Corruption starts at the barangay

- Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

If you are planning to skip the barangay election today for no good reason, you are not being a good citizen. You are signing a blank check that will allow whoever is elected to do what he or she pleases with a portion of the money you paid the BIR for taxes. The Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA for many barangays are pretty substantial and in many cases, aren’t being spent wisely.

And don’t think that corruption only exists in the typical barangays in the poor and crowded districts of Metro Manila. In fact, there are questions being raised against rich folks who run barangays in upper class communities for supposedly being less than prudent with their constituents’ tax money.

I have been hearing a lot of noise from at least two high end barangays in Makati, Bel Air and San Lorenzo. That suggests rich or poor, educated or not, when it comes to politics they are all the same. I don’t know enough about the individual cases in Makati but I normally take the view that where there is smoke, there has to be some fire.

There are newspaper reports that in the case of Bel Air, it is about how a barangay official supposedly awarded a contract for catering services to a relative. In the case of San Lorenzo, it has to do with the purchase of 1,200 lampposts at a total cost of P43 million.  Worse, 670 of those lampposts were not needed and tax money must be spent again for storage.

Many of us get really mad with senators and congressmen and even Presidents at the mere suspicion of corruption. But right where we live, we don’t really know or care if our neighbors running the barangay are doing pretty much the same thing. Corruption in our government starts at the bottom… the barangay.

A letter to the barangay kagawads of one of these high end communities touched on the hypocrisy of it all.

“You are our current kagawads and will be there till the end of November… I saw several of you at the Luneta Rally, Million People March, and again at the Ayala Rally. We were there to manifest our anger over the PDAF SCAM.

“Actually, what we are all incensed about is the endemic corruption so embedded in our system… Wouldn’t it be such a hypocritical contradiction if we were to rail against corruption in high places and look the other way when allegations of corruption inhabit our own barangay?”

It is fairly easy for our barangay officials to get away with anything. Most of us are busy with our work and other concerns and hardly pay attention to the barangay. Indeed, there are many barangay officials who really do nothing but run in elections, misappropriate taxpayers money and get away with it because we really don’t care.

In my case, I live in a barangay that covers only our subdivision so that the homeowners association sort of overlaps the barangay. It must be more complicated with other subdivisions where the barangays cover a larger area outside of its perimeter walls.

But I must confess that even in my case, I should really take more effort to know what my barangay captain and kagawads are doing. I haven’t heard of any scandalous use of funds which is difficult to keep a secret specially among the housewives who use the village beauty parlor. But I cannot say with full authority from first hand knowledge that our barangay officials are doing their work with honor.

A reader passed on an article written by Tita C. Valderama on the significance of barangay politics and I want to share some of the information and points raised.

For starters, many of us would be shocked to learn from Ms Valderama that Caloocan City’s Barangay 176 got P89 million of its P100-million budget this year from the IRA that it spends on salaries, purchase of supplies, equipment, and community projects and services.

That’s no doubt, a huge amount of money. One should wonder if barangay officials have what it takes to manage such a fund even if we assume they have the best of intentions and are not crooks. With so much money at stake, it is no wonder people are killing each other to become a barangay official.

Ms Valderama thinks, and I agree with her, that the large amount of money barangays get for their IRA should make more of us who constantly cry for good governance to involve ourselves in barangay politics.

By way of background, the IRA is the annual share of local government units out of the proceeds from national internal revenue taxes. The national internal revenue taxes come from income tax, estate and donor’s tax, value-added tax, other percentage taxes and taxes imposed by special laws.

Barangays get 20 percent of the IRA which is divided among each of the 42,028 barangays across the country, based on the following formula: population – 60 percent, equal sharing – 40 percent. For many barangays, the absolute amount of IRA can buy a lot more than peanuts.

The Local Government Code sets the formula for the distribution of the IRA. The national government plows back to local governments 40 percent of internal revenue collections. That in turn is shared among LGUs with barangays receiving 20 percent; provinces, 23 percent; municipalities, 34 percent; and cities, 23 percent.

Ms Valderama says that for 2014, the share of the barangays from the IRA will be P68. 3 billion, up by P7.8 billion from this year’s P60.5 billion. That’s a lot of money that seems to be merely dissipated without any real and visible good being realized for the communities.

As cited earlier, barangay officials, specially the barangay captain must have pretty good money management skills. Ms Valderama points out that apart from the IRA, barangays also have taxing power.

Barangays are authorized by law to impose taxes on stores or retailers with fixed business establishments and gross sales or receipts in the previous year of P50,000 or less in cities, and P30,000 or less in municipalities at the rate not exceeding one percent on gross sales or receipts.

Barangay Bel Air and San Lorenzo in Makati have more money than they can reasonably use properly in a year. It is probably the same for Barangay San Antonio in Pasig that covers the Ortigas Center and Barangay Wack Wack in Mandaluyong.

The IRA for Bel Air and San Lorenzo is said to be around P160 to P180 million a year. No wonder I sometimes get the impression they are running out of projects to spend their money on by the number of times they put up and take down arches, remodel their guard houses and have lavish social events.

Ms Valderama cites statistics from Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca that I find interesting: 31 per cent or 104,186 of the 336,200 barangay officials across the country had not gone beyond high school while 44,309 only made it past elementary school.

While education isn’t everything and it cannot guarantee good governance, some amount of education is needed to perform the functions the barangay is mandated to perform. Then again, problems in San Lorenzo and Bel Air show that high educational status is no guarantee of problem-free governance.

Ms Valderama is so right to point out that good governance starts with our barangays. The barangay, the smallest geographical political unit, would be a good place for those who want to reform the political system to start.

There was a report of ABS-CBN News in its Kampanya Serye of a barangay captain in Manila who does not even live in the barangay. I get the impression he wins every election because his constituents are happy enough to receive short term benefits, if you know what I mean. Yet they complain that they can’t find him around.

I also worry about political dynasties thriving at the barangay level. Once a public office becomes a family business, good governance will necessarily go out the window. Anyone who wants to end political dynasties should start fighting at the barangay level.

We have to shake off apathy and elect candidates who are accountable, effective and efficient, transparent, responsive, consensus-oriented, and passionate about public service.

Today’s barangay election is an opportunity for concerned citizens, those sick of corruption and official thievery, to involve themselves in barangay politics. That’s the most basic way of fighting for good government.

Otherwise, it will be just all talk.

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Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco










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