By Manny Valdehuesa
LIKE jueteng in Luzon and masiao in Visayas and Mindanao, graft and corruption operates in the neighborhoods of the barangay—coddling the idle, luring the weak, wooing the gullible with favors, promises, and bizarre theatrics.
From there it spreads everywhere, outward and upward, until whole towns, cities, provinces and regions are corrupted.
By then the problem has reached unmanageable proportions. To try to stop it through upper level initiatives, or to rely on national agencies to do it, is like asking them to win a canny shell game.
There are just too many barangays to pinpoint or second-guess, and the local operators are nested in the warrens of the community.
Same thing for reforms: for true reform to take hold, it must be initiated and embedded in the community, cheek by jowl with the agents of corruption. There is no substitute for initiating it locally.
No one can arrest corruption or reform politics and governance in the community as effectively as the constituents themselves.
The motive force must spring from a civic sense that looks out for the welfare of all sectors, not just some, and the thrust must be to secure the welfare of the entire barangay—not just its favored neighborhoods.
A community needs to look out for its own, to secure the wellbeing of its members. And neighborhood cooperation is essential to neutralize the enemy from within and its divide-and-rule/rich-versus-poor strategy—which shatters solidarity and weakens the fabric of the Social Order.
Unlike before when the barangay had no real government—no authority, nil resources—today there is much to tend, to manage, to be vigilant about. There are revenues, personnel, facilities, and other assets including real estate, vehicles, even ambulances, and building and equipment that can be mismanaged.
Millions are involved; plus millions more from patronage courtesy of the mayor, the congressman, the senator, or the president.
These millions—in cash or in kind—are properly the concern of the barangay community, to whom they belong. But these are often squandered, wasted on political patronage and wasteful projects.
These are supposed to be invested on human development and social services, on job training or livelihood, on women, youth, and senior citizens. It is money sorely needed to induce productivity in job-hungry neighborhoods.
But much if not most of it is squandered on padded allowances, trivial pursuits, and political gaming. As a result, instead of benefiting the people of the community, to whom the money belongs, it goes to the wily trapos and their sycophantic wards.
In most barangays, the money is invisible to the residents because the officials don’t bother to post the statements of income and expenditures as required by law. They’re supposed to be posted in at least three prominent places.
But except for the few who handle the funds, no one knows about the sums that enter the barangay’s bank account periodically, or indeed, whether the account is in the barangay’s name or its officials’.
Thus, no one knows how much is spent on real projects or on expenditures with built-in kickbacks, on maintenance of equipment and vehicles they freely use, on junkets, on dole out, and on other schemes that do nothing for the community’s quality or quantity of life.
Talk to someone familiar with contracting in the barangay. Never mind the contracts in the municipio or higher government units—just keep in mind that municipalities and cities consist of dozens of barangays.
Check out the projects barangay officials farm out to private contractors. It may be a multi-purpose building, a covered court or playground, an annex, an iron or concrete perimeter fencing. There are roads or sidewalks to pave, and culverts or canals to build, and so on.
Find out how much is budgeted for these regardless of funding source—which may include grants from the mayor, congressman, senator, even the President.
To get an idea of the quantum of graft and corruption in the community, simply impute 20% or more in kickbacks and commissions from each project. This is money that goes to the pockets of the chairman, the kagawads, their accomplices, and the bureaucrats in the municipal or city hall or capitol whose signatures are needed to get projects activated.
In addition, it helps to know that every contractor is tapped for tips, donations and gifts for every conceivable occasion from office parties to birthdays to Valentines Day shindigs.
Count the signatures a contractor has to obtain to get budget releases—starting with the petty officials in the barangay hall to those in the municipal or city hall—and you have the number of hands to grease.
A contractor may need to obtain as many as two dozen signatures to get his project going.
So if you try to paint a panoramic picture of corruption at the grassroots, it can be a mind-boggling exercise as there are over 42,000 barangays in all!
(Manny Valdehuesa is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific, director at Development Academy of the Philippines, vice chair at Local Government Academy, and 2004 PPI-Unicef awardee for outstanding columnist. He heads Gising Barangay Movement as national convenor and president. You can reach him at email@example.com)