LP senators: bgay polls cancellation prelude to nationwide ML; Macalintal urges Comelec to continue preps

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The Commission on Elections main office in Intramuros, Manila. FILE IMAGE BY INTERAKSYON

MANILA – Liberal Party senators said Wednesday the planned cancellation of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections, and subsequently allowing President Duterte to appoint barangay officers in charge could be a step away from nationwide martial law.

“We are against the postponement of the barangay and SK elections and even more, we are opposed to the proposal to appoint barangay officials,” said Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon.

“Postponing the barangay and SK elections for the nth time will deprive the public [of] their constitutional right to choose their leaders in the barangay level,” added Drilon.

In an ambush interview with House reporters also on Wednesday, meanwhile, veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal urged the Commission on Elections to continue preparations for the October 2017 barangay and SK polls, noting that no law had yet been passed resetting the exercise. Besides, he stressed, the Constitution tags village officials as elective officers, niot appointive ones.

“I think proceeding with the election is the best test for our President to determine kung talagang ang taumbayan ay nalalaman nila kung ano ang dapat gawin dun sa mga illegal drugs campaign ng ating pamahalaan [if the people truly understand what must be done in the illegal drugs campaign of our government],” Macalintal said. He was referring to President Duterte’s oft-repeated justification for appointing village officials: he needed to weed out the ones who either do not stop illegal drugs in their areas, or are part of the trade.

Earlier, Duterte expressed his intention to appoint officers in charge in lieu of a holdover status because of alleged involvement of some barangay officials in illegal drugs.

The Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms recently approved a measure that will postpone barangay and SK elections and allow President Duterte to appoint officers-in-charge for the barangay on interim basis.

However, this provision did not sit well with Sen. Francis Pangilinan, also the Liberal Party president, who said: “Hindi pwedeng tingnan ang cancellation ng barangay at SK elections nang hiwalay sa iba pang nangyayari sa bayan. Kaugnay ito sa nangyari kagabi sa Kamara, na binigyan lang ng P1,000 ang Commission on Human Rights, sa pag-extend ng martial law sa Mindanao, sa pagkalat ng fake news, sa paglibing ng isang diktador sa Libingan ng mga Bayani, at higit sa lahat, sa mga hindi sinusulusyunan na patayan. Lahat yan ay pag-atake sa ating mga karapatan.”

[This is along the same thread of what took place in the House last night where the CHR was given a budget of P1,000; the extension of martial law in Mindanao, the spread of fake news, the dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani and most of all, the unsolved killings. All are assaults on our rights].

“Lahat yan para burahin ang mga ipinanalo na nating karapatan: na mabuhay nang may dignidad, sa katotohanan, na pumili ng mga pinuno, na maipagtanggol laban sa mga abusado. Ano ang tawag sa mga planong ito? Diktadurya [All to erase hard-won rights: to live with dignity, for truth, to elect one’s leaders, to have redress against abuse. What does one call all these plans? Dictatorship] ,” said Pangilinan.

In case the barangay and SK elections are postponed anew, Pangilinan said the hold-over status of current officials must be respected because they were selected by the people.

In her letter to the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms, Sen. Leila De Lima said she agrees with the position of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) and National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) that “a free election affords us the possibility of replacing barangay officials, perceived to be narcopoliticians, through democratic means.”

The senator said she is against postponing the barangay elections to October 2018, instead of the first postponement to May 2018, because October 2018 is also day of the filing of certificates of candidacy for the May 2019 senatorial and local elections.

De Lima cited five reasons for opposing the provision granting the President the power to dismiss and appoint replacements for barangay officials in the so-called drug list:

1. A mechanism to charge barangay officials involved in the illegal drug trade already exists.
2. Granting disciplinary power to the President in this bill is a legislative rider not allowed by the Constitution.
3. The cause for removal in the bill violates the right to due process of elected public officials.
4. Unregulated power to remove barangay officials and appoint officers-in-charge will result in an administrative nightmare at best and corruption at worst.
5. Many barangay officials do not have the means to challenge orders of removal from the Office of the President.

For Sen. Bam Aquino, the SK polls must push through this October, saying the implementation of Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act is overdue.

“We stand firmly against appointing barangay officials and concentrating power in Malacanang. If there is fear of barangay officials involved in the drug trade, step up investigations, expose these criminals, and bring them to justice,” said Sen. Aquino.

“We must not surrender our right to elect our leaders and destroy the building blocks of our democracy,” added Aquino, co-author and co-sponsor of the SK Reform Act.

Macalintal: Comelec must keep preparing for Oct. 2017

Meanwhile, Macalintal said Wednesday the Comelec must continue preparing for the barangay and SK elections as originally set by law: October 2017, notwithstanding noises in Congress about rushing a new law to postpone this to 2018.

“Para sa akin, dapat talagang ipagpatuloy ang baranggay elections at saka ako’y naniniwala na ang ating Kongreso ay walang kapangyarihan para ipagpaliban yan. Bagamat nagkaroon na ng mga pagkakataong ipagpaliban ang mga baranggay elections, ako’y naniniwala na wala yan sa kapangyarihan ng ating mga mambabatas. Maaari silang magtakda kung kailan ang halalan, pero sa sandaling maitakda yan, yan ay hindi na puwedeng mabago sapagkat ang mga barangay officials natin ay hinahalal for 3 years,” added Macalintal.

That contract of 3 years being the case, he said “holdover positions [of] incumbent baranggay officials [are, to me, violations of the Constitution].”

A “holdover position in effect, is an appointed position. [Such is] by legislative appointment. [That means], the moment you have a holdover capacity, you are being appointed legislatively. [It’s Congress that appointed them].”

Under the Constitution, he stressed, “our baranggay officials should only be elected, not appointed. Kaya ako’y naniniwala na dapat sana ay ipagpatuloy na ang halalang yan.”

Macalintal called on Duterte to allow the elections to proceed as scheduled, saying such would be a good barometer of the impact of the campaign against illegal drugs.

If village officials perceived as coddlers of drug traders lose the elections, that signals support for the “campaign against illegal drugs by the President,” he added.

However, if those seen as drug coddlers still win, then that gives the government an indication of what more needs to be done, the lawyer said.