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"I shall return no more" – the political culture of Barlig
by Liza Agoot

Behind the natural wonders of Barlig is the open secret about the town’s political culture, which origins nobody can say nor explain why it continues to prevail.

The municipality of Barlig, Mountain Province is a small town with a land area of 36,035 hectares and a measly population of 6,168 based on the 2007 survey conducted by the National Statistics Office.

It is located 35 kilometers east of the capital town of Bontoc and bounded on the north by Kalinga and Ifugao on the south. Its topography is 75 percent sloping.

Seven months of the year or from July to January is the wet season in this town considering that more than 90 percent of its land area are protected forest reservations.

In terms of population, 3,875 are in the productive years from 15 to 64 years old with a very limited number of dependent elderly. The populace has a high literacy rate pegged at 93.13 percent with 43  percent completing an elementary education while 23 percent completed a high school education. About 11.07 percent of the population entered college but were unable to finish. Also, 3.97 percent of the population completed a college degree.

Barlig is a fifth class municipality, which operates on an average annual budget of P21.26 million, in which P20 M come from the Internal Revenue Allotment.

Agriculture is the main source of income for the people who depend mostly on produ-cing palay. This, however, is not enough even for household consumption. Other crops are produced, but in small volume like banana, root crops, corn, coffee, and other vegetables. Ponkan and other citrus fruits are also gaining ground as source of livelihood for the people of Barlig.

Apart from agriculture, the town is also famous for its rattan weaving. Products are sold in a commercial scale outside the locality.

Barlig is divided into three ethnolinguistic groups, namely: Barlig tribe, Lias tribe, and the Kadaclan tribe. The Barlig tribe is found in barangays Lingoy, Latang, Macalana, Fiangtin, and Gawana or Poblacion. The Lias tribe resides in barangays Lias Silangan and Lias Kanluran while the Kadaclan tribe is found in barangays Lunas, Chupac, Kaleo, and Ogo-og.

So what is the point of this introduction about the town?

Barlig’s political arena is consi-dered a livelihood by the people in this municipality. People vie for public office to earn an income.

Baguio councilor Joel Alangsab, who heads the Barlig Family Cooperative, an association organized by the Baguio-based Barlig folks to help their town mates, said the people from the municipality states in local dialect the phrase “adi yu fukudan diay gawis” loosely translated as, “do not hold on to the job for long.”

Since the town was created in 1929, no mayor was ever allowed to assume office for more than one term. The word re-election or “come back” do not exist in Barlig politics.

Alangsab said this may be because the town folks regard politics or the political position as source of income for the family.
So after one term, a different leader is chosen by the electorate to allow other families to also benefit, while the elected leader serves the town’s constituents.

Several political aspirants attempted to break the record to become the first re-elected mayor but none of them succeeded.
“One term lang nga talaga. Saan nga mabalin nga bukbukudam iti benepisyo. Masapul nga maialis iti sabali met nga pamilya,” Alangsab said.

Voters have a criteria for an aspirant to be elected as mayor. Among these includes the works one has done to help Barlig and its people, including the assistance extended to the family whether financial, moral, or other forms of aid.

Another factor that the electorate looks into is the candidate’s family background. “He should come from a good family because the family’s image is also reflective of him,” Alangsab said.

The accomplishment of the candidate’s family also matters to the Barlig electorate, considering that this town’s folk are very clannish.

Alangsab said that to run as a mayor, one should not only be popular, but should also be a sincere person or one who wants to serve the town with honesty. Humility is also a virtue that someone running for a position in Barlig should possess.

A candidate should know how to level off with the people around him, and should not look down on others only because he acquired a formal education.

Education, Alangsab said, is not a requirement for people vying for mayorship in Barlig. Although it could be a plus factor for a candidate, it is not a must as Barlig had elected a mayor who only finished high school.

Visibility is also an added factor for an aspirant. One should not just come out during the election but should have tilled the soil and grown the seed.

Alangsab said even those residing outside Barlig could be lured to go back to the town, register as a voter, and support the candidate having all these qualifications. 

Campaign strategy, he added, also matters. He said campaigning does not only start during the campaign period imposed by the Commission on Elections, but months and years before the election. Past accomplishments of a candidate are brought in and remembered by the Barlig electorate during the election.

Alangsab said voters in the town can be very united in supporting one candidate who had done something good for the municipality, its people, for himself, and for his family.

The electorate also looks up to an accomplished person coming from the locality.

While he may not have done anything for Barlig itself, if he did well for himself and his family, and had been honest in whatever field he engaged himself into, it could be a consideration by the people.

Former mayor Aloysius Matib, who was elected as mayor in 1998, said that he worked well during his term and had major projects and programs that created a big impact to the municipality. This prompted him to try to break the record. But he lost his second mayoralty bid in the 2001 elections.

The former mayor said it was during his term that the identification of the political boundaries of the town, which was initiated by his predecessors, was pursued and completed. This project increased the land area of the municipality from 8,000 square kilometers to 24,000 square kilometers.

Matib said this increase in Barlig’s land area also raised the IRA of the municipality, which allowed more development projects to be undertaken. Beekeeping as an alternative livelihood was also started during Matib’s term.

The former mayor said he wanted to show that the track record of a person as chief executive of the municipality is something to show to the people, and allowing one to complete three terms could be more.

But like the others, tradition prevailed over whatever proof of good accomplishments he had.

Matib said that everyone is puzzled with the practice. Several candidates tried to break the one-term political culture but nobody succeeded.

No one has an answer for the puzzle or a formula to break the record or the curse that goes with the practice.

“Maybe the Gods want it that way,” he added.

While a good track record can be a proof, a bad deed committed by an elective person is also something that the electorate will never forget.

Nu adda met mapasakitam nga kailyan, isu met iti maysa nga malagip da kanyam nga mabalin nga rason tapnu di  da ka ibutus uray nu barangay kagawad laeng iti tarayam malpas nu nga ag-mayor,” he said.

Election in Barlig, Matib added, is very different from how polls are done in other parts of the country or even in the Cordillera.

Butchering of pig or serving of liquor to the electorate during rallies is not mandatory. “Nu kape laeng iti ada, awan problema na daydiay. Saan nga masapul nga adu nga kwarta iti magastos nu agtaray nga mayor ti Barlig,” he said.

While money is not a consideration when running, one has to serve and please the public well, as what a public servant should do for his constituents.

But he advised those who would be seating in office to continue to move Barlig forward and upward.

The one-term-only practice does not only hold true for the mayoralty post.

Whether it is a curse or something that is really embedded in the culture and practices of the town, it was learned that others who were re-elected in other positions suffered from bad experience.

No one knows if this is associated with the practice but the fact remains that those who sought re-election in an elective post have something to tell about their experience.

It was also known that elders’ influences have nothing to do with the practice. Both Barlig natives claim that while the elders are recognized and looked up to, the young generation and the voters in Barlig are not persuaded by the elders’ request to support a particular candidate.

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