MANILA – (UPDATE2, 8:57 P.M.) Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday cast the lone ‘no’ vote as the Senate passed on third and final reading the bill providing for the postponement of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections to May 2018.
Senate Bill 1584, authored by Sen. Richard Gordon and Majority Leader Tito Sotto, was approved, however, without the controversial provision that would allow the President to appoint barangay officials.
Barangay officials would be allowed to continue exercising their functions in a holdover capacity.
Gordon, sponsor of the bill, said the postponement of the barangay elections would give the police and military forces ample time to address the problem on drugs and to put an end to the Marawi siege.
In his sponsorship speech, Gordon said the illegal drug trade has become so rampant that the Bureau of Customs was not spared from being used as the port of entry of illegal drugs. He said the incidents involving the killing of minors involved in drugs are signs of the magnitude of the drug problem in the country.
Gordon said elective officials down to the barangay level are involved in illegal drugs and that 49 percent of the barangays are drug-infested – enough reason, he said, to postpone the barangay elections so the police and the military forces could clean the barangays of the drug menace.
Gordon added that he is giving the military an opportunity to assure the conduct of clean, orderly and honest barangay elections since majority of the country’s police and military forces are currently assigned in Mindanao to fight terrorist and extremist groups.
Duterte is not a king – Risa
In her earlier speech, Hontiveros expressed her opposition to the plan to grant President Rodrigo Duterte power to appoint barangay officials, and the inclusion of the names of the barangay officials in the drug list as sufficient basis for the appointment of officers in charge (OICs).
“This is putting too much power in the hands of the President. Postponing yet again and without sufficient basis the people’s democratic process of choosing our barangay leaders and substituting it with the executive power to appoint barangay officials is tantamount to making President Duterte king,” Hontiveros said.
“In such a scenario, the barangay system, which we take pride in as a form of direct democracy, becomes an enclave of an authoritarian leader, and its officials, his loyal subjects accountable only to him,” Hontiveros added.
Her lone vote came up against those of 17 others who cleared the Palace-endorsed plan to postpone. Among the 17 who voted was Hontiveros’ colleague in the minority, the Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.
Liberal Party stalwarts Kiko Pangilinan and Bam Aquino and another member of the minority, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, were not on the floor when the vote was taken. Also absent from the vote was Sen. Cynthia Villar.
Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party, had recently issued a strongly worded statement saying recent developments – including the move to postpone the barangay polls – did not augur well for democracy and could signal a drift towards authoritarianism.
The 16 others who voted, besides Drilon, in favor of postponing were: bill authors Gordon and Sotto, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Grace Poe, Panfilo Lacson, Senate President Koko Pimentel, Win Gatchalian, Juan Edgardo Angara, Nancy Binay, Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Manny Pacquiao, Joel Villanueva, Gregorio Honasan, JV Ejercito and Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto.
The House of Representatives had earlier approved the postponement to March 2018.
LP senators explain stand
The Liberal Party later explained that Drilon’s “yes” pertained to postponing the village and youth elections only if it would be held on May 2018; and if the power of the President to appoint barangay officials is removed.
As the final bill would have it, barangay officials keep their posts in a holdover capacity until May 2018.
The proposal was put on the floor by Minority Leader Drilon earlier on Tuesday, September 19, as the Senate continued its deliberations on Senate Bill 1584, or “An Act Postponing the October 2017 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act 9164, as Amended by Republic Act 10923, and for Other Purposes.”
Drilon explained that the minority bloc supported the measure “after the Senate accepted [its] proposal to delete the power of the President the power to remove, without any cause, barangay officials who would hold their positions in a holdover capacity.”
Drilon clarified that Article X, Section 4 of the Constitution only gives the President the power of general supervision and not general control over local governments.
The amendment allowed barangay officials to remain in their post in a holdover capacity until their successors should have been elected and qualified.
“There is no better way [of] controlling the barangays than converting the barangays officials as casual employees without any security of tenure, if the president is given the power to appoint OICs as provided in the original version of the bill,” Drilon said.
