PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST
“What’s in it for the poor?” This is a question that proponents of privately initiated projects would expect to hear from 40-year-old Thomas Raymond U. Lising, the hardworking and dedicated punong barangay of San Antonio in Pasig City.
Barangay San Antonio is the richest, most progressive, and self-sufficient barangay out of the 30 barangays within the bustling, highly urbanized city east of Manila. While discussing the details of the projects, Kap. Raymond, as he is fondly called, would appear more interested in how these would benefit the poor among his community’s 10,465 households.
The first-term barangay chairman may have come from a well-off family, which has business interests in textile and real estate, but his heart beats for the poor. “May puso siya para sa mahihirap (He has a heart for the poor),” says a project advocate who has worked closely with the local chief.
This was most evident during the recent Luzon-wide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Without a playbook to follow in dealing with the challenges brought by the pandemic, the mettle of the neophyte barangay official has been put to test,” attests Vita C. Martinez, Pasig City director of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Martinez said, “Lising faced these challenges as if he were a veteran,” displaying courage, level-headed determination, resourcefulness, and innovativeness that brought about “responsive services” for his constituents.
ASSISTING COMMUNITIES DURING COVID-19
To address the unique challenges of the pandemic, Barangay San Antonio known for its emergency response capabilities during natural calamities activated its own pandemic emergency response, ensuring the sufficiency of its calamity fund. Based on Kap. Lising’s report during the virtual Barangay Assembly held on October 22, 2020, Barangay San Antonio’s relief program gave out 20,000 rice and food packs over several distribution waves.
These consisted of 16,000 three-kilo rice packs for residents, 3,000 food and rice packs for senior citizens, and 904 food and rice packs for persons with disabilities.
For healthcare essentials, the barangay dispensed 2,000 gallons of alcohol, 3,000 face masks, 1,500 face shields, and 86,400 capsules of Vitamin C. The barangay assisted residents who tested positive for COVID-19 through aid and vitamins and intensified the testing of its frontline employees and citizens.
The DILG recognized Kap. Lising’s “remarkable initiatives” to mitigate the threat of COVID-19, which included having barangay rolling stores move around the community thrice a week to bring food and basic commodities to residents during the lockdown.
The barangay also partnered with major food service establishments to provide a wide variety of food choices. They also set up a fresh mobile market at the barangay hall. Kap. Lising closed some streets to pedestrian and vehicular traffic to discourage unnecessary movements (these are still closed as of present time), while disinfection continues in both public and private areas. “We are the only barangay to subsidize the disinfection of places, including the free disinfection of offices upon request,” says Kap. Lising.
All these are actually on top of the programmed social services that the barangay provides to its constituents under the three principles that the barangay adheres to in delivering good governance. Kap. Lising laid out these three as inclusivity, compassion, and digital innovation. “Gusto naming maiangat ang antas ng paglilingkod sa aming barangay (We would like to raise the level of service of our barangay) through these three key principles,” he says.
“Without a playbook to follow in dealing with the challenges brought by the pandemic, the mettle of the neophyte barangay official has been put to test.” Vita C. Martinez, Pasig City director of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)
“I don’t think our pandemic response would have been as effective if not for the relations we have built over the last two years.”
BAYANIHAN, PARTICIPATION, AND PROMOTING ADVOCACIES
Unlike most barangays in the city, Brgy. San Antonio cannot be considered a small residential village, according to Kap. Lising.
He says the barangay is home to a diverse population, especially with the sprawling presence of a robust commercial business district, the approximately 100-hectare Ortigas Center, within its perimeters. Consider these: The barangay now has 25,000 individual residents who come from different income classes, including those in poor communities, while thousands of employees work during the day for its 11,000 registered businesses.
It is not surprising then that the barangay has also become the richest in Pasig over the years. In the same Barangay Assembly, Kap. Lising reported that the barangay has so far collected real property tax income of almost P70 million and clearance fees amounting to a little over P16 million.
