Cabeza de Barangay

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The Cabeza de Barangay or Teniente del Barrio was the leader of a barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period. Within the pueblos (towns), the cabeza supervised small groups of 50 to 100 people. He represented the survival of the clan organization and was responsible for collecting the tributes of his group.


Cabeza de Barangay means "head of the barangay" or "head of the neighborhood" in Spanish. The position was inherited from the early datus (or leader) who became cabezas de barangay after their conversion to Christianity. Due to their conversion, King Philip II of Spain issued a decree allowing the native nobility of the country to retain some of the honors and privileges they had before their subjection to the Spanish Crown.

Duties and Responsibilities

The cabeza de Barangay received no salary but was exempted from paying taxes and he could also appoint one to two trustworthy servants. Among his main duties were collecting taxes and maintaining peace and order.

Appointment and Road to Higher Office

The cabezas de barangay were appointed by the governor of the province on recommendation of the delegates or “principalia” and municipal tribunal, but practically elected by the municipal tribunal.

Originally, the office of Cabeza de Barangay was hereditary, but later on it became generally elective where people voted for their preferred leader. Under the proposed Maura Law, the provincial governor was to appoint the Cabeza de Barangay from a list of candidates submitted to him by the municipal council and the town board of electors. A candidate must be a Filipino or Chinese mestizo, at least 25 years of age, resident of the pueblo for two years, and with good reputation. The cabeza could be reelected for an indefinite number of times, receive half of the taxes collected from his village, and had authority to appoint one or two persons to help him with his duties. The Maura Law was never implemented, but it laid the foundation for American municipal administration in the Philippines. The Spaniards utilized local institutions at the early stage of their administration.

From “Barangay” to “Barrio”

When the Americans took over the rule of the Philippines, barangays came to be called a "barrio." The former Cabezas de Barangay and the rest of the prominent members of the society such as the principalía and their descendants lost their traditional privileges and powers, but still remained as influential elements of the new democratic society.

"Barrio captains" exercised the same duties and responsibilities as that of Cabezas but they no longer retained the aristocratic quality that was associated with this office during the colonial period.


Bourne, Edward Gaylord. Discovery, Conquest, and Early History of the Philippine Islands. 1907. The Arthur H. Clark Company, Cleveland, Ohio.

Report of the Philippine Commission to the President of the United States, Vol 1. 1900. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Zamora, Mario. Political History, Autonomy, and Change: The Case of the Barrio Charter.



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