Grassroots Politics in Barangay

All politics are local. But a village forum in the Philippines shows local concerns can have national implications.

Last Saturday, I was invited to be a guest speaker at a political forum ahead of village council elections in Cavite Province’s Barangay Molino V. The forum was spearheaded by a group of citizen volunteers who supported President Noynoy Aquino during this year’s general election, and was organized to provide a venue for candidates to come together, present their platforms and visions and to give voters the chance to interact with them directly. In short, it was what Americans would call a town hall meeting.

Three of the four candidates for Punong Barangay, or village chief, attended the forum and each was given ten minutes to present their platforms. Afterwards, there was a short Q and A session to give the villagers a chance to find out a bit more about the candidates’ policies.

The three candidates had a lot in common—all called for transparency in the village council and for engaging villagers more in local governance and security. At a glance, some of the concerns covered might seem simple—things like providing street lights for a main road. But at the grassroots level these issues are seen as vital, and candidates need to show that they’ve got practical solutions to these problems if they want to get elected.

It’s a reminder that all politics are, as the old expression goes, local. But chances are that many such issues, even if in this case confined to a village of a few thousand people, are also a concern for the country at large. After all, the bungled hostage rescue last August and the ongoing conflict in Mindanao are both local issues that have had national implications.

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On a personal note, one thing that really struck me about Saturday’s forum was the positive rapport between the three candidates. Hailing from the same small village, they’re practically neighbours and have known each other for decades. It was encouraging to see such positive attitudes, which should help keep people engaged.

Hopefully, as the elections draw nearer, they’ll be able to sustain the interest in governance and locals here will be able to add another layer to the Philippines' democratic project.