Home Speeches Bicol The Barangay: The Smallest Yet Greatest Political Unit
The Barangay: The Smallest Yet Greatest Political Unit Print
Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:58

(Speech delivered by REP. EDCEL C. LAGMAN at the
2007 Oath Taking Ceremonies of Barangay Officials of the First Congressional District of Albay)

The Barangay as a political unit is the most enduring legacy of our pre-Hispanic past. As pupils we learned that the word barangay traces its roots to balangay – the small but sturdy boats that our Malay ancestors used to navigate the rough seas of the Pacific to settle in these lands.

As barangay officials, it would be best to understand the history of this unique political unit so as to better recognize its indispensability to effective local and national governance. 

In the ancient barangay, the datu was the head and under the datu was the vital Council of Elders which acted as an advisory body. It is important to underscore that the datu may either be male or female. This is a reflection of how democratic our pre-Hispanic ancestors were because gender did not matter so long as the datu had the trust and confidence of the people.

The only requirement was that the datu must have distinguished himself or herself in some way – be it in battle or as a crisis manager. The position can be inherited but only if successors possess the same traits as the predecessor. Otherwise, a new and more deserving datu was selected by all free men and women of the barangay, regardless of social class. Datus were indeed genuine public servants who gave premium to the interest and welfare of the barangay.

It is interesting to note that then, as now, the head of the barangay exercised executive, judicial and legislative powers. But back then, the barangay was completely autonomous and datus were answerable only to their people. Barangays were also very fluid and territorial borders were unimportant. This meant that a whole barangay may resettle into another unoccupied territory so long as a consensus has been reached among the people.

When the Spanish conquistadores arrived, they immediately saw the significance of these political units. But to use the barangay for their own ends they had to make drastic changes. Territories became fixed in order to be able to better control the subjugated population. They ordered forced relocations so as to combine several barangays to form a pueblo. The autonomy of the barangay was effectively curtailed and it became a mere sub-component of the pueblo which was administered by the gobernadorcillo who was in turn accountable to the alcade mayor.

The datu class became the principalia or the local elite co-opted by the Spanish to help govern their subjects. To completely erase the vestiges of the past, even the nomenclature was changed – datus became cabezas de barangay whose main duty was to supply the local Spanish authorities with forced labor and taxes in exchange for a fraction of the powers and privileges they previously enjoyed. The Council of Elders was also abolished because it became irrelevant as the cabeza de barangay was relegated to the role of tax collector and forced labor recruiter.

Moreover, a cabeza de barangay had to be a man and was elected only by male members of the principalia in elections that were, more often than not, influenced by the parish priest of the pueblo.

After the downfall of the Spanish regime, the Americans made very little changes to the structure of the barangay. They encouraged the use of the word barrio to replace barangay and the local village chief regained his functions as a village headman, minus the responsibility of collecting taxes and providing forced labor. Cabeza de barangay came to be called barrio captain but this was a superficial change because like the Spaniards, the Americans ensured that the village chief belonged to the ruling elite and can only be elected by those belonging to a few privileged families. Thus, the Spanish tradition of limiting the pool of would be chiefs to the local elite continued.

The name game continued during the Commonwealth period and the term barrio captain evolved into the name tiniente del barrio.

During the incumbency of President Marcos, the word barrio was eschewed and the term barangay was again embraced. The name tiniente del barrio went into disuse and the term barangay captain was adopted.

With the enactment of the Local Government Code in 1991, the current term punong barangay was instituted. Although the position of punong barangay may have evolved through the centuries and have undergone several changes in nomenclature, it is still anchored on the concept that public trust should be repaid by genuine public service.

The staying power of this political institution is proof of its indispensability. The barangay is key to the effective and speedy delivery of frontline services. The recent preemptive evacuations conducted in Albay magnify the importance of barangay leaders. Without your cooperation, a Herculean task such as the one you undertook would have been much more formidable.

The barangay is also the principal link of the people to the municipal, provincial and national government and vice versa. Because you operate at the grassroots level, your inputs regarding the needs of your constituents is invaluable as you are the most accurate barometer of the real pulse of the people.

