On postponing the Barangay elections
‘Narco politics’ cannot be invoked to replace the people’s right to vote

April 3, 2017

Any legislation allowing the President to appoint all barangay heads upon the second postponement of elections this October violates the citizens’ sovereign right to vote. Such an exercise of a mega power should never be part of any administration as it smacks of authoritarian rule reminiscent of Marcos monolithic regime during martial law. “Narco politics” cannot be invoked to replace the people’s right to vote.

Thus said the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG) on March 31, 2017 as it opposed the filing of HB 5359 postponing the October 2017 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elctions by Rep. Robert Ace Barbers. Seeking to prevent “narco politics” from influencing the election outcome, the bill authorizes President Duterte to pick all barangay heads whose term will last until May 2020.

Prof. Bobby M. Tuazon, CenPEG’s director for policy studies, said that if the Duterte administration claims to have a solid case on 40% of barangay heads – or 1,684 barangay captains out of a total 42,036 – reportedly being involved in the illegal drugs industry then they should be investigated and hauled to court immediately so that voters will know. “Let such litigation begin but barangay elections should be held in October,” Tuazon said.

Once HB 5359 becomes a law – assuming that both Houses will pass it – the President is faced with looking for replacements not just for all 42,036 barangay chairmen but a total of 336,288 officials if councilmen are included for a 3-year term.

“It’s a foregone conclusion that powerful politicians in all levels – some of them with alleged links to the drug industry - will lobby for their own appointees. Ultimately, appointed officials owe a debt of gratitude to the President and will be at the beck and call of many politicians,” Tuazon said. “Presidential appointment will remove the supposed independence as well as direct accountability of barangay officials to their constituents. This will make the barangay institution more fragile and corrupt leaving it no less susceptible to narco politics than what it is today.”

Aside from perpetuating patronage politics, such authorization will set a precedent, i.e., it can be used to promote ulterior motives by any president in the future, Tuazon said.

Based on how some recent presidential appointees turned out to have questionable reputation – and the fact that hundreds of executive positions remain vacant until now – appointing all barangay officials will be a humongous work for one president let alone in enabling him with the utmost knowledge and competence in appointing the right people, Tuazon added.

“To say the least, it will create political chaos,” he said.

Barangay elections should be held this October since it can be used as one platform to wage a strong anti-narco politics movement in the barangay, he said.

Narco politics is a real menace in the barangay. But President Duterte should be well-advised that it is not the only and main scourge that demonizes barangay democracy. His administration should pay more attention to instituting reforms at the grassroots by, first, increasing the capacity of the barangay as a development-oriented instrument and, second, ensuring people’s participation in LGU efforts to address endemic problems such as poverty and unemployment.

Instead of a fixation for quick, band-aid solutions, Tuazon said, the Duterte administration should be more concerned with strategic solutions that will, in the long run, minimize if not completely eliminate the drug menace, Tuazon said.

The CenPEG director also urged the President to push through the peace talks with the Left as the best possible route toward addressing the more fundamental problems of poverty and dependency on foreign-driven solutions. The peace process serves as the best solution in curbing social decadence and marginalization.

Established in 2004, CenPEG is an independent policy think tank that conducts research, analysis, publication, and advocacy on governance, electoral reform, foreign and security policy, among other issues. Its roster of Fellows include leading academic scholars from various universities as well as NGOs and other institutions. CenPEG news

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