Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Appointment with the Barangay Captain

Many, many years ago, when I was still in grade school, we had a subject called Social Studies, included in the curriculum ostensibly to teach all of us to be fine upstanding citizens of the community. This being the era of Marcos' New Society, Social Studies was also the classroom mouthpiece of the government, and thus it extolled the new local government mechanisms that were being put into play. The most basic element, of course, was the barangay, which we were told was the traditional form of government in the pre-Hispanic Malay societies.

Needless to say, I lapped all this up to get a good grade. Then, as with many things, I forgot all about it.

My reintroduction to the concept of the barangay came last week when we had a small problem with squatters on one of our lots. These folks decided our lot was a good place to sell their clay pots and so they appropriated it. Over several visits we got mixed receptions: if we sent our employees, they would go snarling saying that they owned the land (with the deed conveniently being in Zamboanga or Davao); if my parents went, they would be meek as lambs, profuse with reassurances that they would move their merchandise. The end result, though, was that they were still there.

My aunt finally recommended that we take this to the barangay captain. What a novel idea? Why didn't I think of that?

Having worked most of my life in the corporate setting, the idea of settling the issue at the barangay level was really quite alien to me. Yes, I was supposed to know it -- in theory -- but I left all that knowledge in grade school. In the corporate world, it was about contracts and lawyers mostly.

This morning the respondents and I met at the barangay hall to iron out the matter. For insurance, I brought my uncle with me. It was a great comfort, too, that the barangay captain was my uncle-in-law (though thankfully I did not have to resort to special favors).

We were early, so my uncle and uncle-in-law chit-chatted about sundry matters of no great import. Then the respondents came.

I'm glad I brought my uncle because I tend to get uptight in situations like this. Poor interpersonal skills in potentially confrontational situations. My uncle handled it all like a pro, getting straight to the point yet defusing it with a bit of humor.

What was interesting was the defense: "There are several other folks also using the lot. We know they're not paying. So how come we're being singled out."

"No, no," my uncle said, "you're not being singled out. It's just that we happened to call you first. Their turn will come."

My uncle was right: these folk tend to be pilosopo -- sophists, so to speak -- so it was essential to cut it then and there rather than to go on an extended discussion. I don't think I would have fared as well.

So in the end they agreed to move their merchandise out of the lot. The barangay secretary duly noted it in a logbook, scribbling the minutes of the meeting. The respondents and I signed our agreement in the logbook. And that, for the moment, was that.

Good lesson in the workings of the Real World.

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