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Make Your Barangay a Better Place to Live In

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THE FOLLOWING actions on how to participate in barangay governance is the 8-point agenda of Gising Bayan Movement, Inc. (GBM) whose aim is "to ignite self-reliant, reform-oriented initiatives to push the reform process forward until it takes on a life of its own and make autonomy, self-government, and the principle of subsidiarity a reality." This is a good guidelines for community organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are willing to take the challenge of making a better barangay.

I. Get acquainted with your barangay government. It is what makes the neighborhoods look like they do, feel like they do, and behave like they do.

Visit the Barangay Hall and observe its set up, facilities, and workers. Check the bulletin boards and see what notices are posted. Talk to the workers -- and the officials if they’re around. Ask for a compilation of local ordinances. Unless residents know the ordinances, they cannot comply or help enforce them.

Doing so will give a feel of how the barangay is managed -- its sense of duty, transparency, accountability, and its attitude towards public service. It will help you decide what you want your local government to do and in what manner.

II. Enfranchise and empower yourself along with everyone by being active in the Barangay Assembly.  Let it perform its role as the community’s legislative governing body, or parliament -- setting the government’s direction, policy, priorities, standards, and budget. It is an unfulfilled role thus far.

Only this Assembly can hold the chairman, the Sanggunian, and their appointees accountable for their performance. You are a sovereign member of it as a government and a stakeholder of it as a public corporation. The Sanggunian is its board of directors managing day-to-day affairs between stockholders’ meetings.   

The law requires this Assembly to meet at least twice yearly in order “to hear and pass upon the activities and finances of the barangay” (Section 398, R.A. 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991). This means it should convene as often as necessary, not just twice as is the practice. It is only through it that a Filipino, apart from his vote, can speak out officially as a sovereign citizen. Without it, no consensus can arise on public issues or crystallize the popular will. Opinion polls do not produce consensus.

III. Insist on professionalizing the operations of the Barangay Development Council. It is the next most important institution for developing the community. Refer to Title Six, Sections 106-115, R.A. 7160)

First, review its composition and manner of selecting its members. At least one-fourth are supposed to come from civil society. Barangay chairmen rarely comply with this, depriving the community of the important contributions of NGOs to local development.

Second, review its performance. The law requires it to prepare a Comprehensive Multi-Sectoral Development Plan. This plan is supposed to be integrated into the municipal or city Plan – which in turn are to be incorporated into the upper-level Plans all the way to the national.

This requirement jibes with the democratic principle that the planning process must begin from the ground up, instead of from the top as practiced by autocrats. Without this Plan, officials simply improvise, without a sense of priorities.

IV. Check the Annual Investment Plan – a very important component of the Development Plan. Make sure it is a real plan, not just a shopping list of projects the officials hope will be picked by some mayor or congressman with pork barrel funds to spare. Without it, a budget cannot be justified.

First, see that this Plan addresses the priorities defined in the Development Plan. It should be based on a survey of neighborhoods to guide investment priorities.

Second, see that it takes account of the needs of the entire community, not just favored sectors, usually the poor and the squatters. Although they deserve priority treatment, others are also entitled to a share of development even as they share its costs. Even the wealthy are entitled; they should be encouraged to expand business so they will pay more taxes and provide new opportunities for livelihood.

Third, help the officials identify productive projects. One way to expand the local economy is to assist residents with skills or technologies that need a market.

V. Help professionalize budget preparation, making sure the final version covers the community’s priorities.

First, insist that it be reviewed by the Barangay Assembly. It should be based on the approved development and investment plans. Anyone serious about good governance should not tolerate the practice of giving officials blanket authority and a blank check to spend as they please. This encourages corruption.

Second, examine the item for personal services. The law allows up to a maximum of fifty-five percent (55%) of annual income to be allocated for personal services. Treating this maximum as the minimum is wrong. Else, after allocating the mandatory share of the Sangguniang Kabataan (10%) and the Calamity Fund (5%), very little is left for basic services and development programs.

Many barangay officials earn as much as middle management in business because they view their allowances as a salary instead of just an allowance. Not good.

Barangay office is meant to provide an opportunity for community service, not employment or livelihood. Citizens who can’t survive without relying on the barangay’s limited funds are out of place. They are a burden instead of an asset to the community, and are susceptible to corruption. They should be earning a salary somewhere else.

