Senators divided over proposal to postpone barangay polls

SENATORS have expressed varied opinions on the proposed postponement of barangay elections supposedly set in October this year.

Senator Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino said it is important that the Filipino people are given the opportunity to choose their leaders.

"'Pag may postponement may holdover status and I think in our laws, it does necessitate a hold over the status of elected officials. They cannot just be removed because they are elected. There has to be proper procedure because they are elected by the people and usually appointments are not allowed," Aquino said.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III during a speech to the
Strategic Consultation and Workshop on Federalism, Barangay Reform, and Role of Barangays in National Security Concerns organized by the Liga ng mga Barangay (LNB) challenged barangay captains to clean their rank and to prove President Rodrigo Duterte that there is no truth to the report that up to 40 percent of village leaders are involved in illegal drugs.

"If the report is wrong, then maybe there is no need to discuss appointments to replace barangay officials," said Pimentel.

However, he added that the barangay chairmen would have to prove to the President and the anti-drug agencies like Philippine National Police and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency that there is no truth to the report.

"So that is I think a challenge… to each and every one of you," the Senate President said.

Pimentel said, "If the barangay is drug-infested, heavily drug-infested, our intelligence community would believe that the barangay leaders are involved in drugs… that is a reasonable conclusion."

Pimentel urged the barangay chiefs to show policymakers that they are making a sincere effort to defeat the drug menace.

The President warned that the barangay elections is being used by syndicates linked to the illegal drug trade as an avenue to protect their interest.

Based on existing law, postponing the barangay elections would need an amendment of the law for the President to be able to appoint officials.

There are around 42,000 barangays in the country.

President Duterte believes that if elections were to be held, candidates with links to drugs would win.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto earlier filed a bill postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan election to October 2018, which he said will pave the way for the investigation of those allegedly linked to the illegal drug trade.

Sotto filed Senate Bill 1469 last May 23 to postpone the said election from the fourth Monday of October this year to the fourth Monday of October next year.

Senator Francis Escudero said it is the prerogative of Congress to fix the term of office of barangay officials and to set the schedule of elections but at the same time he asked how long it will be postpone.

“So will they be on hold over status or will they be removed? And if they are removed who will make the appointment because we have to remember that these are elected officials. We have to acknowledge that they were chosen by their constituents and we cannot just go against the will of the people,” Escudero said as he maintained that he will wait for the Congress to submit their justification and clarified that he is not opposing the postponement as long as there is strong reason to support it.

Escudero also urged the Department of Interior and Local Government to file the necessary charges against these barangay officials if there is proof that they are in cahoots with drug syndicate in their respective areas.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian criticized the DILG for not taking the necessary action against these said barangay officials who were being linked to the illegal drug trade.

Gatchalian said the idea of postponing barangay elections is not acceptable as far as he is concerned citing the fact that this was the second time the present administration asked for a postponement of elections.

“Ano nangyari sa loob ng isang taun? The original premise of the first postponement was to remove the 40 percent barangay captains who are supposedly involved in illegal drugs. Our question is, ano na ang nangyari doon sa 40%. Tinangal na ba nila?” Gatchalian asked.

He demanded that the DILG give an update insisting that the department was already given sufficient time to clean the barangay ranks.

Senator Franklin Drilon, for his part, said the people must be allowed to vote for their leaders through the barangay and SK elections as he expressed opposition to the possible postponement.

Drilon said the people must be allowed the opportunity to choose their local leaders through an open and honest election. (SunStar Philippines)
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