An angry Rodrigo Duterte last week ordered the arrest of barangay (village) captains who had failed to strictly carry out the quarantine protocols imposed by the national government to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

There had been several “super spreader” events that the barangay captains failed to stop. First, the Mother’s Day swim parties at the “Gubat sa Ciudad” resort in Caloocan, and the inflatable pool party with videoke singing and rice distribution organized by a city councilor, both in Quezon City.

But there were also similar mass gatherings that disregarded the minimum health standards, including social distancing and wearing of face masks and face shields in other areas in Manila and Laguna.

At his weekly meeting with the government’s task force on pandemic response, Duterte barked at barangay captains for not doing their jobs.

“I’m ordering the police to arrest the barangay captain and bring him to the station and investigate him for dereliction of duty for having failed to enforce the law,” the firebrand leader said, fearing the mass gatherings that the barangay officials failed to stop could trigger another surge in Covid-19 cases, which saw daily infections rising to more than 13,000 in April.

“Kasi magpa-barangay captain kayo, persons in authority tapos wala kayong gawin, hindi kayo tumulong sa national government, you are not doing anything, then I will order your arrest.”

The success of the country’s efforts to defeat the pandemic rests largely on the shoulders of barangay leaders as they are directly in contact with the people.

They implement quarantine rules and play an indirect role in the vaccination drive. They also make sure residents get “ayuda” from the government through the social welfare and development department.

Under the Local Government Code passed after Ferdinand Marcos’ one-man rule, most of the central government’s powers were devolved to the provinces, cities, towns and barangays.

But the barangays absorbed all functions and got blamed for any misstep in policy implementation, from peace and order, health and sanitation, and social ills, as well as crime, drugs and the proliferation of informal settlers.

The barangays also collect their own revenues from permits and clearances, and get a share of the internal revenue allocation (IRA) from the national government. The amount is determined by the size of its population and land area depending on the revenues collected by the cities and towns.

Makati, Manila, and Quezon Cities get larger IRA shares and so do their barangays, compared with small cities in Leyte and Basilan.

These IRAs are the reason the supposed non-partisan barangay elections have become bloody, violent, highly emotional, and contested. 

In some provincial areas, particularly in the Muslim Mindanao region, the barangay elections become the source of “rido” or clan feuds. 

A study made by the Asia Foundation revealed that there were more than 5,000 “rido” in the country, some dating back to the 1930s, over land, political positions, honor, and petty quarrels such as a basketball match.



Filipinos by nature are tribal and clannish, a character that the Spanish colonizers exploited when they came in search of economic wealth in the 16th century.

Spain found that the natives lived together in a community or a village known as balangay, a Malay word for sailboat, the transportation Malays used to settle in Panay and other islands from North Borneo.

Most of these settlements at the time of pre-conquest were in coastal or riverine areas because the people depended on fishing and trading with people from as far as Japan, China, and Southeast Asian states like pre-colonial Indonesia, Malaysia and Indo-China.

Spain coined the word “barangay” from “balangay” communities and expanded the small villages into clusters to form an encomienda, and later, towns.

A Catholic Church is usually at the center of a town where the civil government sits along with local police forces to enforce laws. The church was another tool used by Spain to colonize the archipelago, baptizing the natives into the Roman Catholic faith.

Highly urbanized towns became cities and large geographical areas that normally spoke the same language were organized into provinces.

There are now 81 provinces, more than 1,600 cities and towns, and over 42,000 barangays in the country, with nearly 18,000 elected local officials.

The more than 42,000 barangay executives are assisted by seven “kagawad” or council members serving as legislators of local ordinances. An eighth member is the “Sanggunian Kabataan” (SK) leader, also elected separately from the younger population aged 15 years old to 21 years old.

The SK came from the Kabataang Barangay (KB), set up in the martial law period with Imee Marcos, now senator, serving as its national chairman in 1975. 

During the Spanish period, the heads of the barangays were the villages’ traditional hereditary leaders, called datu or rajah.

When Filipinos completely assimilated the hispanic culture, the datu and rajah gave way to leaders, called “capitan del barrio,” after barangays were organized into barrios with sub-groups called sitio and purok. The “capitan del barrio” usually had close links with Spanish civil administrators or local friars in the towns. 

At the turn of the 20th century, the Americans changed the title to “tinyente del barrio” or barrio lieutenant. After the liberation in 1946, the title went back to barrio captain.

Under the 1991 Local Government Code, the official title became “punong barangay” or barangay chairman.

The position was not political before martial law but Marcos transformed it into a powerful political force under his New Society Movement (Bagong Lipunan).

Politicians building dynasties in their localities had added the barangay as a training ground for sons, daughters and relatives. Marcos politicized the barangay to build up grassroots support.

The last barangay elections were held in 2013 and the first scheduled election under Duterte was thrice postponed to December 2022, giving the current holders nearly nine years in office.

Next year’s elections might be cancelled again due to the coronavirus pandemic if the Philippines fails to curb the cases and the vaccination drive continues to grind slowly.

It’s about time Filipinos select new local leaders who they can relate and talk to, and who can really address at once neighborhood problems on garbage, peace and order, and petty quarrels that need not go to court.

But Filipinos must forget patronage and dynasties. Filipinos should elect people who will really serve for the public welfare and good, and reject those who sit idly while enjoying the perks of the job.

Duterte’s anger on negligent barangay officials should serve as a wake-up call. They should shape up or quit their posts.