Barangay funds are meant for the community’s development, not for anyone’s subsistence. Officials who collect maximum allowances for themselves (because they need a salary) reduce the development fund to a minimum. In effect, they serve themselves first and the community last.

Their job is to manage this small government and public corporation so that the local economy will expand and produce opportunities for everyone. If they can’t even manage to earn a livelihood, how can they pretend to create livelihood and other benefits for the community?  

VI. Promote Volunteerism as a way of saving on costs of development.

There are citizens who would welcome the opportunity to help, to give, or to share what they can. They need an avenue of service. Service to community is the hallmark of a responsible, caring citizen. It is why there are Jaycees, Lions, Rotarians, Kiwanis, and such. They wish to serve, to show their concern for the welfare of the community. And they like doing it as volunteers, not for pay.

Serving the community ought to be an avenue for their inclinations. It shouldn’t be necessary for them to go beyond their barangay to satisfy a desire to serve or to apply their communitarian ideals. They are stakeholders in it. They should be accommodated. Their creativity, their enterprise, their services, and their leadership qualities are needed by the community. As volunteers, they entail no financial cost. Ideally, they should be drafted into service to replace politicos who insist on getting paid for community service.

First, take stock of professionals, retired persons, housewives, or youth with time or special skills to share. Enlist them for the barangay’s programs and projects. They are invaluable for promoting the arts and crafts, fitness and sports, hobbies and livelihood courses. They will enliven community life and enhance local pride.

Second, consider the cultural needs of the community. Does it need a library or reading center, literacy and numeracy courses, agro-industrial seminars? Lectures or demonstrations on technology and survival skills are always useful. Make room for activities that refine culture and civilization. Why just physical sports or singing concerts when there can also be chess and scrabble or Sudoku, sewing circles, or artists’ corners? Television and its inane fare is bastardizing grassroots culture while making a mockery of formal education.

VII. Check out the Sangguniang Kabataan and its activities. It shouldn’t be all sports and pop concerts.

First, draw the attention of the college kids to the fact that ten percent of the barangay’s income is available for youth development. It’s a lot of money to manage -- much more than campus fundraisers could ever hope to raise.

This fund should not be cornered by the youthful surrogates of entrenched officials (frequently their own children along with barkada). It shouldn’t be frittered away in activities that do nothing significant for youth welfare.

Second, challenge the youth to use the community as their real-life workshop -- for applying their leadership and management skills. Why wait after college to face real-world challenges? They shouldn’t be content with the virtual-reality of campus life, using virtual-reality tools, under virtual-reality situations. The reality in their neighborhoods cries out for improvement!

Much of the SK’s money is wasted on unproductive activities. It is not treated as capital for development. Imaginative use of it would attract counterpart funds from business and other institutions to finance youth-initiated programs. The school may need a feeding program. The poor may need a student loan program. Pupils in distant places need shuttle service to and from school, even by motorela.  A youth cooperative may need to be capitalized. These are proper initiatives for SK to undertake. It shouldn’t be all sports, pop concerts, or Lakbay-Aral junkets!

VIII. Crank up the local economy with programs that capitalize on local opportunities and existing resources.

First, do an inventory of manpower (skilled workers, craftsmen, artisans, artists, designers, other talents). Then, explore four areas of concern:

  1. Agri-business in rural areas: special crops, contract farming, contract livestock raising, tree farming, fishponds, and so on.
  2. Tourism: rivers, hills, valleys, coastlines, flora and fauna, and other environmental features have potential for adventure. In urban areas, there are budding talents with technology-development potential. There are opportunities for developing/showcasing talents in the arts and crafts.
  3. Production/Processing enterprises: food processing, handicrafts, weaving, clay products, furniture or woodworking, garment making, and the like.
  4. Skills Development: metal works, masonry, electrical, carpentry, care-giver or therapy services, beauticians, and the like.

For these activities, interface with resource agencies and institutes such as TESDA, the Agricultural Training Institute, and the Cooperatives Development Authority to assure quality and quantity of performance.

Produce a directory of skills, services, and products in its locality and endorse same to prospective users and customers everywhere. Hand-in-hand with government and business, the community organization can be a capability-building center and build up the local economy.

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