Cebu News

Electing leaders at the lowest levels

TO THE QUICK - Jerrt Tundag - The Freeman

There is a reason barangays are called the grassroots. Because that is precisely what they are, figuratively and almost literally. Barangays are the smallest political unit in the Philippines. They have jurisdiction only over villages. In the big cities however, there are barangays with more people than the smallest towns. Sometimes they split, but sometimes they just remain as is.

In the small barangay of San Mateo in Carigara, Leyte, where I am to make my own little personal history by voting for the very first time in a barangay election, the place is so small that I can pout my lips and point them in one direction, and then point them in another, and that's it. That's home to 1,129 residents, a little over half of whom are going to vote with me today.

Voters today will be electing one barangay captain and seven councilmen or "kagawads". We will be leaving one seat in the eight-seat barangay council open and in reserve for the elected barangay SK chairman who will join the council as ex-officio member. Barangay captains and SK chairmen will elect among themselves league president who will in turn sit in the larger city or town councils as ex-officio members.

I suspect that voting for barangay leaders will be much harder than voting in elections for higher leaders up the political ladder. This is probably because in a barangay one is supposed to know almost everybody else. In San Mateo, for example, 1,129 people do not make up a sizeable number to make them mostly strangers to one another.

You may not know everybody's names but you certainly would recognize and remember the faces to a point where almost everyone is at least a nodding acquaintance. This sure makes it difficult to choose between two such friends or acquaintances who might be running for the same position. How do you cram into seven seats an entire busload of neighbors registered as candidates?

It is probably an infirmity in the election process that friendships and personal ties can challenge and even match personal qualifications in coming up with a choice. On many instances the former may even prevail such that a mere "kumpare" is chosen over an experienced and well-educated rival. There is too much of personal ties in barangay elections to make such elections a 100% effective tool in choosing leaders.

It becomes easier to make our choices as we go higher up the political ladder. In the higher echelons of power, the choices increasingly become detached and impersonal. Voters are then drawn to look up the qualifications, the experience, the education, and the genealogy of a person to help a voter as he goes through the process of making a very important choice.

Not that some crazy other far-out factor does not come in to unsettle the weighing process. Sometimes one is drawn to a candidate simply because he tells the better jokes, wows with more interesting anecdotes, is otherwise just a plain darn good speaker. Never mind if he has nothing to show to inspire much confidence in his other ability, if at all.

If it is any consolation, despite the circus with which we have seen to pattern our politics after, we seem to manage to get by and do the things that really, essentially, need to be done in an election. And that is learning how to vote freely, by ensuring that who we vote for truly reflects our choice. Even with assaults by long-entrenched fraudulent acts, the vote of free choice somehow still manages to prevail.

Having said that, I will in some future column soon write about this phenomenon called "badil". In most other places it is called "pinalitay" or just plain vote buying in English. Well, technically, "badil" is vote buying. But if you see it in action, live, freely, and openly, you begin to wonder if certain political practices have not been too harshly judged by society. From what I have seen it has morphed into something that is now more a sociology issue than political.

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