The administration should refrain from invoking the alleged persistence of narco-politics to justify moves to suspend the upcoming barangay elections as it would bar people from exercising their rights to vote, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) said on Sunday.
CenPEG registered its opposition to House Bill (HB) 5359 filed by Rep. Robert Ace Barbers which seeks to postpone, for the second time, the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled in October.
The bill also authorizes the President to pick all barangay heads whose term will last until May 2020.
CenPEG noted in a statement that any legislation allowing the President to appoint barangay heads after the postponement of elections violates the citizens’ sovereign right to vote.
“Such an exercise of a mega power should never be part of any administration as it smacks of authoritarian rule reminiscent of Marcos monolithic regime during martial law. “Narco politics” cannot be invoked to replace the people’s right to vote,” it said.
Professor Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG’s director for policy studies, insisted that if the government claims to have a solid case on 40 percent of barangay heads reportedly being involved in the illegal drugs trade, it should instead immediately place them under investigation and file charges against them.
Tuazon added that while narco-politics is a real menace in barangays, it is not the only and main scourge that many barangays face.
The Duterte administration, he added, should pay more attention to instituting reforms at the grassroots by, first, increasing the capacity of the barangay as a development-oriented instrument and, second, ensuring people’s participation in local government unit efforts to address endemic problems such as poverty and unemployment.
“Instead of a fixation for quick, band-aid solutions, the Duterte administration should be more concerned with strategic solutions that will, in the long run, minimize if not completely eliminate the drug menace,” Tuazon said.
HB 5359 if enacted will allow the President to pick replacements not just for all 42,036 barangay chairmen but a total of 336,288 officials if councilmen are included for a three-year term.
But Tuazon noted that it is a foregone conclusion that powerful politicians in all levels – some of them with alleged links to the drug industry – will lobby for their own appointees.
He also explained that presidential appointments would remove the supposed independence as well as direct accountability of barangay officials to their constituents.
“This will make the barangay institution more fragile and corrupt leaving it no less susceptible to narco-politics than what it is today,” Tuazon said.