Why a population cap per barangay is insane

Assuming that House Bill (HB) No. 6686 authored by Surigao del Norte Representative Ace Barbers will be approved into law and limits the population to 15,000 per barangay, what will happen to the newly born child who happens to be the 15,001th? Will the baby be kicked out of the barangay to establish a new one?

House Bill (HB) No. 6686 seeks to amend Section 386 of Republic Act 7160 otherwise known as the Local Government Code by limiting the population of barangays in all urban areas of the country to 15,000 inhabitants. Those that exceeds the cap will be reapportioned to create additional barangays to achieve fast and efficient delivery of essential services and orderly governance.

According to Section 386, a barangay may be created out of a contiguous territory which has a population of at least two thousand (2,000) inhabitant or at least five thousand (5,000) inhabitants for highly urbanized areas like the cities of Metro Manila. But given the complaints of some mayors that they found difficult to respond immediately under Covid-19 pandemic because of the number of inhabitants in their barangays, Barbers is proposing that a population cap be imposed rather than provide a minimum. If this logic is to be followed, the 15,001th newborn will automaticall be “barangay-less” unless otherwise he or she creates a new barangay.

The main reason why the Local Government Code and the Philippine Constitution (as in the case of Congressional Districts) sets a “ceiling” in the number of inhabitants rather than a “flooring” is because of the recognition that population grows while space does not. In the planet where we belong, space is finite. Even if the seas are reclaimed, the new lands developed will not always overtake population growth. In simple terms, the proposal is, bluntly speaking, insane.

But we laud Congressman Barbers for his heart to help the mayors and his desire for the population to get an appropriate and timely government services. When these mayors run for the post, however, they already knew the number of population they are going to deal with should they win. Hence, the concern is not in order.

What is more pressing is the objective of the bill to deliver appropriate and timely government services. However, a population cap is not an answer and will never be an answer. Instead, the good Congressman may have to look into five thematic areas in amending the Local Government Code. Four of these are presented in the book, Issues and Critical Actions in Local Governance. These thematic areas are as follows:

  • Revisiting fiscal arrangements between the national and local governments, and among local government units (LGUs). One reason why the distribution of the Social Amelioration Program financial assistance fund was delayed, for example, is the lack of decision-making power on the part of the sub-provincial LGUS (that is, the barangays, cities and municipalities) to identify and propose the number of beneficiaries. As earlier discussed, a number of LGUs won’t distribute the SAP not because they wanted to have the whole pie but because they will just make their other constituents cry. Similarly, in food pack distribution, some barangay officials are facing resource-related concerns in addition to fear of legal baggages in procurement.
  • Modification of structures and systems including power and functions redistribution, and creation of new offices at the LGUs that will directly address context-related issues.
  • Clarifying and firming up national and local relations including the prohibition of parachuting by the provincial and national governments to the city, municipal and barangay governments.
  • Strengthening civil society participation including the strengthening of the roles of civil society organizations as partners and at the same time watchdogs of the local government units.
  • Trusting the LGUs more in the management of their constituencies but at the same time strengthening accountability mechanisms. Why are some barangay officials divide the SAP among their constituents? Because some of them know that there are constituents who also deserve to become beneficiaries only that the quota system imposed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development is at play.

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