The Barangay

October, 2001

The barangay is a political entity unique to the Philippines. The name is derived from the large outrigger canoes (balangay) that the early ancestors of modern Filipinos used when travelling from island to island. Originally from China, they settled first in Formosa (Taiwan) and then occupied most of the islands that are now the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Each outrigger canoe was led by a captain, who remained the leader of the occupants of the canoe when they settled ashore. Today, the Barangay Captain is elected and serves a term of 3 years. The Captain has a significant amount of authority. Most local disputes go before the Barangay Captain for settlement, rather than to the courts. Building permits, chopping down a tree, etc. all require the Captain's approval. Our Captain, seen in the small photo at left, is currently serving a 5-year term. (There wasn't enough money available to pay for the scheduled election so his term, and the terms of the other Barangay Committee members, were extended 2 years.)

The barangay is a relatively small entity. Our barangay (Bilisan) is the largest on Panglao Island with a population of about 1200. Most are much smaller, with populations of 500-700. Each barangay is divided into about 7 smaller units called puroks. Each purok has a small covered meeting area where people can gather with local officials to discuss any issue of importance. The purok shelters are often used by folks who want to sit and chat with their friends. Some of the shelters are on bus routes, and are also used by people waiting for a bus.

The barangays each have a hall which serves as a community meeting place and may include an office for the Captain. The size of the hall depends on the size and wealth of the barangay. Barangay Bilisan is in the process of constructing a two-story hall, but have run out of money. So the Captain has been going around to local businesses and civic leaders soliciting funds to complete the hall. (Sounds a lot like small towns in the US.) We got together with Neal and Andy and contributed about $100 to the construction fund, and have become great friends of the Captain as a result. We hope this will help when we need permission to cut down a tree or two to get our boat in the water!

UPDATE: New barangay elections were finally held on July 15th, 2002. The campaign posters went up about 2 weeks before the election. The Barangay Captain from Bilisan asked Jim for a campaign contribution, and Jim gave him 500 pesos (about US$ 10). The Captain inferred that he needed money to pay people to vote. Jim started asking our Filipino friends about this, and it turns out that this is quite common here. The going rate for the Kagawad, or Barangay council seats, varies from 10 - 20 pesos per voter. Barangay Captains pay more, perhaps as much as 100 pesos. In more affluent banagays, this could be much more. Although it is technically illegal, the practice is hardly secret. There is no way to know how a person actually voted, so it is hard for the politicians to know if their money was well spent. But it does seem to be an incentive to get people to vote, and the politicians give money to voters they think will support them.

— return to the 2001 Journal Archive.