Postponing Local Polls
A NEW setback loomed over the barangay elections after Rep. Robert Ace Barbers filed a bill seeking to delay the polls scheduled this year to March 25, 2020.The elections were already postponed when President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law RA 10923, moving it from October 13, 2016 to October 23, 2017. The president said he was afraid that drug money may be used to support campaigns of some candidates.
Barbers’ HB 5359 seeks to make amendments in RA 9164, particularly:
- Date of election – Fourth Monday of May 2020.
- Term of office – Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials elected in May 2020 elections and subsequently after shall commence at noon of June 30.
- Officers-in-Charge – incumbent officials will be deemed terminated and the president shall appoint OICs.
CMFR reviewed coverage of broadsheets as well as primetime newscasts TV Patrol (ABS-CBN 2), 24 Oras (GMA-7), Aksyon (TV5) and News Night(CNN Philippines) including cables newscasts The World Tonight (ANC) and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho (GMA News TV).
Media reports captured crucial insights from sources who assailed the administration’s plans to delay the polls for barangay officials. Atty. Romulo Macalintal, Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista and Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, among others, noted that laws must be amended first in order for such plan to prosper.
Section 8. The term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of his service for the full term for which he was elected.
Section 10. Plebiscite Requirement. – No creation, division, merger, abolition, or substantial alteration of boundaries of local government units shall take effect unless approved by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite called for the purpose in the political unit or units directly affected. Said plebiscite shall be conducted by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) within one hundred twenty (120) days from the date of effectivity of the law or ordinance effecting such action, unless said law or ordinance fixes another date.
Some reports referred to existing laws and provisions which require local government posts to be filled via election (see sidebar).
Changing the Rules
The bill submitted by Barbers is not limited to postponement but also gives the president power to appoint OICs. Reports quoted Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno saying the president wanted to be able to appoint village officials. Media did not fail to include the views of those who underscored the importance of barangay elections.
In a report of The World Tonight, University of the Philippines Political Science Professor Ranjit Rye said that if the plan pushes through, it effectively gives Duterte control over political machineries, noting that barangay officials are grassroots backbone of politicians. During interviews, former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. also said that the government should not remove the right of the people to choose their leaders.
Media reporting cannot let up informing the public about continuing government efforts to expand the president’s appointing powers. Local polls must be viewed as an important part of people’s participation in their governance. The barangays as the basic unit of governance must be kept in the hands of the voters.