Moreover, there can be no more fertile training ground for future leaders than the barangay. Because the barangay is a microcosm of national governance it is therefore the best leadership training school. The leadership skills of barangay officials are honed principally because of the unique quality of the powers they wield. You are expected to be effective channels of action at the community level even as you become trained in consensus-building. The punong barangay also performs the duties of all three branches of government. It is ironic that although a barangay official is perceived to be the lowest ranking government official, you are the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary rolled into one.

The executive powers of the barangay primarily include enforcing all laws and ordinances applicable within the barangay and the planning of programs, projects and activities in the community. Its legislative powers are vested with the Sangguniang Barangay which is mandated to enact ordinances necessary to discharge the responsibilities conferred on it by law. Finally, the barangay has quasi-judicial powers. Through the Lupong Tagapamayapa, it has the authority to mediate and amicably settle disputes between members of the barangay. In fact, a certification from the Lupon that no conciliation or settlement has been reached regarding matters within its authority is required as a pre-condition to the filing of a case in court or any other government office for adjudication.

The fusion of the powers of the three branches of government in the barangay places this small political unit a notch higher than the parliamentary system. In a parliamentary set-up, executive and legislative functions are exercised simultaneously but barangay officials also have quasi-judicial powers apart from the power to implement and enact laws.

The duties and responsibilities of barangay officials seem endless because apart from all those I’ve already underscored, the barangay also has fiscal or taxing powers and is tasked to maintain peace and order. Under Sec. 152 of the Local Government Code, “barangays may levy taxes, fees, and charges … which shall exclusively accrue to them.” Moreover, it is expressly provided in Sec. 388 of the same statute that the barangay is “charged with the maintenance of public order, protection and security of life and property, or the maintenance of a desirable balanced environment…”.

Barangay officials are akin to doctors. They are expected to be on call 24 hours a day because problems may crop up any time of the day or night that need solutions which cannot be deferred for the next day or on the availability of the mayor, governor or congressman.

You have the power to legislate ordinances; enforce laws; act as judge and jury to your peers; levy taxes, fees and charges; and maintain public order in your community, among others. I can even say that you have more powers than a congressman. But from these vast powers emanate your equally enormous responsibilities.

As public servants, you should always ensure that your personal interest and that of your family and associates do not conflict with or erode your loyalty to the very people who have installed you to your position. Having been elected by the people, you are all directly responsible and accountable to the people for all your official acts. This is why your office is a public trust. You do not have any right vested to it. You do not own your office or position. It is only loaned to you by your constituencies.

Public service is not something one does in one’s spare time. It is not a hobby that you take up during weekends. The responsibilities of this job require your full attention. They cannot be accomplished half-heartedly because public service demands your complete commitment.

Since you are the primary link of the government to the grassroots, the job of a barangay official is a sensitive one. As such you must always remember that the efficacy of governance is enhanced or worsened depending on the performance of the barangay official.

We should keep in mind that government is an institution that was established to promote the common good and in order to maintain the trust and confidence of our constituents we must remain faithful to our Oaths of Office to serve the people as best we could.

Being the smallest government unit, the barangay is the foundation on which the rest of the state’s institutions are built. If we are to progress as a nation, it is imperative that the foundation of our government be rock-solid lest the whole structure crumbles. As barangay officials, you were chosen by our people to be that solid foundation. This demonstrates the truth that the barangay is indeed the smallest yet the greatest political unit.

The trinity of governmental powers is vested in the Barangay Chairman. He is the Chief Executive of the barangay; he is the Presiding Officer of the Sangguniang Barangay; and he is the Chief Magistrate of the Lupong Tagapamayapa. In a manner of speaking, the Barangay Chairman is President, Speaker and Chief Justice. Truly, he is the greatest functionary.

Your election is an opportunity for you to achieve so much for our people. You have been chosen to be the bedrock of a progressive society, do not let this opportunity slip from your hands.

Dios mabalos po saindo gabos.