A number of lawmakers are against the government’s plan to postpone anew the October barangay (village) polls for another year and just appoint officials, arguing that this would deprive the public of their right to choose their leaders, and could be a step toward a dictatorship.
Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo of Marikina as well as Representatives Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list, Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol party-list, Tom Villarin of Akbayan party-list, Teodoro Baguilat of Ifugao, Edcel Lagman of Albay and Gary Alejano of Magdalo party-list made the stand after Secretary Ismael Sueño of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) said the October barangay polls should be postponed for the second consecutive year to rid barangays of officials linked to illegal drug operations, the same reason the 2016 polls were postponed.
“While I am not opposed to postponement, I am strongly against appointing them. It would deprive people of their sovereign right to choose their leaders, and appointees can only be accountable to the authority responsible for their position. They need to be elected because their (barangay officials’) authority emanates from the people,” Quimbo said in a text message.
“If we are concerned about barangay captains who are involved in drugs getting re-elected, the DILG must exercise its administrative authority by investigating them summarily and removing them, as well as disqualifying them from running again,” Quimbo, a lawyer, added.
Batocabe, also a lawyer, backed Quimbo’s stance that barangay officials involved in the illegal drug trade should be charged instead of letting the President appoint at least eight barangay officials in each of the 43,000 barangays across the country.
“Although the intention of the President is laudable, we have to study the legal implications of removing and appointing barangay officials because they are supposed to be elected. Otherwise, we will be confronted with barangay officials who have no mandate but selected only by a few, if not by one, usually a political kingpin allied with the administration,” Batocabe said.
Tugna, chairman of the House suffrage and electoral reforms panel, said postponing elections should have compelling reasons.
“The best course is free elections, unless the proponent can show compelling reasons why postponement and appointment would be good for our country,” Tugna, also a lawyer, said.
Opposition lawmaker Villarin, for his part, recalled that then president Ferdinand Marcos used the barangay assemblies to ratify the 1973 Constitution that provided the legal mantle to his dictatorial rule.
Activists claim Marcos’ Martial Law regime left at least 70,000 victims of torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
“There is a sinister plot behind Duterte’s argument about the proliferation of drugs in barangays abetted by its officials. Imagine the possibility of appointing at least eight officials in each of the 43,000 barangays all over the country. That’s 344,000 people at the beck and call of the President,” Villarin said.
Alejano, who filed an impeachment complaint against Duterte over at least 7,000 drug-related killings, is not buying Duterte’s justifications.
“If indeed barangay officials are involved in the illegal drug trade, then cases should have been long filed against them. That way, the accused can defend themselves, while the names of those who are corruption-free will not be unnecessarily tainted before the pubic,” Alejano, a former Marine captain, said in a text message.
For Lagman, existing laws providing that all barangay elected officials should serve until their successors are duly elected and qualified, unless they have been dismissed for cause, should be followed.
Alvarez backs plan
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte, however, gave a nod to the proposal.
“I don’t have a problem with that. I support the President because the reason is very valid. He’s right, majority of barangay officials are involved in illegal drugs. Besides, you don’t need to amend the Constitution with that. You only need to amend the Local Government Code,” Alvarez said in a television interview.
“We’ll discuss it after the break,” Alvarez added.
Congress will resume on May 7 after a Lenten recess.
On Friday, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd said he would discuss the proposal with his fellow senators.
Pimentel said the law should be amended first, as barangay posts are elective posts.
The Senate president however said there was no proposal in Congress seeking another suspension of the barangay elections.
Duterte last year signed the law postponing the barangay and Sanguniang Kabataan elections to October 2017 from October 31, 2016, making it the first bill of the 17th Congress was enacted into law.
“If we will have to postpone, then this will now be the second year of extension of the incumbent barangay officials. I think it’s better to deem their terms as expired. The law abhors a vacuum,” Pimentel said.
Asked if he was willing to grant Duterte appointive powers to choose barangay officials, Pimentel pointed out that appointive power is by default placed in the President. But the law needs to be changed to allow this, he said.
On the concern that barangay officials are being funded by drug lords or backed by politicians, Pimentel “It is a legitimate election issue.”
“Who are the friends of the barangay captain? Who are the supporters of the barangay captain?” he asked.
LLANESCA T. PANTI AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA