By Benjamin R. Punongbayan
I HAVE always thought that the barangay system, if properly harnessed, can provide great benefits to the country in molding the desired cultural and social character of the Filipino.
There are currently a little over 42,000 barangays all over the country. On the average, there is a barangay for every 2,500 Filipinos. Think about it. Isn’t a grouping of such a small size a powerful force in shaping Philippine life, if we want it to?
Regrettably, under the 1991 Local Government Code, the barangay was structured and is presently functioning as another level of government — the lowest level. Why we want a small unit of government to govern every 2,500 or so individuals is beyond me. In contrast, in pre-Spanish Philippines from where the barangay model was borrowed, it appears that the barangay “…was not a political organization per se” (from historian Robert B. Fox as quoted in the book of O.D. Corpuz, The Roots of the Filipino Nation, Vol. 1 (2005).
For a small unit of government, the barangay structure is not a simple one. It has an elected Punong Barangay, a Sangguniang Barangay consisting of seven elected members and the Sangguniang Kabataan Chairman, and a separate appointive secretary and an appointive treasurer — altogether 11 barangay officials. In addition, each barangay has to organize a Lupon ng Tagapamayapa consisting of a Chairman and 10 to 20 members. And for each dispute in the barangay, a Pangkat ng Tagapagkasundo, consisting of 3 members, has to be organized. The barangay can also organize local tanods. Isn’t all these a large, complex structure to deal with 2,500 or so people, which include children and, therefore, compose of only 500 or so families?
A barangay has several powers, duties, and functions. Among others, the Punong Barangay is empowered to enforce all laws and ordinances; maintain public order; ensure the delivery of basic services; enforce laws and regulations relating to pollution control and protection of the environment; adopt measures to prevent and control the proliferation of squatters; and adopt measures to prevent and eradicate drug abuse, child abuse, and juvenile delinquency. The Sangguniang Barangay can enact ordinances; levy taxes and other revenue measures; provide for construction and maintenance of barangay facilities and other public works; regulate use of public facilities, including waterworks; etc.
Judging by the present condition of our rural and urban areas, it is fair to say that the barangays have not been effective in the performance of the above duties and responsibilities. It is not a case that I expect the barangay to effectively do what it is required to do. Much of its written responsibilities are beyond its competence. Moreover, the officials may lack an appreciation of their written powers to enable them to perform those responsibilities successfully. We created a complex structure and provided funding to a system that simply cannot effectively deal with the things the system is designed to deal with.
With regard to funding, the finances of a barangay come mostly from three sources: 25% of the basic real estate tax collected in the barangay (the share of a barangay in a city and in a Metro Manila political unit is computed a little differently); its share of the 20% allocation to the barangays of the internal revenue allotment (IRA) of the province or city where it belongs; its share of the 35% allocation to the barangays of the share of the province from the sales and taxes derived by the national government from the exploitation of national wealth in a provincial territory. The share of each barangay in the total allocation to the barangays of the IRA and in revenue from exploitation of national wealth is computed as follows: 60% based on population and 40% divided equally.
It is not possible to obtain the total magnitude of the actual shares of the barangays in basic real estate tax and on sales and taxes derived from the exploitation of national wealth. The best that I was able to gather is the basic real estate tax allocation to the barangays in Quezon City for the 2018 second quarter, which I extrapolated to an annual basis that results in an average of P3.7 million per barangay in Quezon City. It should be noted that the real estate tax in Quezon City is very likely higher than in other cities and towns, except probably in Manila and Makati.
As for the IRA, the share of the barangays for the year 2018 has already been determined, but is still based only on BIR tax collections.
With the recent Supreme Court decision requiring the inclusion of customs duties in the calculation of IRA, I estimate the total IRA for 2018 to be at P669.7 billion, of which P132.7 billion goes to the barangays. On an average basis, this translates to P3.16 million for each barangay in the country.
Let us double this amount to cover the shares of the barangay in basic real estate tax and revenue from exploitation of national wealth. This doubling translates to an average fund allocation to a barangay of P6.3 million. This allocation could be small or big in serving 500 or so families, depending upon how one sees the role of the barangay. It is definitely small if a barangay does all it needs to do under the law. But it is big, if it does not do much.
My observation leans towards the latter, because such amount of annual funds may not be enough to do any significant infrastructure development or institution building in the barangay. This is the reason why, in many cases that I have observed, barangay funds are spent on such things as installing street lights, painting colors to lamp posts and trees lining the streets, displaying Christmas decorations, procuring and maintaining a barangay vehicle, and building and maintaining a barangay hall. I find these expenditures to be a waste of money. The barangay funds could have been pooled together to build something of larger economic value that provides higher multiplier effect for the province or city.
It is about time that we revise the role of the barangays in Philippine society. The barangay must be removed as a unit of government. Instead, through the Punong Barangay, it should be made to focus on civic and civil matters only. Its function in resolving people disputes for which the present system has been effective, should be retained.
In addition, the Punong Barangay should be given responsibility in getting the citizens to: keep the barangay clean and free of waste; to not pollute the rivers by throwing waste in them and using them as toilet or for cleaning clothes. If some barangay citizens could not be persuaded to do these things, the Punong Barangay should report them to the municipality and the police for violation of laws and ordinances, and let these authorities do what is necessary.
Equally important, the Punong Barangay should regularly identify school age youth who are not going to school, and talk to the parents and encourage them to keep their children in school to finish high school. If, for some reason, the parents could not, the Punong Barangay should determine the problem and refer it to the municipality or city to provide a solution. It will be a great achievement if the Punong Barangay could get all school age children to finish high school. Punong Barangays will be making an invaluable contribution to the economic and social wellbeing of the Filipino nation.
There could be other similar civic duties that the Punong Barangay may be required to do. But he should never be tasked to enforce the law. That will be the duty of the municipality or city and the police. In essence, the Punong Barangay’s role is to encourage and persuade the barangay’s inhabitants to be good citizens and aspire for a better life. The Punong Barangay does not carry a stick, of course. He has to fulfill his duties by using persuasion and moral suasion, and carry these skills to the highest level.
With this changed responsibility, the office of the Punong Barangay can be made very simple. It should consist only of the Punong Barangay and an assistant. The Punong Barangay should continue to be elected to give him a face of authority in the community. His own house should be used as his office. He should be given a salary, which should include an additional amount for the use of his house; his assistant should be given a separate salary; and he should be given a fixed budget for supplies and travel expenses within the barangay. Clearly, these changes will result in greatly reducing the budgetary allocations to the barangays and the resulting large savings can be channeled for the use of the provinces and cities.
For more effectiveness, the Punong Barangay should not be made an appendage of the municipality or city mayor. He should continue to be under the authority of DILG, thus, establishing a check and balance.
If he needs help in performing his duties, he should ask for volunteers in his community. In this manner, civic responsibility and solidarity can be developed in the community over time. After all, we Filipinos still carry the spirit of bayanihan in ourselves. It is up to the Punong Barangay to rekindle that spirit and carry it to a higher level.
Of course, there will always be laggards among the Punong Barangays. But the periodic election should be able to check bad performance. But, for the most parts, I anticipate that this new barangay system will create star performers who will do wonders and contribute greatly to the betterment of the Philippine communities, simply because the system will not attract opportunists and rent seekers, but those who truly want to make a great contribution to creating and maintaining wholesomeness, progress, and peace in their small communities. In so doing, a Punong Barangay will earn and be given a place of honor among his fellow citizens.
Benjamin R. Punongbayan is the founder of Punongbayan & Araullo, one of the Philippines’ leading auditing firms.