispute resolution can also be as lifesaving as health services.

In recognition of the important role that barangays play in socioeconomic development, our organization has been working with them through what we call the Citywide Barangay-based Community Upgrading Strategy. It is a programmatic approach that we hope will scale up the delivery of housing and development solutions to poor communities. We have gone down to the barangay level because our experience shows that their local knowledge, resources, and influence allow for more responsive interventions that are tailored to local contexts and needs.

We must elect into office competent leaders who commit to reducing poverty and its manifestations — such as homelessness — in their barangays. And very importantly, we must choose those who have the ability to rally communities, as well as work with the public and private sectors in order to make it happen.

It may sound simplistic, but your vote in the barangay elections may help a family, and even entire communities, get out of poverty.


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Lawyer Junefe Gilig Payot is vice president for operations of SHFC (Mindanao), a government-owned and -controlled corporation. He holds a master’s degree in poverty and development from the University of Manchester (Chevening Scholarship).

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TAGS: barangay elections 2018, Inquirer Commentary, Junefe Gilig Payot

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