FRESH VIEWPOINTS: A NEW PERSPECTIVE
By Brian James Lu
A Look at the Barangay and SK Elections in the Philippines
On Oct. 30, millions of voters will troop to their voting precincts to cast their votes for their preferred candidates.
The Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) in October came after three postponements since 2018. The incumbent barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials have been occupying their positions for five years now.
There seems to be an irregularity here since, according to the Local Government Code, their term of office is only three years. There was even an attempt by several legislators for the BSKE to be held in 2024 that exasperated then Senate President Tito Sotto, who said that barangay captains would have a longer term than the president of the Philippines.
It may have been lost to the memory of our leaders today, but in March 1982, Batas Pambansa Blg. 222 was enacted, setting the term of office of barangay officials to six years, which commenced on June 7, 1982.
The original schedule for the BSKE was Dec. 5, 2022. However, Congress passed a law that postponed it to the last Monday of October 2023.
Nevertheless, the law (Republic Act 11935) was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (SC) that stated, “The exercise of the right to vote as guaranteed and protected by the Constitution requires the holding of genuine periodic elections, which must be held at intervals and not unduly long.”
However, the SC recognizes the “legal practicality and necessity of proceeding with the conduct of the BSKE on the last Monday of October 2023 pursuant to the operative fact doctrine.”
Thus, after five years, three postponements, and legal wrangling, voters are now poised to elect their representatives at the barangay level.
The election of leaders at the barangay level is an embodiment of democracy and community spirit.
The barangay is the smallest political and administrative unit in the country. There are 42,027 barangays in the Philippines as of 2023.
Barangay is the native Filipino term for village. They were also called barrios. It was in 1974 when the late former President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. decreed the barrios to be called barangays.
Barangay traces its roots to the balangay, a wooden boat believed to have been used by our ancestors to reach the archipelago.
On the other hand, barrio traces its roots to Spain. Barrio, in Spanish, means “neighborhood.”
The Local Government Code of 1991 placed the Punong Barangay as the chief executive of the smallest political unit. As such, it is more precise to use “punong barangay” than “barangay captain” when addressing the elected head of the barangay.
The punong barangay is imbued with the powers of the executive, legislative, and judiciary. He or she enforces all laws and ordinances that are applicable within the barangay. He or she presides over the sessions of the Sangguniang Barangay and the Barangay Assembly. He or she administers the operation of the Katarungang Pambarangay, the community-based dispute settlement mechanism at the barangay level.
Unlike in the past, a punong barangay today must possess managerial and administrative skills in running and crafting barangay development plans.
The powers and functions of the barangay, down to its officials, have evolved considerably. The barangay officials of today are imbued with political power unparalleled in history.
The Local Government Code, with its "devolution,” has conferred powers and authority to barangay officials to perform specific functions and responsibilities like never before. It is no wonder, then, that many Filipinos aspire to become barangay officials.
According to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), there are 672,000 seats up for grabs in the Oct. 30 elections. There are 1.41 million people who have filed their candidacies, including 828,644 candidates for the barangay council (kagawad) and 585,843 candidates for the youth council.
The Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) is the embodiment of the youth’s participation in nation building. This is unique in the Philippines since the youth are empowered through electoral exercise to choose their leaders and whom to represent them in the barangay and municipal/city councils.
There are criticisms, however, that the SK has become a laboratory where the youth learn the basics of politics and corruption. In fact, there are a lot of barangay officials who came from the ranks of the SK.
One positive aspect of the SK election today that I appreciate is the application of the anti-dynasty law at various levels of the local government unit.
Republic Act 10742, also known as the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Act of 2015, mandates that SK candidates “must not be related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity to any incumbent elected national official or to any incumbent elected regional, provincial, city, municipal, or barangay official, in the locality where he or she seeks to be elected.”
The law simply means that SK candidates (between the ages of 18 and 24) are disqualified if any of his or her parents, siblings, and grandparents, as well as their spouse, parents, and siblings, is an incumbent elected government official.
I remember in 2018 when there were many barangays where SK candidates fell short of the desired members of the SK council.
There were also many barangays without candidates for SK chairperson.
Indeed, the anti-dynasty component opened opportunities for many youths outside political families to offer themselves to serve their constituents. They can only offer their raw selves without the backing of traditional political machinery.
The anti-dynasty law at the SK level is a welcome electoral reform sought by concerned citizens who have had enough of political dynasties.
The question, however, is, “Why only SK? " But this is another story.
Meanwhile, let us encourage everyone to exercise their right to vote on Oct. 30.
About the Columnist
BRIAN JAMES J. LU, MMgt, is an entrepreneur, business adviser, government consultant, and is deeply involve in civil society organizations. He advocates good governance, ethical business practices, and social responsibilities. He is the President of the National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) and Chairman of the Foundation for National Development (Fonad). His broad experiences in the private and public sectors give him a unique perspective to advance his advocacies.