ELECTIONS for barangay (village) officials will likely be moved to May 2019 and synchronized with the midterm polls as well as the planned plebiscite on constitutional changes, a ranking House member bared on Sunday.
Rep. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list, chairman of the House electoral reforms committee, made the projection following fresh calls from President Rodrigo Duterte and Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno to postpone the barangay polls for a second time.
But unlike last year’s move in which the barangay polls were postponed and incumbents were allowed to served for another year in a holdover capacity, President Duterte wants to scrap the barangay polls in October and appoint barangay officials instead.
“If the October [barangay]polls will be postponed, it could be done simultaneously with the midterm elections [in May 2019]. Federalism [through charter change]is set to be discussed [when we return in May], so it is possible that the vote on Cha-cha would be done with that of the barangay polls,” Tugna said in a radio interview.
A shift to a federal form of government will mean the country will be divided into 11 independent states under a federal government, with each state having the authority to craft laws and manage resources.
“If that will be the case, the results will be reflective of the genuine sentiment of the people because voters show up for barangay polls,” Tugna added.
He disagreed with the President’s plan to postpone the barangay polls and simply appoint village officials.
“Fair and square elections will bring in competition and bring in the best. We should let the voters decide on who they want to lead,” Tugna, a lawyer, said.
Duterte has said that 40 percent of at least 300,000 barangay officials across the country are involved in the illegal drug trade, but has yet to present data backing up this claim.
Under the Local Government Code of 1991, barangay chairmen and councilors are elected every three years—meaning Congress would need to amend the Local Government Code, on top of passing the law postponing the barangay polls, if they want to grant the President’s wishes.
“The preference is free and open elections, unless those who will propose otherwise will be able to present enough data that drug money proceeds indeed influence the results of the barangay elections,” Tugna said.
“Before we pass a law, we should have enough basis that it is for the good of the citizens. After all, this is a far-reaching bill. There has to be a sufficient basis to be able to deviate from what is normal, what is the usual and what the law states,” Tugna added.
Senators hold emergency meet
As this developed, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd called for an emergency meeting of the majority bloc to discuss Duterte’s plan to postpone the barangay polls.
“There are other issues that will be tackled but the main topic is the barangay elections,” Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd said in an interview over radio station dwIZ.
Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito confirmed the emergency meeting.
Sotto said two options were being studied on how to select new barangay officials who are not linked to illegal drugs.
Doing away with the election and allowing the President to appoint barangay officials will require the passage of a new law, Sotto said. Another option is to proceed with the election but people will select only a new barangay chairman.
“It would be easy for the government to monitor them since there would only be 42,000 barangay chairmen to watch over,” said Sotto, who was with the President in a visit to Myanmar last week.
The Senate majority leader said Duterte discussed the barangay polls during the trip, but did not insist on his plans on how to go about the elections. Duterte, Sotto said, only told him to study all available options on the matter.
Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., on Sunday cautioned the government against taking shortcuts to weed out barangay officials who are involved in illegal drugs, as it could set a bad precedent.
Pimentel, considered as the “father of the Local Government Code,” was referring to the plan of Duterte to do away with the barangay polls and just appoint new barangay officials.
He pointed out that the country has laws dealing with erring public officials.
“If a barangay official committed a violation he or she should be charged and jailed, that is what the law says,” said Pimentel, father of the incumbent Senate president.
There is no assurance that appointing barangay officials will completely eradicate the corruption and illegal drug problem, he pointed out.
If the President is allowed to replace barangay officials through appointment because of alleged corruption or involvement in illegal drugs, he might as well appoint other local government officials like mayors and governors, he said.
“What is important is that we should always follow the Constitution, and if the President wants to have a new system, it should be accompanied with a new law…it should not be, ‘I want to appoint therefore I will appoint,’” Pimentel said.
WITH JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA