7: The Political Elite and Grassroots Leaders

Article excerpt

The previous chapter examined the political machine in Naga City which centered on the incorporation of the city government and sector-based resident organizations. This chapter focuses on the political elite and grassroots-level leaders. The political elite primarily consists of the elected members of the City Council (vice mayor and city councilors), while the grassroots-level leaders are the barangay officials and officers of the sector-based organizations. Their roles, socioeconomic backgrounds, recruitment, and motivations for supporting Jesse Robredo will be examined in the following sections.1


Vice Mayor and City Councilors

The Sangguniang Panlungsod (City Council) of Naga City is composed of thirteen members, as already mentioned. Eleven of them are elected, including the vice mayor who is the ex officio presiding officer. The City Council functions as a legislative body enacting ordinances, approving resolutions, and appropriating funds. The mayor needs the support of these functions to achieve the smooth management of city government. Hence, the mayor constantly needs the support of council members in order to fulfill his programs. This means that the work of the city councilors takes place largely in the session hall of City Hall legislating the mayor's policy plans, rather than going out and working directly with residents to gain their loyalty and support. But the scope of councilor work also includes responding to resident requests for assistance since the councilors are persons with influence in the city government whom residents feel they can turn to when they encounter problems. City councilors usually refer these requests to the responsible offices of the city government.

When Robredo won in his first election in 1988, only three of his supporters won seats on the City Council (another councilor joined Robredo's group later on). For this reason, Robredo had a hard time having his budget and other ordinances passed by the City Council. Realizing the importance of having a majority on the City Council, Robredo put a great deal of effort into getting all of his candidates elected to the council in following elections. In the 1992 election, he used the slogan "Ubos kung Ubos, Gabos kung Gabos" (nothing if nothing, all if all) to appeal to voters to vote for a straight ticket of Robredo candidates. This slogan reflected the Robredo's perception that controlling the City Council was important, because control over the council meant controlling its powers to legislate the budget, ordinances, and resolutions which in turn meant controlling the way resources would be distributed.

Barangay Chiefs

Barangay officials (the barangay chiefs and barangay councilors) and officers of the sector-based organizations are the grassroots leaders who work directly at gathering support among the residents.2

The barangay officials work within their respective barangay. In Naga City these vary in size with population of most of the barangay ranging from 2,000 to 7,000 people (NSO 1995a).3 As official representatives of the residents, the barangay chiefs and barangay councilors work as go-betweens connecting the city government and the residents.

Their most important work is appealing to the city government to fix problems in their respective barangay, like keeping roads and drainage in good condition or securing drinking water. By getting action on such matters, barangay officials gain the support of residents which secures their positions as barangay officials. During election periods, they work as mediators between candidates whom they support and the residents in their areas. For instance, barangay officials accompany mayoral and city council candidates for their "house to house" campaigning. Barangay officials introduce each candidate to the residents and, at the same time, tell the candidates about conditions in the barangay. Meetings in each barangay, which are commonly called "sorties," are also planned and carried out with the assistance of barangay officials and the Lingkod Barangay Office. …