"Politics in this country is all about money, power and bribery. If only we can change how things work then the country will be able to move forward. The problem is that our lawmakers will never make changes as long as the law works to their advantage and serves their purpose. Susmariosep!"

MANILA, NOVEMBER 11, 2013 (PHILSTAR) AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman (photo) - Political aspirants who do not belong to a political ‘family’ dynasty, who are not matinee idols or action stars, and those who have no name recall have no choice but to start from the bottom, at the barangay level, to lay the ground for their political careers.

Twenty some years ago, the barangay was a very silent part of the local government unit. It was the basic support group of a town or a city. People who run to become part of the barangay council were true public officials then. They were dedicated public servants. They did not think of monetary ‘gains’ nor did they think of power. They served their communities with the purest intentions.

When funding for the barangay became part of the ‘fiscal budget’ with a significant amount of money appropriated to it, many started to become interested to run for positions in the barangay. In fact, when city mayors (governors and congressmen) realized how influential the barangay was to maintain their seat of power more attention was given to it.

The power accorded to the Barangay Chairman and his Councilors fed their egos to no end until their desire for more power became insatiable. When they started to be associated with certain political parties or a political block, the barangay ‘wars’ began. Whenever the Barangay Chairman and the City Mayor do not get along (belonging to different political parties) more often than not, no progress occurs within the community. Everything is blocked. Projects are stopped.

The awareness of the power underneath the smallest unit of government has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that the voice of the community can now be heard, that is if the Barangay Chairman and his Councilors are serving their communities with transparency and good intentions. The disadvantage is that this unit may be tainted with a political color that is sure to result in corruption.

Politics in this country is all about money, power and bribery. If only we can change how things work then the country will be able to move forward. The problem is that our lawmakers will never make changes as long as the law works to their advantage and serves their purpose. Susmariosep!

Have you noticed how candidates at this level have certain characteristics? Okay, hold your horses and don’t get sensitive.

Of course there are exceptions here. First, those running seemingly have had no stable career in their lives. Some are certified bums. Some have dropped out of school. Some are too lazy to keep an 8-5 job. Some may even be drunkards, gamblers, drug addicts or small town ‘bullies’. Some are merely spoiled rotten brats looking for something to do.

Second, some changed careers thinking there is more money in politics (they are probably right since many suddenly become rich). I don’t mind those who have retired from working. They definitely have the wisdom and experience to help our communities. But like I said, the qualifications of many are questionable.

So, the community folks should be more vigilant. We should learn to demand good service, the right service. We must question the wrong moves when things are done to deceive us. We have our rights as citizens. We must use them wisely.

Don’t ever be fooled by this small unit of government. Twenty percent of the internal revenue allocation (IRA) is given to the barangay. On top of the IRA, barangay chairs have also shares from the taxes collected by their LGUs including real property and business taxes. It is said that a barangay can get as much as P100 million in IRA. Now, that indeed is money talking!

Now that the people have spoken and hopefully have voted wisely, what‘s next for the 42,028 barangays?

The barangay serves as the primary planning and implementing unit of government policies, plans, programs, projects and activities in the community. It also serves as a forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered, and where disputes may be amicably settled.

A barangay is created out of surrounding villages which has a population of at least 2,000 in rural areas and in cities and municipalities within Metro Manila or highly urbanized cities where there is a certified population of at least 5,000.

If positive changes can be achieved in the barangay level, changes in the national level will surely come easy. But the problem is that we cannot effect change in the barangay because some of the leaders are dummies of top local officials who have taken great pains in ensuring that their power extends down to this level. So how can you expect puppets to walk or talk when they are controlled by their masters? Yes, if the Barangay Chairman is too weak to know what is right for his community, he will allow his mayor or city officials to influence him. This is where the problem begins – all leading to poor and inefficient public service.

If you take a closer look at government you will note that there is more to it than meets the eye. While Congress and the Supreme Court continue to hound on the ‘big fishes’, the local governments are having a heyday, taking their own sweet time as they continue on with their corrupt practices knowing that when caught they can easily get off the hook.

The practice of wasting government funds continues today. In asserting its power to examine disbursements of public funds, Congress should not only focus on PDAF and the DAP. It is time that they also demand a scrutiny in the way local governments have been spending public funds. This should include the barangays.

We all know for a fact that the procurement process in local governments is flawed and prone to corruption yet, our government keeps turning a blind eye on this. This practice has deprived the poor of basic services such as health, education, sanitation and safety.

The Commission on Audit plays a very important role in addressing these issues. Conducting audits and revealing results are not enough. We need to send out a stronger message to those who continue to ‘steal’. We need to see these corrupt officials punished and sentenced to life imprisonment. Why can they easily get away and why does our government allow it?

Overpricing of goods and services, rigged biddings, ghost deliveries and awards to non-existent companies have always been part of our corrupt system. Our local government leaders are very much aware of this but why don’t they stop it? Obviously, they don’t want to stop it because they get a piece of the pie – the biggest piece.

The President said, “I am not a thief.” In response, those implicated in the PDAF scam and other senators said, “Neither are we.” Sanamagan!

No one will ever admit to his folly. The system should work to reveal who the real culprits are. The problem is that there is no system for checks and balances in this country. Or if there was one, ‘someone’ must have been bribed to steal, remove or destroy the evidence.

For as long as anomalies in government and violations of the law cannot be curtailed, we will continue to suffer. And for as long as we remain passive and indifferent to what is happening around us, nothing will change. Our tax money will always fall into the wrong hands of ill-intentioned public officials of which most of them are.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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