Senator Bam Aquino, according to the LP press release, said, “We should not allow the appointment of barangay officials. Let’s respect the Filipino people’s right to choose their leaders and ensure that the barangay and SK elections finally pushes through in May 2018.”
During the party caucus, LP president Pangilinan said: “We are concerned that giving the President the power to appoint barangay officers-in-charge will impede our democracy which calls for all citizens to duly elect their community leaders. We believe that following the Local Government Code provides for due process as mandated by our Constitution.”
Moreover, in her comments to the committee report seeking postponement of the elections, detained Sen. Leila De Lima noted that the proposed appointment of barangay officials will consume a lot of time if the proper process is followed. She said this would be counterproductive given that the next elections is only months away.
Senate Bill 1584 seeks to postpone for the second time the barangay and SK elections.
Last 18 October 2016, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act 10923 postponing the elections set October 2016 to October 2017, with the intention of bolstering the execution of the war on drugs.
The Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation and the Senate Committee on Finance jointly prepared substitute Senate Bill 1584 aiming to re-schedule the barangay elections on October 2018.
Senators Richard Gordon and Vicente “Tito” Sotto had filed Senate Bill No. 1584 calling for the postponement of barangay election to the fourth Monday of October 2018. The bill said that the armed conflict in Marawi City, the extension of the proclamation of Martial Law in Mindanao, and the prevalence of illegal drugs merited the postponement of the local polls.
The bill originally pushed for certain controversial provisions such as granting the President the power, through the Executive Secretary to appoint barangay officials; and inclusion of the names of incumbent barangay officials in the President’s drug list as sufficient cause for the appointment of barangay officers-in-charge.
Hontiveros argued that there is no need to grant the President appointing authority in case of vacancy in the barangay. She explained that the Local Government Code provides for succession in case of vacancy, and provides for grounds for suspension and removal of erring barangay officials and available mechanisms/remedies to ensure due process.
Last week, noted election lawyer Romulo Macalintal had also argued, on legal grounds, against granting the President powers to appoint replacements for the incumbents.
Senator Hontiveros, in her explanation of vote, also said that there is no need for the President to have additional disciplinary power over incumbent barangay officials included in the confirmed and validated drug list.
“If there is substantial evidence against certain barangay officials, proper charges can be filed based on Republic Act No. 9165 and the proper court can cause the suspension/removal of the said official. And if found guilty of violating the said law, the barangay officials can be permanently disqualified by the court from holding public office,” Hontiveros said.
Here’s full text of Hontiveros’ explanation of vote:
NO TO POSTPONEMENT OF BARANGAY AND SK ELECTIONS
Akbayan Sen. Risa Hontiveros
20 September 2017
I vote no to another postponement of the barangay and SK elections.
I vote no to the postponement of elections based on the flimsiest reasons, unsubstantiated by evidence, and motivated only by the President’s desire and intent to have full control over the barangays.
I vote no to holding hostage the legitimate exercise of the democratic rights of our citizens and our youth to choose their barangay and youth leaders.
I vote no to stretching too far the mandate of our incumbent barangay officials to the point of compromising their legitimacy and authority to govern.
I vote no to continuously allowing a leadership vacuum in the Sangguniang Kabataan which deprives our youth of engagement in participatory barangay governance and youth development processes.
I vote no to wasting the people’s money, where such valuable resources can be effectively used by the barangays to meet the development needs of their constituents.
I vote no because I have faith in our Armed Forces of the Philippines to put an end to the conflict in Mindanao and its capacity to contain any attempt by armed groups to disrupt the holding of a peaceful and orderly elections.
I vote no because I trust that the Commission of Election is prepared, funded and enabled to administer clean, honest and credible elections as planned.
And finally, I vote no because, unlike this administration, I have confidence that our citizens would use their right to vote to choose the leaders who will serve them best.
Thank you, Mr. President.