The Cabeza de Barangay (Spanish: head of the barangay) was the leader or chief of a barangay in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period. The post was inherited from the first datus who became cabezas de barangay when the many independent barangays became tributary vassals of the Spanish Crown. King Philip II of Spain, after whom the Philippines were named, decreed that the native nobility of the country should retain the honors and privileges they had before their conversion and subjection to the Spanish Crown. With the new form of government introduced by Spain, several existing neighboring barangays were combined to form a municipality and the Cabezas de Barangay participated in the governance of the new towns, forming part of the elite ruling class called the Principalía. From among their ranks the head of the town, the Gobernadorcillo or Capitan Municipal, was elected. Furthermore, only the members of their class could elect the Gobernadorcillo.(pp182–183)(p294)(p326)
The office of the Cabeza de Barangay was hereditary. The cabecería, i.e., headship of the barangays, was a more ancient institution of native nobilities that pre-dates the Spanish conquest and was doubtless hereditary. The increase of population during the Spanish regime consequently needed the creation of further cabecerías and election of new cabezas. The emergence of the mestizo culture (both Spanish mestizos and Chinese mestizos) had also necessitated this and even the subsequent creation of separate institutions or offices of Gobernadorcillos for the different mestizo groups and for the natives living in the same territories or cities with large population.(pp324–326) When the office of the Cabeza de Barangay fell vacant due to the lack of an heir or the resignation of the incumbent, a substitute was appointed by the superintendent if the barangay was near the capital of the province. In distant areas, the appointment was done by the respective delegate, based on the recommendation of the Gobernadorcillo and other cabezas.(pp324–326) The cabezas, their wives, and first-born sons were exempt from the payment of tribute to the Spanish Crown.(pp324–326)
With the change of government (from monarchy to democracy) when the Americans took over the rule of the Philippines, the post became elective and anyone could become the head of the barangay, which came to be called a "barrio." The former Cabezas de Barangay and the rest of the members of the Principalía and their descendants lost their traditional privileges and powers,(Principalía) but they remained as very influential elements in the political and economic life of a new democratic society.
Under the democratic rule, the head of the smallest unit of the Filipino society was no longer called "Cabeza de Barangay." Furthermore, the "Barrio Captains" (or Capitán del barrio as these local leaders were then called), though exercising the same leadership function, no longer retained the aristocratic quality that was associated with this office during the pre-conquest and the colonial periods. Nor since the American rule has the office of the Chief of the Barangay been exclusive to the families belonging to the Principalía, and is no longer hereditary.
From the presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos onwards, the term "barangay" was re-adopted, but the Spanish title "Cabeza de Barangay" is not used. Instead, the term "Barangay Captain" in English, or "Punong Barangay" in Tagalog became the official designation to this leadership role.
In a law signed on 11 June 1594, Philip II ordered that the honor and privilege to rule pertaining to this native Filipino nobles should be retained and protected. He also ordered the Spanish governors in the islands to show these native nobles good treatment, and even ordered the natives to pay respect and tribute due to these nobles as they did before the conquest without prejudice to the things that pertain to King himself or to the encomenderos.(título vii, ley xvi) Also v.(pp155–156)
The royal decree says: "It is not right that the Indian chiefs of Filipinas be in a worse condition after conversion; rather they should have such treatment that would gain their affection and keep them loyal, so that with the spiritual blessings that God has communicated to them by calling them to His true knowledge, the temporal blessings may be added, and they may live contentedly and comfortably. Therefore, we order the governors of those islands to show them good treatment and entrust them, in our name, with the government of the Indians, of whom they were formerly lords. In all else the governors shall see that the chiefs are benefited justly, and the Indians shall pay them something as a recognition, as they did during the period of their paganism, provided it be without prejudice to the tributes that are to be paid us, or prejudicial to that which pertains to their encomenderos." Felipe II.
de León Pinelo, Antonio Rodríguez & de Solórzano Pereira, Juan, eds. (1680). Recopilación de Leyes de los Reynos de las Indias (pdf) (in Spanish). Libro Sexto. " Títulos: i De los Indios. ii De la libertad de los Indios. iii De las Reducciones, y Pueblos de Indios. iv De las caxas de censos, y bienes de Comunidad, y su administracion. v De los tributos, y tassas de los Indios. vi De los Protectores de Indios. vii De los Caciques. viii De los repastimientos, encomiendas, y pensiones de Indios, y calidades de los titulos. ix De los Encomenderos de Indios. x De el buen tratamiento de los Indios. xi De la sucession de encomiendas, entretenimientos, y ayudas de costa. xii Del servicio personal. xiii Del servicio en chacras, viñas, olivares, obrajes, ingenios, perlas, tambos, requas, carreterias, casas, ganados, y bogas. xiv Del servicio en coca, y añir. xv Del servicio en minas. xvi De los Indios de Chile. xvii De los Indios de Tucuman, Paraguay, y Rio de la Plata. xviii De los Sangleyes. xix De las confirmaciones de encomiendas, pensiones, rentas, y situaciones."
BLAIR, Emma Helen & ROBERTSON, James Alexander, eds. (1904). The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898. Volume 16 of 55 (1609). Historical introduction and additional notes by Edward Gaylord BOURNE; additional translations by Alfonso de Salvio; Norman F. Hall. Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur H. Clark Company. ISBN 978-1426484568. OCLC 769945707. "Explorations by early navigators, descriptions of the islands and their peoples, their history and records of the catholic missions, as related in contemporaneous books and manuscripts, showing the political, economic, commercial and religious conditions of those islands from their earliest relations with European nations to the close of the nineteenth century."
de la COSTA SJ, Horacio (1965). Readings in Philippine history : selected historical texts presented with a commentary (in English). Manila: Bookmark Inc. ASIN B000WUOBJ4. ISBN 9715690459. OCLC 248085925. "351 p.,  leaves of plates : ill., ports. ; 26 cm."
ZAIDE, Gregorio F (1957). Philippine Political and Cultural History Vol I. Philippine Education Company. ASIN B008Q24O10.
^ BLAIR, Emma Helen & ROBERTSON, James Alexander, eds. (1904). The Philippine Islands, 1493–1898. Volume 17 of 55 (1609–1616). Historical introduction and additional notes by Edward Gaylord BOURNE; additional translations by Henry B. Lathrop. Cleveland, Ohio: Arthur H. Clark Company. ISBN 978-1426486869. OCLC 769945708. "Explorations by early navigators, descriptions of the islands and their peoples, their history and records of the catholic missions, as related in contemporaneous books and manuscripts, showing the political, economic, commercial and religious conditions of those islands from their earliest relations with European nations to the close of the nineteenth century."