From its realized income of close to P97 million at the moment, the barangay posts a bank balance of close to P25 million, a large enough sum to sustain its programs for the rest of the year.
Reaching out to its constituents though has become one of the biggest challenges of the barangay with its ballooning population. However, with “very effective relation-building” and by promoting accessibility and enhancing connectivity, Kap. Lising believes that the barangay is now able to reach a majority of its constituents. “Nararamdaman na po ang ating barangay dahil sa mga activities o initiatives para mas mapalapit kami sa aming mga constituents. (The barangay’s presence is now being felt by our constituents through activities and initiatives that allow them to become closer to us),” he says. While Kap. Lising has served for only two years as a barangay captain (he was elected in 2018), he had served as their councilor for three consecutive terms.
He is, thus, drawing from a decade of experience as a former councilor, who was first elected at the young age of 27. Even during his neophyte years, he was already a leader worth watching as he garnered the highest number of votes in the 2007 elections.
Going back to the barangay’s current initiatives, he says, “I don’t think our pandemic response would have been as effective if not for the relations we have built over the last two years.” What makes managing the barangay more challenging these days, however, says Kap. Lising, is that they do not only cover the residential areas, but also the 130 buildings located in Ortigas Center. “After reaching out to the building managers, who have their own associations, I found out that they also need assistance from the barangay,” he says. Kap. Lising is also keen on pursuing relation-building with the barangay’s business communities, leaders, and associations. “It really requires a lot of patience to build relations so we can promote inclusivity also,” he says. The spirit of bayanihan or “tulungtulong o sama-sama (working together),” has eased his burdens. “Dahil buhay na buhay ang bayanihan spirit, dumami ang ating mga collaborations at donors na tumutulong sa ating komunidad, especially during the pandemic (With the burning bayanihan spirit, we have been able to establish more collaborations and donors to help the community, especially during the pandemic),” Kap says. He attributes this to the “good relations with our private entities,” which helped them reach out to their constituents more effectively. “We have received overwhelming support for the barangay through donations and projects, some of which were initiated by our residents themselves,” he says, adding that there is a prevailing “sense of ownership among residents” when they propose their own advocacies and are able to participate. “Because of this, our relationship becomes more harmonious.” Among the projects initiated by residents include urban gardening, mushroom culturing, and last October, the “Basura to Ayuda (Waste to Aid),” a waste management program wherein the barangay gives three kilos of rice for every 500 grams of plastic waste (bottles, containers, sando bags, etc.).
The 250 kilos of plastic waste received (which was traded for 700 kilos of rice) would be recycled into trophies and school supplies, among other uses. Kap. Lising plans to continue promoting and encouraging collaborations not just with non-government organizations (Junior Chamber International or JCI, rotary clubs, etc.), but also with the business sector, the academe, and residents who have advocacies. “This will lead to more programs,” he says.
COMPASSION FOR THE POOR, DISADVANTAGED SECTORS
Beyond its effective pandemic response, the barangay’s stable financial standing has also allowed it to conduct social services and programs that assist the poor, students, the elderly, and other disadvantaged sectors.
This is part of the barangay’s efforts to extend malasakit (compassion) for its constituents. In education, the barangays college scholarship program now benefits 87 scholars, which grew from a mere 17 in the previous administration. Each scholar receives a monthly stipend of P1,500.
This is on top of the barangay’s shouldering the first P25,000 of their tuition fees per semester. The barangay has also distributed school supplies to all students, from nursery up to college, while it purchased six laptops and set them up in the barangay library for the use of students with no connectivity. “We also give extra attention to our senior citizens,” says Kap. Raymond.
This translates to a yearly birthday gift of a small cake, an oatmeal pack, biscuits, and a midyear cash gift of P1,000 (now on its second year) for the barangay’s 770 senior citizens. Last August, the barangay gave each of its 16 centenarians (or those who are already 90 years old and above) a one-time cash gift of P5,000.
