Thursday, January 25, 2007

My Uncle, the Kapitan

Written in: Poblacion, Sta. Maria, Bulaca, PHILIPPINES
Composition: Impromptu
Previous Post: Relishing Time

I have the privilege of staying with my Dad's youngest brother, Uncle Francisco (Tito), and his family.
Uncle Tito wears many hats. Ever since I was a kid, I had always thought of him as the one who followed the footsteps of my grandfather Arsenio's multi-faceted livelihood of backyard livestock farmer, small mango orchard caretaker, and supervisor to the land owned by the Family.

More recently, Uncle Tito has been getting involved with local politics. He started off as a member of the barangay council. Currently, he is the Punong Barangay or Barangay Kapitan (literally: Barangay Head/Captain). This position, as I understand it, was one he inherited as opposed to something he actually vied for; he was second in command when the elected Kapitan was promoted to Municipal councilor.

One December day, I tagged along with the Kapitan to witness for myself a day in his life of public office.

We got to the Barangay Hall around the time when the Sun's rays had stopped being pleasant and had already made the transition to where 'fierce' would be a more apt description.

Always first in the order of business are the...well, 'businesses' of the Barangay - a discussion involving the treasurer and secretary regarding the local projects, funds, upcoming programs, and most anything involving finances. After that comes the forum with members of the Barangay Council, the Kagawads, where issues and topics that should concern the office of the Kapitan are raised.

Following these organizational concerns would then be the concerns of the populace. This is where individuals with complaints, gripes, and special cases can approach the Kapitan. Some days this can take the whole day and night, and some days, very little happens.

It is also not unusual for the Kapitan to be invited by other organizations within the Barangay (that aren't part of the Local Government itself) to speak or perhaps just to appear as a special guest. 

My day spent at the Barangay Hall gave me a unique glimpse of the Local Government in my hometown, and indeed, the whole of the Philippines. The difference, if I were to pick only one to cite, between a developing country like the Philippines and a first-world nation like Canada would be INFRASTRUCTURE. The social services, social programs, and social institutions are what makes the first-world the first-world.
But for a nation like the Philippines that has a much, MUCH lower GDP, how does one establish such social institutions? When you have no funds, how do you get things going?

This is where the beauty of the LGU's (Local Government Units) come in.

Yes, the Kapitans, the Kagawads, and the Tanods (citizen police? the direct translation is "lookout") are all paid, but only minimally. What I personally witnessed is that being a member of the LGU's is a largely voluntary position. Everyone I met also has another job or livelihood; this is an accepted fact. 

They take on the position in service of the community. And personally, I would like to dedicate this entry to them. 

Mga kababayan, Mabuhay po kayo! (My fellow countrymen, Hooray to you!)
But of course nothing is without its disadvantages. Through no fault of the members of the Local Government, such an establishment can only do so much. 

A primary example is that of local security. The Barangay Kapitan does not only preside over the executive matters of the Barangay, but also the local disputes and crime. Pag may lasing na nag huramentado, ang tatawagin, si Kapitan. (If there is a local disturbance, who do they call? The captain.)

"Ang problema ng iba, (Other People's problems)" Uncle says himself "nagiging problema ko rin!(also end up being MY problems)"

Complaints come at all hours of the day and night.

In an effort to take some workload off of the already overextended Municipal Police Force, the Barangay Tanods (volunteer barangay 'police') take on most the policing duties. This works most of the time, but sometimes you end up exposing individuals who have only received the most minimal of security training - and armed only with batons - to very dangerous situations against very unreasonable odds. As well, being a volunteer force, response time is largely slow.

So what do I think? Well, something has to be done, that's for sure. 

But I don't have any prescriptions. (This blog, after all, was never meant to be prescriptive - merely descriptive. Observational.)

Such a personal, hands-on, type of government may have worked well in a setting where there were only tens to a few hundreds of households to handle - everyone knew everyone else. But where households now number in the thousands, such a system gets overburdened.

Related Flickr Photos

Next Post: Reunion with the Barkada

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                            A Feeling of Community 
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