Postponed barangay, SK polls deprive voters of right to choose officials – Namfrel

MANILA, Philippines – The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) opposed the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) from May 2020 to December 2022, saying deprived voters of their right to choose their local officials.

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday, December 4, signed into law the bill postponing the elections only 5 months before the electoral exercise was set to take place in May 2020.

Namfrel pointed out that by delaying the elections, lawmakers and the President were effectively extending the terms of elected officials without a fresh mandate from voters.

"The reason propounded for moving the election date was to give village and youth council officials more time to implement their projects. While the reason has some validity, incumbent elected officials have to submit themselves to the people's mandate through periodic elections," Namfrel Secretary General Eric Alvia said in a statement on Wednesday, December 4.

"If constituents are satisfied with their performance, they need not worry about their terms being cut and they can continue on implementing their respective programs or projects with a fresh and stronger mandate," he added.

Namfrel had earlier opposed delaying the local polls as it pointed out that local officials knew they would only serve until 2020 when they were elected in 2018. With local polls postponed, officials will now serve a term of 5 years.

Why polls were delayed: Taking their cue from the President Rodrigo Duterte in his 4th State of the Nation Address, Congress swiftly tackled bills to put off the local polls for the third time under the Duterte administration.

The major reason cited for pushing back elections included giving local officials "more time" to complete projects, saving money, and giving the Commission on Elections (Comelec) more room to prepare for the polls.

While Congress is allowed to determine the term of barangay officials, elections experts have emphasized this cannot be done "at whim or arbitrarily." 

"There has to be a reason for a postponement, a cause so compelling that it overrides the democratic principles of regularity of elections. To be compelling enough to justify the setting aside of our core democratic principles, these grounds have to be factual, real, and not merely imagined," election lawyer Emil Marañon said in a Rappler Thought Leaders piece. 

Namfrel stressed that the Omnibus Election Code enumerated certain conditions elections can be set by law or postponed. Under Section 5 of the law, these included “violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivisions.”

"None of these conditions exist," Namfrel said.

Eyeing the next elections: With the effective extension of local officials' term limits well past the May 2022 national elections, Namfrel warned doing so "could lead to the politicization of the barangays and SK, and that they could be utilized for the campaigns."

Before the May 2018 elections, barangay and SK elections had been postponed twice – first from October 2016 to October 2017, then from October 2017 to May 2018. (TIMELINE: Efforts to postpone barangay, SK elections)

Election experts earlier warned against repeatedly postponing elections and reminded lawmakers that holding elections at regular, periodic, and predictable intervals was a hallmark of democracy and among the provisions enshrined in the Constitution. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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