Postpone polls barangay, SK? Not yet

A poll worker delivering ballot boxes in Quezon City in preparation for the May 9, 2022 elections. (File Photo by NIÑO JESUS ​​ORBETA/Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines – The Catholic Church’s social action arm and an election watchdog have opposed the postponement of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections scheduled for December and called on the government to use the shortfall funds as an excuse.

According to Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, National Director of Caritas Philippines, pushing back political exercise for the third time since 2016 “reflects how our national political leaders are undermining the importance of barangay-level politics in exercising our democratic rights.” .

“It is not right for the government to suppress electoral processes, especially [since] barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections are considered the most accessible and organic form of citizen engagement in public service and governance,” the Prelate of Kidapawan said in a statement.

He added that in 2020, these elections were moved to 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the same reason was cited in the postponement bills.

“Little Excuse”

Prof. Tony Labiao, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines, emphasized that the pandemic should not be used as an excuse to delay the political exercise again.

“Various government agencies have still allocated funds for the ongoing COVID-19 response. And we know that even the Ministry of Health was unable to fully spend its budget last year. So, as in any another organization, our government needs to step up its game to ensure proper planning and better execution, and not use this as a lame excuse to postpone the December elections,” he said.

Representative of House Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez had said a postponement would free up more than 8 billion pesos in funding that could be used for the government’s response to COVID-19.

A bill pending in the House proposes postponing the election to 2024.

Danilo Arao, head of poll watchdog Kontra Daya, also found the proposal to postpone the elections unacceptable, saying they were to be held every three years, starting in 2007.

“While the 2010 and 2013 polls were on schedule, the 2016 polls were postponed to 2018, the last barangay/SK elections ever held. Delaying elections further would defeat the purpose of the three-year term limit which is supposed to have been consistent since 2007 but was compromised with the postponement to 2016,” he said.

“The barangay/SK elections are scheduled to continue on December 5. If Congress needs the budget of 8 billion pesos for this activity, our legislators can ask the dictator’s son to settle [their] property tax obligation which is 25 times more than the budget for the…elections,” Arao added, referring to the 203 billion peso property tax obligations of the family of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

According to Arao, another delay would also mean that the incumbents would perpetuate themselves in power.

“Clear Bypass”

“If memory serves me correctly, the 2018 elections were held with elected officials fully aware that they will serve for a limited period to ensure regularity despite the postponement at the time. They have now served for four years. This is of a clear circumvention of the intent of the barangay/SK polls,” he said.

In December 2019, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11462 moving the May 2020 election to the first Monday in December 2022.

Earlier, he asked Congress in his State of the Nation address for a postponement to rectify the shortened terms of barangay and SK officials who were elected on May 14, 2018.

It was the third postponement under his administration. Congress moved the elections twice, from Oct. 31, 2016, to Oct. 23, 2017, and then to May 14, 2018, allowing more than 42,000 barangay officials to stay longer.

The postponement in 2016, after his victory as president, gave Duterte carte blanche to fill government vacancies, as he overturned the ban on appointing civil servants for a 45-day election period.

But the president also said at the time that he wanted to move the polls because he feared drug money was being used to fund the campaigns of some candidates.

In 2017, Congress passed the bill postponing barangay and SK elections amid repeated claims by Duterte that he did not want them to go ahead because drug trafficker-backed candidates would win. .

Under RA 11462, barangay elections after the one to be held in December this year would be held on the first Monday of December 2025 and every three years thereafter.

At a briefing last week, the Electoral Commission said elections would continue and preparations would begin next month.

—WITH AN INQUIRER RESEARCH REPORT

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