MANILA - Responding to President Rodrigo Duterte's call to postpone the October 2017 Barangay elections, Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers has filed a bill deferring the October 2017 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections.
Duterte earlier said he would seek the postponement of the barangay polls since he believes those who are likely to win have drug connections. He instead wants to appoint officials with the help of the church and other sectors.
Barbers filed House Bill 5359 last March 22, calling for the postponement of the 2017 Barangay and SK elections until the fourth Monday of May 2020.
“There is a need to postpone the 2017 Barangay Elections to rid barangays of officials linked to illegal drug operations. The barangay election was postponed last year for the very same reason, and obviously, we have yet to consider our communities drug-free. The drug problem begins at the grassroots level, therefore, this is where we should start cleansing," he said.
Barbers also noted that prior to the elections, incumbent officials must be "terminated" in order to give way to a set of “untainted” officers-in-charge (OICs) that Duterte himself will appoint.
"Incumbent officials stand to enjoy extended term but fail to address the drug problem that our President has been seeking to exterminate since Day 1. We have given them another year, but the question is, have they proven themselves worthy to be called 'leaders' of a country that is dying to be freed from the shackles of illegal drugs? I don't think so. That is why, I personally think that the smartest move would be to delay the elections once again and to appoint incorruptible officers-in-charge who will help us traverse the road to recovery, the road to a drug-free Philippines," he said.
The leaders elected in the proposed 2020 election will have a 3-year term office. The same bill provides that all incumbent barangay officials shall be deemed terminated upon the approval of the proposed measure.
‘BARANGAY EXECS NEED TO BE ELECTED’
Speaking to Radio DZMM last Friday, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez backed the proposal to defer the elections.
"Well, wala akong problema diyan at suportado ko ang ating Pangulo diyan dahil napaka-valid po noong reason, dahil tama yun, majority of the Barangay officials are involved in illegal drugs, nagagamit ito,” he said.
“At sa tingin ko naman, wala namang Constitutional issues diyan at amendment lang po ng local government code ang kailangan diyan.”
Edmund Abesamis, president of the Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas, however, pointed out a possible violation of the Constitution in vesting the president with the power of appointment.
Abesamis noted that the Constitution refers to barangay officials as elected officials, which means they have to be chosen in an election.
Abesamis added, the Constitution does not allow Congress to vest the president with that power.
"As far as that aspect is concerned, we have to make sure the Constitution and existing laws are not violated. Everything will have to be in consonance with the existing laws,” he said.
Abesamis, however, clarified that the group has yet to come up with a formal position on the proposal. The league will have a congress next week in Manila where the matter will be taken up.
CONTROL OF POLITICAL GRASSROOTS
UP Political Science Professor Ranjit Rye, meanwhile, said giving the president the power to appoint village executives means giving him control of the political grassroots and machineries that deliver votes in electoral exercises.
Rye pointed out barangays serve both as primary vehicles for both the delivery of services and votes for all local and national positions.
"Although alam ko maganda naman ang hangarin ng presidente tigilin yung control ng drug syndicates pwede rin kasi isipin na minamanipulate mo for 2019 ‘yung barangay structure kasi alam mo yung barangay structure iyun ang mga lider ng makinarya ng pulitika,” he said.
Rye emphasized that it would not be impossible to think that the president, in seeking control over the barangays, has the mid-term elections and the moves to amend the constitution in mind.
Both Rye and Abesamis also conceded, Duterte’s power of appointment gives the appearance that the appointee will be beholden to the appointing power.
“They become beholden. Syempre appointee iyan. Hindi naman siguro iyan ang intention ng Malacañang pero ‘di mo mapipigil ang mga tao mag-isip baka may mas magandang paraan,” Rye said.
In justifying his move to seek the appointment of barangay officials who will replace the current ones, Duterte claimed that “40 percent” of barangay officials have links to the illegal drug trade.
Abesamis asked the president to file cases against barangay officials involved in the narcotics trade.
"Iyung 40%, di ko alam ano basehan eh. I think isa sa pwedeng gawin kung merong names, kasuhan na natin,” he said.