Many barangay posts in BARMM uncontested

As the October barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections draw near, we wrote about the apprehension of the authorities over the conduct of the elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or BARMM.

The Philippine National Police has statistics on several towns flagged as possible election “hot spots.”  In fact, they have asked for a postponement of the elections in those areas, but the Commission denied this despite documented incidents of election-related violence.

But just as there are conflict areas, there are an almost equal number of barangays where peace is expected to prevail. There will be no contest in those barangays as the candidates will run unopposed. While this could taint the democratic process as the right of citizens to choose their leaders will be somehow restricted, it is still a welcome development. How does this work?

This needs the intervention of the patriarchs of families, the elders of the village, and city or town executives. What is essential is to resort to what local tribes (among Maranaws) call “musawarah,” which is Arabic in origin, and “musyawarah,” which is the Malay word for consultation or dialogue.

Contending candidates engage in dialogue to find common ground for agreement to avoid a socially, financially, and politically costly election.

In the case of a barangay where one family numerically dominates, they choose by rotation from among the siblings or family leaders who will be the Punong Barangay. The other positions, like barangay councilor or kagawad, secretary, treasurer, etc., are equally divided among themselves. And there is an equitable distribution of the salaries and whatever largesse the barangay will receive from the government and local projects.

In contested barangays, the town mayor offers a hefty sum to the party running against his chosen candidate and promises a monthly allowance and other assistance. By buying off the different bets, the mayor gets the full support of the barangay, with the Punong Barangay acting as his political operator when the mayoral elections come around.

Experience tells us that the mayor, supported by most Punong Barangays, gets to perpetuate his dynastic family in power.

This is also one way of settling “rido” or family feuds that are a side issue during elections. Through back channeling and having a common candidate and slate, families that for years were involved in “rido” are open to reconciliation.

A Rappler report said about “149 barangays in Maguindanao del Sur’s 24 towns have unopposed bets for barangay chair.” And local leaders are still negotiating to have more unopposed candidates in more barangays. According to local leaders, this scheme is resorted to not necessarily for partisan considerations but for peace because election rivalries are the common cause of “rido.”

This is happening also in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur and many other BARMM barangays. Through the efforts of provincial governors and city and town mayors, several barangays have candidates running unchallenged in October.

Democrats might find this an assault on the freedom of the people to choose their leaders. They will claim that politicians manipulate the people to surrender their fundamental rights as citizens to perpetuate themselves in power and protect their dynasties.

But what good is democracy if we have conflict and instability in the villages and one cannot sleep at night for fear of violence? In weighing which interest is preponderant — peace or freedom — pacifists will go for the former.

This column supports the work of local leaders in BARMM to have familiar candidates for the coming elections so that lives will not be unnecessarily sacrificed on the altar of politics.

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