We have been hearing President Rodrigo Duterte raising the alarm bells anew over alleged narco-politicians linked to the illegal drug trade down to the barangay level. President Duterte fears this pervasive problem will remain unabated if the elections of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) will be held as scheduled this coming October 23. So again, the President suggested another postponement of the barangay and SK elections.
“Narco-politics might win,” President Duterte warned anew yesterday in his extemporaneous remarks before the People’s Day celebration held at Barangay Batong Dalig in Socorro, Oriental Mindoro.
President Duterte has repeatedly raised these concerns over narco-politics in many of his speeches when he first pressed for the postponement of the barangay and SK elections last year. Acting on the presidential certification of the urgency of this proposed measure, pro-administration leaders of both chambers of the 17th Congress immediately passed into law the resetting of the barangay and SK elections scheduled to be held on Oct. 31 last year to Oct. 23 this year.
It was the first legislative output of the 17th Congress and the first bill signed into law by President Duterte as Republic Act (RA) 10923 on Oct. 18, just a few months after he assumed office at Malacanang last year. Under RA 10923, all incumbent barangay and SK officials remained in office on holdover capacity until the new set of officials are elected in this year’s rescheduled barangay and SK elections.
According to President Duterte, at least 40 percent of the barangay officials nationwide were among those included in his folder of “narco list” he always brandishes at every opportunity he gets to talk about it. The “narco list” also consists of governors, mayors, policemen, and even several congressmen allegedly involved in illegal drugs trade but many of them remain un-named by the President.
It was Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Miguel Sueno who earlier bared about the desire of President Duterte to just appoint officers-in-charge (OICs) instead of incumbent barangay and SK officials to remain in holdover capacity if elections are postponed again.
This was subsequently confirmed by Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella who cited the Administrative Code of the Philippines as the mandate that authorizes the Chief Executive to fill vacant positions in government, including appointment of OICs in barangay and SK. Once there is a new law to postpone again the barangay and SK elections, Abella pointed out, it results to all barangay positions vacant.
Curiously, how can postponement of barangay and SK elections help prevent “narco-politics” to turn for the worse? This I posed the question to Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Commission on Elections (Comelec) official spokesman, Director James Jimenez who were our guests in yesterday’s weekly breakfast forum at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Cafe Adriatico in Malate.
As to narco-politics, Jimenez informed us the Comelec got shot down no less by the Supreme Court (SC) in November ] 2008 ruling when the poll body was challenged in its plans to impose a drug-testing requirement for all candidates in elections. Jimenez recalled the SC decision stated there in nothing in our country’s 1987 Constitution that requires prior drug-testing for candidates who wish to run for public office in elections.
Jimenez though reiterated Comelec stand to abide by the timetable the leaders of the Executive and the Legislative branches of government agree on and whatever is approved into law. For now, Jimenez cited, the Comelec is proceeding with its preparations for the holding of barangay and SK elections until otherwise a new law is approved to postpone them. He echoed the wish of the poll body for the lawmakers to finalize decision by at least July this year so as not to waste precious government funds in Comelec’s preparatory activities before the Oct.23 polls.
The Comelec is also continuing with the registration of new voters. According to Jimenez, Filipinos who are at least 18 years old and above can register at satellite offices of Comelec all over the country. As of date, he cited, there are 54 million registered voters and this is estimated to increase by one million more.
Speaking as president of the Liberal Party (LP), Sen.Kiko pooh-poohed the justifications of President Duterte to postpone anew the barangay and SK elections due to the alleged drug addiction problem purportedly afflicting 40% of the barangay officials. He pointed there is simply no way to determine “narco-politicians,” or officials supported and elected into office using money from illegal drug trafficking.
The LP Senator pointed out the community people living in the barangay would be the best judge if their barangay officials are into narco-politics or not. Certainly, he stressed, these barangay and SK officials involved in illegal drugs would not be voted into office by their respective constituents who know them very well since they live in one community together.
What is more dangerous, Sen.Kiko warned, is the proposed appointment of OICs if the barangay and SK polls are postponed. Such act, he maintains, will directly deprive the Filipino people their right of suffrage and cripple democracy of voting for their own barangay and SK officials in elections. Thus, he echoed the stand of the minority bloc at the Senate against another postponement.
Formerly allied with the “super majority” at the Senate, the five LP Senators supported President Duterte when he sought the postponement of barangay and SK elections last year under a certified urgent administration bill that they in the 17th Congress approved into law last year.
The last barangay and SK elections were held in 2013.
Every three years, Filipino voters elect at least eight barangays and eight SK officials, including their respective chairpersons in over 42,036 barangays nationwide.
This would mean half a million barangay and SK officials who have to be appointed as OICs if the elections are postponed anew this year.
Nine months into office, President Duterte earlier admitted he has yet to fill a few hundred vacancies in various government offices. Thus, methinks, President Duterte is not really serious about appointing OICs at barangay level. Perhaps, it’s one of his usual smart-alecky jokes to discombobulate not only narco-pols, but also our tra-pos, or the traditional politicians.