The local hero who championed barangay governance reform as the key to solving the Philippines socio-economic woes, passed away on August 8, 2021 at the ripe old age of 82.
Manuel “Manny” E. Valdehuesa, Jr. caught the nation’s imagination on May 2, 2010 in ABS-CBN/ANC “Harapan”, with Ted Failon: (2:46 of 3:56) when the host was interviewing the candidates of the Katipiran Party.
Known as “Mr. Barangay”, Manny explained how the people were getting “kurakuted” in their very own neighborhoods, particularly in Metro Manila, which has a high concentration of highly-capitalized barangays. This term which has become embedded in the nation’s lexicon also landed him in the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Valdehuesa said barangays are actually corporate entities that receive funding from public coffers. In Metro Manila alone, there are dozens of barangays that by law, receive public funds ranging the tens of millions. For example, Payatas and San Lorenzo receive upwards of P30 million annually. “Huge amounts for small communities, by any measure,” he noted.
Manuel “Manny” E. Valdehuesa, Jr., was a native of Cagayan de Oro City in Northern Mindanao, Philippines. He completed his bachelor’s degree in sociology and English at Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan, was a fellow in development planning and leadership in Israel, and studied political science and an MBA at Ateneo de Manila University. He was also a professional scholar at Columbia University School of International Affairs in New York, and earned graduate certificates in economics at the Henry George School of Social Science.
Manny was a social justice advocate and political activist, serving many roles in public service, including director for Asia and the Pacific at UNESCO (1983 – 1985), director at the Development Academy of the Philippines (1975 – 1987), manager at the Philippine Center New York (1989 – 1998), and member of the Philippines Permanent Mission to the UN (1987 – 1992).
For those who knew him professionally, many can attest to his kindness, infectious energy, and passion for his beliefs. For those who knew him personally, his warmth, bright smile, and challenge to think independently, were most memorable. As one friend put it, “when you were around him, he had a way of making you feel connected to something bigger.”
Active in the Philippine reform movement since the 1960s, he was secretary-general of the Christian Social Movement until its dispersal in martial law under the Marcos Dictatorship. The movement resurfaced after the first EDSA Revolution as the National Union of Christian Democrats (NUCD) – the party which merged with Lakas Tao Party to enable Fidel V. Ramos to run for the presidency.
He was a political campaign organizer in the heyday of the late Vice President Emmanuel “Maning” N. Pelaez and Senators Raul Manglapus and Manuel Manahan. Through it all, he was also a book publisher and taught social science and history at Ateneo de Manila University.
A memorable role was serving on the peace panel for Mindanao and the Cordilleras (Feb – Sep 1987) under the Cory Aquino Administration, meeting Nur Misuari and MNLF representatives to broker peace and development in what later would become the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
While traveling widely as part of his career, Manny’s interest in politics led him to observe at close range the American presidential system as well as the European and Israeli parliamentary models.
Later years saw him in further roles after returning to his country in 1998, including as Deputy Presidential Adviser for Philippine Constitutional Reform (2004) and Vice Chairman of the Local Government Academy (2002 – 2004). He also briefly managed a farm and cattle ranch near ancestral lands in Bukidnon.
In 2004 Manny received the UNICEF-PPI Award for Most Outstanding Column on Children and published a book on the critical factors that shape our politics, “Trapo Governance and the Cha Cha Conspiracy: More Power to Those in Power, None for the People.”
Gising Barangay Movement
In 2005, founded and went on to become the president and national convenor of the Gising Barangay Movement, which advocated for empowering people at the grassroots level.
Rather than policing the country’s economy as an aggregate whole, Manny advocated that citizens (middle and upper class) should participate in their barangays’ governing processes in order to ensure transparency, accountability and responsibility and to guide their public servants in managing and implementing projects according to the community’s will which would vault the country in no time into a “Tiger Economy”.
“Empowering the country’s 42,000 barangays could be done without amending the Constitution since it is already having all the tools it needs to be harnessed as a tool for development under the Local Government Code of 1991,” he stressed.
“The barangay is a corporation that has the capacity to launch its own projects because it has land, labor and capital,” he added. Among the advocacies he was pushing is the measurement of a barangay’s productivity using a “Gross Barangay Product”.
“Many of our barangays have latent economies which could very easily be leveraged by 50 or even 100 percent,” he noted.
“Multiply that figure by the country’s 42,000 barangays and you can see the potential for explosive growth this country is capable of but which has lain dormant due to the central management of our resources,” he added.
But these “corporate entities” have been mismanaged, a situation driven largely by the apathy of professionals and other educated individuals in barangays who could easily wake up to do something about the situation.
While barangay funds are supposed to be used for operations and maintenance such as cleaning, beautification and sanitation, these can also be utilized as investment capital for local development (as opposed to a simple allowance for spending on whimsical projects).
But since otherwise skilled and educated residents are unaware, inattentive, or apathetic the money is frittered away or spent without transparency or accountability.
“Without the actual participation of barangay’s professional residents in its governing processes, no one can stop the kurakot. Their absence is what occasions the kurakot.”
Through various platforms through the GBM, he urged residents to be more attentive and involved in their community, and help in managing its funds, facilities, and equipment, including maintaining a record of assets and liabilities.
This, he urged, would start the process of empowering this basic political and economic unit of the country and turn it into a firm foundation of our democracy. Since the biggest earners are in Metro Manila, starting the reform there will cascade the initiative and the excess capital outwards to the provinces.
“To turn one’s barangay into an efficient corporate entity and government unit and a productive, self-reliant economy would start a groundswell of reform from the bottom up,” he advocated.
“If you don’t want your funds and other assets frittered away, don’t be kurakuted! Government is everybody’s – if you’re not involved, you can’t expect good governance!”
A Nation of Zombies
In 2009, he published “A Nation of Zombies: Powerless Grassroots, Clueless Elites and the Cycle of Corruption in the Philippines,” which former Senator Ramon Magsaysay, Jr. said was “a must-read for those in power, those who wish to be in political power, and those who wish to initiate a sea of change for a better society and country.”
In 2010, Manny ran as a candidate for the Philippines Senate under the Ang Kapatiran Party ticket. He was invited to join the Party precisely because of his advocacy to focus on the barangay which has the potential for double digit growth that could jump start Metro Manila’s urban barangays where the gap between the haves and have-nots is very glaring and growing, due to the traditional politics which until today dominates barangay governance.
Although he did not win, the effort fed him valuable insights reflected in his many subsequent writings.
He spent his final years in retirement in Makati, Metro Manila continuing to pen writings (found in Mindanews, Mindanao Gold Star Daily and the Philippine Daily Inquirer).
Choosing a quiet, private life, he was cared for by closest friends and family. After enduring recurring bouts of pneumonia which saw him in and out of hospitals, he succumbed to respiratory failure on 8 August 2021. He is survived by those who loved him dearly, including his wife Marita, and two sons, Ariston “Aris” and Basilio “Igon”.
The Valdehuesa Family sends heartfelt thanks for the messages of comfort coming from all corners of the globe.