Delayed Reaction to the Postponement of Barangay Elections
CLEARLY, President Duterte’s strongman style and his determination to silence the opposition and destroy the system of checks and balances in government may have primed the public to simply accept Duterte’s unilateral decision to postpone barangay elections – twice. The media reported the two earlier postponements as though these were normal delays, without reflecting the implications of these delays.
The Duterte administration postponed the village vote through legislation in Congress twice, in October 2016 and then again in October 2017 (“Duterte postpones barangay, SK polls to May 2018”).
A review of the news on the first two postponements shows little journalistic interest in and inquiry into the reasons for not holding the village polls for such an extended period, and suggests a disturbing indifference to the importance of barangay officials in the life of ordinary people. As the basic unit of government, the barangay is the most direct experience that an ordinary person can have of government authority and the conduct of public officials. Extending the terms of office for the incumbents for as long as one year and seven months deserved at least, some questions and analysis.
The postponements were all legal, following a prescribed legislative process. But the legality did not put these motions beyond the pale of constructive criticism.
The village polls were scheduled for October 31, 2016. News on October 19 reported Duterte’s signing into law the postponement to October 2017.
Veteran election lawyer and expert Romulo Macalintal questioned the constitutionality of the first electoral postponement in a statement he released. He also argued that moving the elections polls to a further date because of the recent national elections in May 2016 elections is a ‘weak excuse’. Citing the 2010 barangay elections as a precedent, Macalintal said that ‘election fatigue’ does not justify the delay in barangay elections (“Barangay polls postponement is unconstitutional – election lawyer”).
He seemed to have been a voice in the wilderness; as in October the following year, just a few weeks before the scheduled vote, Duterte had another bill passed to declare another delay.
Actually, the bill was passed earlier in March 2017 but it was signed by the president only in October. This time, the president reasoned that he pushed for postponement because of the involvement of many barangay officials in the illegal drug trade. He specified that “40% of barangay captains are into drugs,” adding that he considered appointing barangay officials to purge the barangays of narco-politicians (“Duterte mulls appointing barangay officials”).
ACT Teachers’ Partylist Representative Antonio Tinio disputed this, saying that if the barangay officials are corrupt, then they should be charged. He said that postponing elections is not the answer (“A point against poll postponement”).
In Rappler’s Thought Leaders column, election lawyer Emil Marañon criticized the delay of elections. Marañon argued that when barangay elections are regularly postponed, “democracy and republicanism are eroded, and the sovereignty of the people diminishes.” He was also disdained over the amount of COMELEC preparations that went to waste (“Demand accountability for the postponement of barangay election”).
These expressions were not joined by a chorus of opposition to the idea that a president can play around with the electoral calendar as he pleases.
Actually, the president’s supporters were contemplating a third postponement, filing two bills in February to that effect. Rep. Reynaldo Umali, one of the proponents, said, “Papaano kami makakapagtrabaho kung ang iniisip namin ay yung eleksyon, ‘di ba?” Umali was referring to the efforts in the House to amend the 1987 Constitution. Interviewed by Karen Davila on ANC’s Headstart, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also floated the idea that the mid-term elections in 2019 may also include a plebiscite for the new federal constituent (“2019 polls to proceed, may include federalism plebiscite: Speaker”).
This time, the plan sparked significant political opposition when Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on February 26 that the plan to move the elections to October or November is tied to the plan to hold a plebiscite on charter change. But Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III assured barangay officials that the elections will push through (“Palace: No stopping barangay polls”).
Malacañang confirmed that the barangay and SK elections will push through in May 2018. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque denied allegations that the administration is planning another postponement.
Missing the Big Picture
Media seem to have failed to grasp the big picture in this narrative. Reports on the postponement of 2016 elections were scarce, effectively trivializing the issue. The most frequently cited reason was “election fatigue” which would seem to question the point of term limits and even the purpose of elections.
There were other details that most media did not look into, like wasted resources. In an interview with UNTV’s Daniel Razon, Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Spokesperson James Jimenez disclosed that the agency’s original budget of PHP7-B is now down to PHP5-B due to the expenses made for the elections that did not push through (“COMELEC spokesman James Jimenez on pushing for 2018 polls”). In the 2017 delay, ABS-CBN News noted the budget allotment and the preparations that COMELEC had already made, highlighting the waste of these funds (“Duterte signs law postponing barangay, SK polls”).
Barangay elections have become more significant in terms of the authority and responsibility these local officials carry. Based on DBM’s 2017 Local Budget Memorandum, the Total Internal Revenue Allotment for barangays is 103, PHP254, 353, 176, divided among each of the 41,882 barangays based on population and equal sharing. The barangay is also entitled to financial aid provided by the LGU and may generate income through service fees, barangay clearance charge, fines for barangay ordinances, and proceeds from the sale or lease of barangay property. At the barangay level, public funds could easily be diverted from local projects that should benefit the people in communities to the pockets of corrupt officials.
Barangay officials are the constituents’ most accessible grievance desk. All basic social services are coursed through the barangay office or the same could deny these to the people. The inadequate coverage of barangay elections stands as a testament to how urban-centric mainstream media can be.
Lastly, barangay elections localize national policies. These serve as the president’s primary platform for his political agenda.