The name Celerino Balasoto Jr. may appear in Google search when someone looks for anything about Barangay Anos in Los Baños, Laguna. But its 11,401 residents (as of this writing) prefer to call their barangay captain Kap. Budjong.
Teens playing basketball in the covered court call him by this name. Children run to him and put their bowed forehead on his extended hand to ask for his blessing. Senior citizens tearfully embrace him. The 50-year-old public servant calls his constituents by their first names.
The barangay captain, a bachelor, may not have children of his own. But the number of his godchildren more than make up for it. “People ask me to stand as baptismal and wedding sponsor every year,” he says. “I already have grandchildren from some of my married godchildren.”
The barangay official is in his element when talking about his job. He can go on and on describing his projects the way a proud father would discuss his children’s achievements.
He looks up from the pile of documents he’s signing, and points to a row of CCTV screens showing busy streets where jeepneys come and go. Then, he recalls how the barangay acquired these video surveillance systems.
He remembers submitting a work program in 2015 to the municipal engineering office. It included a request to purchase CCTV cameras for P800,000. A year passed, but there was no word from the municipal office. So he took matters into his own hands.
Kap. Budjong got the documents and asked his barangay treasurer to purchase CCTV cameras worth P50,000 and below. Time was running out. Barangay residents and visitors were experiencing road accidents, which could have been captured by the CCTV cameras. Kap. Budjong can send his trained tanod and staff to the scene ASAP and rush them to the nearest health center or hospital, give first aid, and help in other ways.
Kap. Budjong worked around the shoestring budget by purchasing six CCTV cameras one at a time. Instead of getting the “merienda funds,” he requested for another CCTV camera for the street where the elementary school stood, along with its interior premises as well.
“There have been no reports of kidnapping since,” he states.
Thanks to the CCTVs, a drug addict was arrested, and deadly road accidents were minimized.
Safety is big deal for Kap. Budjong, who instructed his barangay tanods to drive residents home in tricycles, especially at night. Many of the passengers are women; some are men who had one drink too many.
“Anyone who refuses to obey must answer to me. The aggrieved party can get the tanod’s name and report it to me,” Kap. Budjong says.
To deal with fire emergencies, Kap. Budjong turned down an offer to have a fire truck and chose more practical tricycle rescue patrol vehicles with fire extinguishers as these can easily enter and navigate the barangay’s alleys and narrow streets. They even cost less and are easier to maintain than trucks. “A fireman asked me if the men who rushed to a fire scene are my barangay tanods. He said that the tanods know how to use fire extinguishers,” Kap. Budjong says with pride. That’s because 20 barangay tanods underwent fire safety training from members of the Philippine Army itself.
They’re scheduled to take a refresher course as well.
Barangay Anos also has a standby Disaster Rescue Vehicle equipped with life vests, helmets, a ladder, fire extinguishers, rope, and power saw for emergencies.
Knowing who to call in an emergency, and how to readily reach them, can save many lives. So Kap. Budjong thought of printing important numbers, like those of the barangay hall, fire department, police, health center, water district, and Meralco on bright green and orange stickers.
“Public service is my passion. I get my inspiration from my late dad, who, as an appointed municipal councilor, spent all his salary to help people,” says Kap. Budjong.
He knows emergency situations create panic and confusion. Every minute counts. These colorful stickers, when displayed on visible places, like the table or the telephone, or when kept in a purse or tote bag, can save lives.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
Emergency or no emergency, however, Kap. Budjong wants his constituents to go home to a place they can call their own. He commissioned an academician from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) to come up with a research paper for a housing project where informal settlers living along the lake can be relocated to.
“We’re shooting two birds with one stone,” states Kap. Budjong. “We don’t have to evacuate those living in the danger zone each time a typhoon strikes. And we don’t have to check the lake’s premises for debris that’s washed ashore when a typhoon comes along.”
Kap. Budjong was able to negotiate a lower price for the land on which the housing project will stand. And he plans to write the provincial governor to request for funds to buy the land, with Barangay Anos residents as priority beneficiaries.
He also wants each housing unit to have a small space in-between them. Residents can plant small shrubs and bushes in the strip of land “so the area won’t look like a place for squatters.”
Kap. Budjong posts these and other projects on his personal Facebook page, where his 5,000 friends worldwide can see what keeps him busy. Thanks to these posts, he received four boxes of stuffed toys and books, courtesy of a former Los Baños resident now based in the US. The donor’s return address: the USbased Inspirational Alignment Foundation.
Another generous donor, this time from Paris, sent three boxes of ballpens, also for the barangay children. The generous donor even paid for the freight cost.
The Facebook posts came at the right time—during his second term, when Kap. Budjong’s foes were attacking him.
Political enemies are a given. But Kap. Budjong is unfazed. He doesn’t have a bodyguard even if he roams the barangay all the time. Neither does he carry a firearm, even if he is allowed to. I just want to serve the people. (I hope I won’t need to use it).”
CONCERN FOR CHILDREN’S WELFARE
For children in public schools, serving means starting a deworming program where everyone’s weight is checked, and a feeding project which provides nutritious rice for as long as six months.
Kap. Budjong knows a one-shot feeding program won’t sustain a child’s nutritional needs. Project managers can’t monitor what the children eat, and its effect on their health.
“That’s not a feeding program. Pantawidgutom ang tawag doon (You call that quelling hunger pangs).”
He admits he’s no superman. Kap. Budjong banks on people power to get things going. He sets regular dialogues with the presidents of the homeowners’ association in the barangay’s nine subdivisions. They discuss ways of helping one another find solutions to problems.
More privileged children in day care centers, on the other hand, can better focus on their lessons, now that they have an airconditioned classroom. Kap. Budjong was able to get a donation of two air-conditioning units from TRACE College nearby Batong Malake. Enrollment rose from 80 to 142.
Kap. Budjong also donated a computer to organize teachers’ files and make it easier for them to retrieve documents. The health center and barangay hall have also been computerized.
The school children’s grandparents, on the other hand, join bingo events with raffle prizes. They get free monthly anti-pneumonia and anti-flu shots at the barangay covered court, where they line up early to avoid the rush.
Kap. Budjong helped Persons With Disability (PWDs) become self-sufficient by launching a bingo event to raise funds for their medicines. They learned to be selfreliant by selling bingo cards themselves. They also made dishwashing liquid and raised mushrooms after listening to resource speakers Kap. Budjong tapped from among his constituents and UPLB.
And since he admits he’s no superman, Kap. Budjong banks on people power to get things going. He sets regular dialogues with the presidents of the homeowners’ association in the barangay’s nine subdivisions. They discuss ways of helping one another find solutions to problems. As a result, the homeowners clean their own front yard themselves. Presidents of homeowners’ groups can call their barangay captain directly if they have a problem.Informal settlers also learned how to keep their area clean via a seminar on proper waste disposal, courtesy of UPLB Credit and Development Cooperative.
Since communication is crucial to his work, Kap. Budjong met with school principals, department heads of private and public nongovernment offices, teachers, and even the mayor to ask for their support in his information, education, and communication campaigns.
DOES HE EVER GET TIRED?
“I’ll resign the minute I do,” he replies. “Public service is my passion. I get my inspiration from my late dad, who, as an appointed municipal councilor, spent all his salary to help people.”
Now that he’s on his last term, Kap. Budjong wants to take his career a notch higher by running for Los Baños mayor. “I’m not Superman because Superman has extra-terrestrial powers. You can compare me to Batman, whose talents come from within,” he says.
These talents might just propel him to the mayoralty come 2019. — MARIDOL RANOA-BISMARK