Good ‘kagawad’ needed, vote wisely
Today our people go to the polls to elect their barangay officials, including kagawad and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) representatives. With an election period of one week, we were subjected to a mercifully short barrage of campaign ditties blasting from loudspeakers, and leaflets scattered all over the place. It had all the trappings of a regular election, but with an avowedly nonpolitical agenda. Over the years it seems, the barangay election at least in our neighborhood, has grown rowdier and more competitive. This is not surprising.
The barangay serves a mundane, if useful purpose, in our cozy neck of the woods. It is the most basic of our political organizations, although to be sure, it is not supposed to be political at all. No political parties made an overt appearance in all the candidates’ hustling. The most prominent task of the barangay is to issue residency clearances, which are required by jobseekers applying for employment. Another important function of our barangay is to oversee the Katarungang Pambarangay Law, which mediates certain types of dispute between residents of the same barangay. This helps pre-empt recourse to the regular courts, but can also delay redress to the latter. Absence of lawyers also helps to speed up the process of barangay justice.
In our barangay, handling of vagrants is at the forefront of issues to be confronted by whomever is elected, or reelected, to serve. Our street in particular, with its access to an abundant freshwater supply and a tree-shaded cover, attracts numerous visitors and campers especially overnight. During daytime, their belongings block the sidewalk, and their laundry can be seen decorating the walls on either side of the road. It is a minor miracle that the voluminous traffic especially provincial buses that use our street to and from their out-of-town destinations, has not resulted in any injury or other roadkill.
We have lived with “informal settlers” all our lives but just hope and pray that their number will not multiply with other temporary interlopers who may become permanent dwellers. Such a Herculean task is perhaps beyond the limited resources of our barangay officialdom and requires an intervention from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and other government agencies. But if they could just move them along, without establishing a permanent presence on our street, this would be a modest, ad hoc solution to the problem. At least, our vagrants do not seem to have resorted to outright begging from pedestrians. Perhaps, they rely on voluntary handouts from charitable institutions, or scavenge from the refuse of others, to eke out their basic existence.
The perennial flooding problem in our street still remains, but unlike the vagrancy problem, Mother Nature is an implacable force. In the heat of summer, it is easy to forget the monsoon season and with it, the flash floods that can inundate our residence in minutes. To its credit, our barangay has assisted in undertaking the declogging of esteros and other waterways.
Thankfully, too, the virus of crime and illegal drugs seems to have bypassed our neighborhood, which lies at what was once the valley of a hill. At times the occasional shouting match, or off-key videoke session, breaks the stillness of the wee hours. Schools, convents, and religious houses dot our neighborhood, and these serve as countervailing forces to the presence of vice and veniality in our streets.
Another good thing about our barangay is that it actually has a working landline at its office, and someone there will actually answer the phone when it rings. In our experience, making an appointment or talking to the barangay is not difficult. A sympathetic ear is sometimes all we can hope for at the other end of the line.
Whether the barangay serves as a breeding or training ground for budding elected officials is not evident. After all, they are not supposed to be engaged in partisan politics. Many are impelled out of a sense of duty and community. On the other hand, some are now attracted to the funding the barangay receives from the local government unit under which it falls. Salaries and other benefits—stipends, insurance coverage, what have you—for barangay officials have increased over the years. What used to be a small office has grown with increasing responsibilities. By golly, some of them even have air-conditioning! And a service vehicle, to boot!
The barangay kagawad, or member, can serve as a practicable adjunct to President Duterte’s law and order campaign by keeping close tabs on suspected petty criminal activities. This in theory would deter other more serious crimes. In our barangay, the nearest police station is about 2 kilometers away. Although the local police patrol car shows up every now and then on our street, the barangay should in fact be the first line of defense against criminality. The latter knows the territory firsthand, and is theoretically the nearest available resource when trouble arises.
If the barangay can help foster peace and order, it will have more than made up the cost of maintaining it. If only for that reason, we should cast a discerning vote for all our chosen kagawad, punong barangay, SK representative, etc. this nonworking holiday.
One last word: Our barangay officials are elected for a term of three years. In contrast, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, an organization basically tasked with securing the nation, is under a chief of staff without any tenure.
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