Senators to block law allowing Duterte to delay polls, appoint OICs

MANILA, Philippines – While the Speaker of the House of Representatives expressed confidence they can amend the Local Government Code to make possible the plan of President Rodrigo Duterte to postpone village polls anew and appoint barangay officials, those in the upper chamber think the opposite.

Senators from both the majority and minority blocs oppose the President's idea, saying it is “unconstitutional” and “undemocratic.”

“I am not inclined to support yet another postponement of barangay elections. There's too many postponements already, and I believe it's time we should allow the 42,036 barangays to elect their new village leaders or give those who deserve their vote of confidence to continue serving them,” Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a text message on Monday, March 27.

Senator Joel Villanueva said Congress, in 2016, already allowed the postponement of the barangay elections to October 2017. There should be a “more compelling” reason for it this time.

“The last time we substantially deliberated on the measure, it is clear to all of us that we will proceed with the elections next year (2017). So we need to have a more compelling reason why we should even consider suspending again much more by appointment,” Villanueva said in a separate message.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito, a known Duterte ally, also expressed concerns. “I have apprehensions on postponing barangay elections as to the legal basis. We just need to clarify justification [of] the said postponement,” he said via Twitter.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, wants a meeting with Duterte to clarify details of his proposal.

Pimentel said he and his colleagues are still studying the matter and whether the 1987 Constitution or the Local Government Code would have to be amended. Pimentel's father and namesake, as former senator, was the main author of the Code.

“Definitely if we want to overhaul the barangay setup, the Local Government Code will be affected, if that is what we want. What I will do to get more information, I will need to meet the President to get the details of this proposal,” Pimentel told reporters on Monday.

“And one more question that's why I need to meet with [Local Government] Secretary [Ismael] Sueno and with the President, is if that's what he really wants," Pimentel added.

'Unconstitutional, undemocratic'

Minority senators called the President’s move “unconstitutional," as it violates people's right to vote.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a known critic of Duterte, said the President's claim that many barangay officials are involved in illegal drugs has no basis.

“That is unconstitutional, and I’m going to block it. We are a republican state and local government officials are supposed to be chosen by the people,” Trillanes said.

“Moreover, Duterte’s claim that 40% of barangay officials are involved in illegal drugs has no basis and should be validated,” he added.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, called it “undemocractic.”

He said the proposal goes against the 1991 Local Government Code, authored by Senate President Pimentel’s father and Duterte’s party mate, former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

“Appointment by Malacañang defeats the purpose of decentralization as earlier expressed by the local code's principal author, former Senator Nene Pimentel. In addition, appointed barangay officials owe their positions not to the voters but to the appointing authority,” Pangilinan said.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV called on the government to respect the people's right to choose their next barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) leaders.

"Our barangay elections are a way for us to exercise our democracy. It's important that the mandate comes from the people, especially at the smallest unit of governance, so that our officials are accountable to their constituents and serve the people. Appointing barangay officials will only strengthen the patronage system in our country," Aquino said.

Duterte’s proposal, Aquino added, would just erase the reforms mandated by the SK Reform Law, which raises the age requirement for youth leaders and includes an anti-dynasty provision. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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