Cayetano seeks barangay, SK polls postponement

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Alan Peter Cayetano has filed a measure seeking a postponement of the upcoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections.

Senate Bill 1037, filed on Wednesday, August 17, calls for the resetting of the village and youth council polls to the last Monday of October 2018, from the originally scheduled October 31, 2016.

If passed, the terms of barangay and SK officials would also be extended to 5 years, from the current 3 years.

In a statement, Cayetano said that the polls postponement "would be more prudent in sustaining government efforts to create real change and restore order in the country."

The senator argued this would allow the government to "sustain the momentum" of the barangays' programs aligned with the anti-drug campaign of President Rodrigo Duterte, and to "enable the barangay officials to fully support" the war on crime and drugs.

Rushing through the polls, he argued, "could undermine the government’s crackdown on illegal drugs, especially if barangay officials will claim political motivations whenever accused of illicit drug-related activities."

The election bans that are set to be enforced would also "hamper" the reforms under the Duterte administration, Cayetano said.

He then warned barangay officials that if they will not cooperate in the anti-drug efforts or are proven to be protectors of drug suspects, "they will have to face consequences under the law." 

Strengthen barangays

Cayetano likewise reasoned that the resetting of the polls would "give Congress sufficient time to study reforms that will strengthen governance in the 42,036 barangays around the country."

Citing how the 2013 SK poll postponements led to the legislation and enactment of reforms in the youth council, Cayetano hopes that rescheduling the barangay polls "to take a closer look at how the Local Government Code can be amended" would strengthen the "frontliners" in the delivery of basic government services.

"Barangays are given so much responsibility, yet they perennially suffer from lack of funds, authority and personnel training, among others. The need to strengthen the barangay as an instrument of genuine and meaningful reform is therefore glaring," said Cayetano in his bill.

The postponement, he continued, would also save the government "billions of pesos that can instead be used for social services."

He even proposed holding the barangay and SK polls "simultaneously with a possible plebiscite in preparation for the government's shift to federalism in 2018 or 2019."

Lastly, Cayetano said this would give the Commission on Elections (Comelec) some "breathing room" after the recently-concluded May 2016 national and local polls.

"The conduct of the elections is too soon for the Comelec and the Filipino electorate to prepare for," he added.

Senator Leila de Lima had filed a similar measure, Senate Bill 371. For his part, Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny" Angara said that he will study the proposals.

"Nanggaling tayo sa napaka-divisive o bitterly-fought [2016] election so siguro maganda, magtrabaho muna tayo, magpakita muna tayo ng resulta sa trabaho," said Angara in a chance interview with reporters on Wednesday. (We just came from a very divisive, bitterly-fought 2016 election, so it may be good that we work and produce results first.)

"But we will see. We’d like to hear all sides."

In the Senate, Angara chairs the committee on local government, while De Lima heads the committee on electoral reforms and people's participation. – Michael Bueza/Rappler.com