House committee oks bill postponing barangay elections

MANILA, Philippines – A step closer to another postponement.

The House of Representatives committee on suffrage and electoral reforms on Monday, August 14, voted 19-2 to approve a bill that would postpone the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections from October 2017 to May 2018.

Of 21 members present, 19 voted in favor of the measure while 2 – ACT Teachers party list Representative Antonio Tinio and Gabriela party list Representative Arlene Brosas – voted against it.

The Monday vote follows the decision during a House all-member caucus to move the elections to May 2018.  Legislators also agreed that until a new set of leaders are elected, existing officials will be holdovers in their posts.

CIBAC party list Representative Sherwin Tugna, chairman of the committee, said he expected the bill to be taken up for second reading during plenary session by Tuesday, August 14. He also expected the bill to be approved on third and final reading before the month of August ends. Should the House pass this measure and the Senate agrees to do the same, it would be the second time under President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration for barangay (village) elections to be suspended.

Duterte has cited the alleged proliferation of drug personalities in barangay posts and the supposed threat of drug money affecting the elections as reasons for its postponement. The President claimed up to 40% of barangay officials are linked to illegal drugs, a figure that no government agency has thus far backed up with data. Still, officials of both the executive and legislature use Duterte’s assertion in pushing for the postponement of elections.

Duterte in the past said he wanted appointed officials – and not holdovers – to take over barangay posts to shield the barangay from the alleged influence of the illegal drug industry.

Tinio and another lawmaker, Akbayan party list Representative Tom Villarin, both expressed opposition to the postponement of elections. Villarin, who is not a member of the commitee, argued that the benefits of postponing the elections in the drug war was unclear. Tinio, meanwhile, said that not all sides were heard during the hearing.

Tugna downplayed this. “There was a great opportunity from the opposition. Also, even before we listened to the stakeholders here, we know that our democracy is a representative form of government. The votes of the people on the ground is represented by the members of the House. They represent the people. 19 versus 2. We see that the sentiment for the war on drugs to continue is strong,” he told reporters in a chance interview after the hearing.

Tugna, citing the sentiments of barangay officials themselves and law enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), said holding an election – which would lead to a possible changing of the guards – in the middle of Duterte’s war on drugs, could disrupt ongoing programs.

Barangay officials are generally at the front lines of drug war efforts, particularly in the grassroots level. For instance, the police rely on barangay officials for lists of alleged drug personalities in their areas.

Barangay officials are also expected to be present during anti-drug efforts including Oplan Tokhang, a literal knock-and-plead police effort to gather up and make alleged drug personalities “surrender.” –