MILLIONS OF FILIPINOS trooped to their polling precincts today to elect the officials of the smallest local government unit in the country – the barangay.
While barangay elections are sometimes dismissed by some as insignificant, the barangay is the closest government unit that the ordinary Filipino will ever get to interact with in his lifetime. At the village level, barangay officials are, for many Filipinos, the only real face of governance in an archipelago so fragmented along ethnic, cultural, geographical, and political lines.
In fact, Section 38 of the Omnibus Election Code provides that “the barangay election shall be non-partisan and shall be conducted in an expeditious and inexpensive manner” in order to shield them from the influence of political parties that may try to use them as part of their campaign machineries.
But it is really at the barangay level that the political machine works; any political operator worth his salt knows that the allegiance of the village chiefs is key in capturing local, and eventually, national positions.
On Monday, the country’s 54 million registered voters come out for yet another political fiesta, where the stakes may appear smaller, although they really strike closer to home.
Elections in the Philippines have always been family affairs, both from the side of the candidates and their political parties (or their political clans), and from the point of view of the voters who bring their children, grandchildren, and pets.
And of course, there were the usual problems of voters unable to find their names in the voters list. For the barangay elections, the Commission on Elections had decided to revert to the manual voting and counting. In the last May 2013 national and local elections, the Comelec had used the Precinct Count Optical Count or PCOS machines.
What this also means is that the counting in some precincts may last long into the night, especially in areas where there are many voters per precinct. This also raises the possibility of more heated exchanges between losing candidates and the Board of Election Inspectors, as the candidates may try to challenge the manual count.
But if some dismiss the barangay elections, there are those who appear committed to make their ballot count. This senior citizen came to the voting precinct in Quezon City despite her difficulty walking, as evidenced by the walker she strapped on to the tricycle she was riding after casting her ballot.
On the other hand, this disabled fellow hobbled around in front of the voting precinct on his one good leg, distributing sample ballots unmindful of the difficulty, and of the fact that his activity was also illegal.