The barangay also gives out a monthly allowance of P1,000 to 12 indigent senior citizens picked by their senior citizens association. Proudly, this year, the barangay has extended 185 financial assistance, 127 medical assistance, and 85 burial and funeral assistance to its needy constituents. Brgy. San Antonio has also become known for its programs under its “Service with a SMILE” banner, though Kap. Lising admits he does not recall how that phrase, which has become their trademark, came about. “I remember one resident saying kahit na ang dami mong problema, nakangiti ka pa rin, so dun na lang sya nag-spin (I remember one resident saying that even if I have many problems in the barangay, I can still smile, so that is how it spun),” he says. But the SMILE also refers to the various barangay projects and initiatives. These include Security, sining at turismo; Medical Services, mag-anak, kabataan, at kababaihan; Infrastructure; Livelihood; and Education, environment, and emergency response.
DIGITAL INNOVATIONS FOR A ‘SMART BARANGAY’
Digitalization is one of the priorities of Brgy. San Antonio as this is part of the Kap’s plans to turn his community into a “smart barangay.” He plans to harness digital tools to further reach out to his constituents and to “make the services of the barangay more efficient and effective.”
These include cashless transactions in its business dealings, starting with the cashless disbursement of allowances for its college scholars and later on, for the barangay fees and payments. In January 2020, the barangay launched its database solution software for business establishments.
It plans to have a similar solution for its residents so it can have a database powered by Artificial Intelligence. “Now we can monitor the business establishments and keep track of their payment history.” The barangay has also provided free connectivity to the poorest areas within the community, while the barangay hall is already a WiFi hotspot. “If only we did not have a pandemic, more areas could have been hotspots already,” he says. The barangay is also improving its social media platforms, making them “more proactive and enjoyable.” Soon, the barangay will also have its own website. “We are one of the few barangays with a Weekly Kapitan’s Report and COVID-19 updates
so the community knows what is happening,” he says. The DILG also commended the barangay for using information technology to maintain peace and order and enforce pandemic restrictions. “The barangay’s 24-hour command center was upgraded with the help of Project Greengrass,” says Martinez. “Under the said initiative, artificial intelligence-powered CCTVs were installed around the barangay to efficiently monitor the movement of people and vehicles, thus enhancing the enforcement of curfew and physical distancing.” This smart CCTV system, with its artificial intelligence and now fiberoptic connection, allows clearer and more efficient visuals. The barangay will also launch its ID system and support cashless transactions on the road through partnerships with Autosweep and Easytrip for RFID stickers.
HEALTH AND SAFETY REMAIN PRIMARY CONCERNS
Today, Brgy. San Antonio still considers health and safety a priority, strictly observing the protocols during its three-day work week, particularly the department of the barangay that releases business and personal clearances and conducts other transactions. However, the captain’s office, the health center, and the command center are all open Monday to Friday.
“I’m usually at my office by 10am every day, but before I go here, I roam around the barangay to check its present situation,” he says. With the barangay elections postponed to December 5, 2022, Kap. Lising’s term, like the other barangay officials, will stretch close to five years.
By that time, he would have served Brgy. San Antonio for 15 years and 2 months. “Sa aking paglilingkod, lagi kong tinatanim sa isip ko ang pagiging mapagpakumbaba, mapagpasensya, at maging magandang halimbawa. (In my service, I always bear in mind to remain humble, patient, and to set a good example),” he says. “Kung lagi kong magagawa ito, mas mabibigyang-halaga ang aking leadership. (If I can do these, people will appreciate more my leadership.)” And when it comes to his constituents who fear an uncertain future with COVID-19 still affecting thousands, he says, “Magpakatatag lang tayo (Let us remain firm).
This is a time na palakasin din natin ang ating pananampalataya (to strengthen our faith). Eventually makakaraos din tayo (we will get over this). We are very transparent and we are trying to be the most accountable barangay. We aim to show all that we are working and doing our best to deliver service with a smile.”