THE barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections will again be postponed.
The conduct of elections affords qualified voters the chance to choose new leaders. It is an opportunity to change leaders or grant a fresh mandate to incumbent officers. Postponing the elections prevents qualified voters from exercising the right of suffrage, a constitutionally guaranteed right. Barangay and SK elections should be held with certainty and regularity. Voters expect nothing less.
But with the fickle-mindedness of government, there have been a number of laws passed postponing and fixing the date of the barangay and SK elections; synchronizing, de-synchronizing, and synchronizing anew said electoral exercises; and (re)fixing the terms and term limits of barangay officials and SK leaders.
In 2013 the barangay and SK elections were de-synchronized and only the barangay elections were held.
In 2016, citing that drug money might be used to influence the barangay elections, President Rodrigo Duterte appealed to his allies in Congress to postpone the barangay and SK elections. Republic Act10923 which prescribed that the barangay polls scheduled for October 31, 2016 be postponed to the fourth Monday of October 2017was passed into law. The same law provided that subsequent barangay and SK elections shall be synchronized starting the second Monday of May 2020 and every three years thereafter.
Yet, in the months following the postponement of the 2016 barangay and SK elections, the administration did not present a program on how it intends address the problem of drugs among barangay officials.
In the absence of a law postponing the barangay and SK elections, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) started to prepare for the exercise scheduled on October 30, 2017.
In the second quarter of 2017, bills proposing to postpone the coming barangay and SK elections were filed: six at the House of Representatives and two at the Senate. Four of the six bills filed at the House and the two bills at the Senate clearly cite the drug menace plaguing the country as a reason to postpone the elections. While not explicitly stating the drug problem as a reason to postpone, one House bill referred to the programs of the administration which, as citizens know, include the war on drugs. Avoiding any reference to the drug war, one House bill seeks to postpone the elections and synchronize the exercises with the regular elections citing avoidance of unnecessary expense.
The committee on suffrage and electoral reforms at the House held a hearing last August 14, 2017 and tackled the matter of postponing the barangay and SK elections. Legislators, proponents and those opposed, interpellated resource persons from the Comelec, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), representatives from the Regional League of Barangays, and electoral reform/monitoring organizations. The representative of the National League of Barangays, responding to a question by legislators, asserted that they welcome the postponement. They would be expected to agree since their term of office will be extended, albeit on a holdover capacity. The issue of appointing barangay heads has already been set aside because, as some legislators put it, the Constitution clearly provides that such barangay officials are elected.
The PNP representative reported that about 49.65 percent of barangay captains and officials are into illegal drugs, either as trader or user. The PDEA representative reported that 266 kagawad and 87 barangay captains have been charged.
In what appeared to be the appointed time and as the start of the plenary session approached (otherwise, the legislators at the committee hearing would be barred from entering the plenary session hall if they were late), a motion to postpone the barangay and SK elections was raised and seconded. Not all resource persons were heard and some legislators were only able to raise their objections in the cacophony of voices. Without the bills being consolidated and sans a thorough study by a technical working group, the legislators present voted 19 to 2 for the postponement. Some legislators who aired their concern and opposition left the committee hearing without participating in the vote.
It is worth noting that the legislators at the House had earlier met in caucus and agreed that the barangay and SK elections shall be synchronized with the plebiscite for Charter change and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
The proposed bills filed in both houses of Congress vary as to when the barangay and SK elections shall be held: fourth or last Monday of May 2018, fourth Monday of 2020, second Monday of 2019, fourth Monday of 2018. One bill leaves it to Congress to set the date. The incumbent officials will be on holdover during the interim period, however long it may be. And those officials who are into drugs will stay on for the same period, unless removed from office for cause.
It is not right to use the drug problem as a reason to postpone the barangay and SK elections. The drug problem involving barangay officials is a law enforcement matter which can be dealt with pursuant to existing laws. If the President and the concerned government agencies have identified parties who will try to influence the elections with drug money as well as the barangay officials involved in drugs and have strong evidence, then the option is to run after the narco funders, suspend erring barangay officials, conduct a full-blown investigation, and, if evidence warrants, file charges. Shouldn’t the administration take this route instead of postponing the electoral exercise?