IT was US Congress Speaker Tim O’Neill who first famously said “that all politics is local.” One meaning in the Philippines of that statement is that all nationally elected politicians depend on the barangay leaders to get themselves elected.
Theoretically, as the family is also the basic unit of society, barangays also form the most basic structure of government, the smallest entity. Unfortunately, like in their bigger political structural counterparts, most barangay elections here are characterized by vote buying, intimidation and cheating. Why?
The fighting and the enmity are intense at the barangay level since all the electorate know one another so well, many of them blood relatives or related by affinity. But what for, really, is this intense animosity for? Let’s start with the barangay budget.
Unlike before, when barangays were at the mercy of the town kingpins for fund allocation for socio economic projects, today the law mandates that 20 percent of all national taxes should be given to barangays, automatically.
Further, the Supreme Court had earlier ruled that henceforth the national allocation for barangays will not only include internal revenue taxes but all taxes to include franchise fees and customs duties. The budget “to die for” in the barangays, therefore, has, by and large, been at the crux of the matter.
In 2021, for instance, 20 percent of the National Tax Allotment was a whopping P139 billion to be shared by only 41,939 barangays. The rest of the 23 percent goes to the 82 provinces and 126 cities and 34 percent to the 1,488 municipalities in the country.
People in Metro Manila may be shocked why a lowly barangay councilman, for example, would spend P1,000 per voter in a constituency of 5,000 people, which translates into P5.0 million when his salary is a lowly P25,000 per month or P300,000 a year, or less than a million for one term of three years (gross of taxes).
The answer to the million-dollar question often lies in the “fruits of corruption” that will follow in the implementation of the projects accorded under the P139-billion kitty for barangay spending. Let’s face it: the graft at the barangay level is just a microcosm of what goes on in the town, congressional, provincial and national levels with some exceptions.
So, wonder not why Philippine elections even at the barangay level could be one of the most expensive in the world, bar few. There is so much vote-buying. Taking advantage of the poverty of the people—at 20 percent or 2 of every 10 is below the poverty line threshold.
Vote buying results consequently into projects which are overpriced or done with inferior materials leading to substandard infrastructure and buildings and services since the politicians have to not just recoup their “election expenses” and prepare for the next polls but also to have a “return on their investment.”
Verily, political positions often offer the most lucrative compensation—legal and, mostly, illegal ones. Politics is big business.
‘No vote buying’ crusaders
AWARE of this perennial vicious cycle, one priest in Manga district in the city of Tagbilaran of Bohol, (a native of the same district) used the pulpit in the last barangay polls to expound on the ills of vote buying and challenged all candidates to sign an agreement not to ever engage in vote buying and, thereby, reduce the cost of getting elected—and, therefore, lower the threshold for graft so as to recoup their “poll investment.”
The priest, Fr. Gerardo ”Jingboy” F. Saco, also asked his parishioners to surrender to him all sample ballots with an attached bribed money and the church will reimburse such bribe money. Not only that, but the sample ballots will also be posted in the church bulletin so people will know who the vote-buyers in their locality are.
Throughout the last week of the poll campaign, the priest went around the locality with his bullhorn reminding all against about their agreement to end all vote buying.
Fr. Saco succeeded in the sense that there was no single vote buying during the election although sadly 40 percent of the voters did not bother to vote anymore to express their disappointment that they did not receive their usual “inangayan”—or bribe money from both sides of the political fence as they were used to in the last.
Jagna, Bohol, Mayor Joseph A. Rañola, in cooperation with the Catholic Church and civic minded citizens, launched a “no to vote- buying” slogan. They mayor even reportedly returned wholesale vote buying money from higher officials to influence their poll decision at the barangay level.
For the first time, Jagna had no vote buying in their elections.
The two cases above showcase, therefore, that no matter how ingrained in the system the age-old symbiotic relationship is -between vote buying and graft, a strongly resolved citizenry headed by their spiritual and political leadership can turn the tide and win the day for democracy.
If we consider elections as the bedrock of our democracy, the example of the two above are worth emulating and replicating nationwide.
Zoilo P. Dejaresco III, a former banker, is a financial consultant, media practitioner and author. He is a Life and Media member of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex). His views here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of Finex and the BusinessMirror. E-mail: Dejarescobingo@yahoo.com.