Undated photo of a barangay assembly at Bgy, Muzon, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. (photo:

WE TAKE IT for granted but the barangay, as the smallest unit of local government, is really where we “individual particles of sovereignty” can make a difference in this democracy.

Proclamation No. 342, s. 2003 (amended by Proclamation No. 260, s. 2011) mandates the holding of bi-annual barangay assemblies, once on the last Saturday of March, and again on the third Saturday of October. The DILG issued a directive to local governments to hold the first assembly this year on March 25. Were you notified by your barangay? 


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I wasn’t. There were no signs, no fliers, no community memos, no roving vehicles blaring announcements, no tarps, no buntings, no motorcades, nothing. In fact, I’m not aware that the assembly took place at all. Did the assembly push through in your area? Just asking.

I wonder if this has anything to do with the recently announced plan by Rodrigo Duterte to cancel the planned barangay elections in October and declare all barangay positions vacant. He also proposes to fill all barangay positions with his hand-picked appointees. His purpose is to ensure that the barangays will be headed by individuals untainted by the drug menace.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez lost no time in assuring Duterte, we have no problem with it,” and promised to support the move in the House. For his part, Senate president Koko Pimentel expressed reservation, saying the proposal had no legal basis. He suggested that candidates for barangay positions could reject narcopolitics outright and run on an anti-drug platform instead.

Others categorically objected to the plan.

NAMFREL secretary general Eric Alvia was concerned about the cancellation because, he said, the “regularity of elections is important to establish the mandate, legitimacy and moral authority of elected leaders.”  He added that “not holding elections regularly could undermine the democratic process of ensuring the citizens’ right to choose their leaders and make them accountable.” Alvia further questioned Duterte’s mandate, stressing that his power to appoint barangay officials should be legally defined because it could be abused.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan cautioned that  “To further postpone barangay elections and opt to instead appoint the barangay officials means to impinge on the people’s right to vote and choose their leaders.” Former senator Nene Pimentel expressed the foreboding that the dark days of the dictatorship would recur. Pimentel senior stated that Duterte’s proposal smacked of authoritarian tendencies and called to mind Ferdinand Marcos’s manipulation of the barangays in 1973. “Hindi ako masyadong para doon sa malinisan ‘yung gobyerno by means of appointing officials, tulad sa kapanahunan ng Martial Law,” he said.

The elder Pimentel was referring to Presidential Decree No. 86-A, s. 1973 which ordered the holding of a national plebiscite between January 10-15, 1973 to ratify the newly drafted Constitution and to seek the people’s mandate for the continuation of Martial Law. On January 17, 1973 Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1104, s. 1973 in which he declared the people’s confirmation of martial law. 


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This outcome was questioned in the landmark Ratification Cases (Javellana v. Executive Secretary [G.R. No. L-36142, March 31, 1973; 50 SCRA 30]) filed before the Supreme Court in 1973. Among the questions raised were the authenticity of the referendum and the validity of its results, there having been reports that the referendum was conducted by the mere raising of hands, and that in many localities there was no referendum at all. Significantly, the referendum and its “results” were supervised by barangay officials appointed and controlled by Marcos.*

After intense debates, the SC ultimately decided in favor of Marcos, thereby laying to rest all legal challenges to martial law. Nonetheless, the Ratification Cases continue to educate us on the danger of misappropriating the barangay for political expediency or vain motive.

The barangay was created as a forum for the common tao, to ensure that those perceived to be the weakest in society may have a voice, and that by speaking in unison they might move even the monoliths of government. That was the idea. Marcos took that ideal and mangled it to suit his nefarious purpose so that the very instrument of empowerment became his mechanism for control.

We must remember this and be mindful. There is a very real chance that it might happen again. Duterte is trying to allay fears, saying, for instance, that he will carefully study his options, “compromise with the Church and everybody” and allow them three nominees for his consideration. Still, the final decision will rest with him.

Koko, Kiko, Pimentel senior, and NAMFREL’s Alvia all have reason to demand the legal basis for Duterte’s mandate and to be concerned about the political and moral independence of his appointees. Duterte will effectively control the allegiance of those beholden to him, and no checks and balances will be available to citizens if this scenario plays out. The DILG reports that there are 42,036 barangays in the Philippines and, if Duterte has his way, approximately 344,000 individuals who will owe their post to the president will influence grassroots politics in this country. This is a situation fraught with hidden perils. 

If this alarms you, then speak up and speak out while you still have the chance.

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Ephesians 5:11

*The first barangay elections were conducted in 1982 by virtue of BP 222.

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