Barangay elections or appointments?

Barangay and kabataan elections were scheduled to be held on October 31, 2016, but with the national elections having been held only a few months earlier, the consensus among the nation’s top officials was for postponement – for “election fatigue” and for “fiscal prudence.” The law postponing the elections was rushed through Congress and it was signed by President Duterte less than two weeks before the scheduled barangay election day. The elections were moved to October 31, 2017.

There is again a move to cancel the barangay elections on October 31 for quite a different reason – President Duterte says 40 percent of the officials in the country’s 42,028 barangays are either corrupt or involved in drugs and they will just use the elections, with the aid of drug money, to keep themselves in power. He wants to appoint the barangay officials instead of holding elections.

It is thus no longer just a simple matter of postponing the elections as in 2016. It took a simple law to do that. A much more complicated process is needed to amend the Local Government Code of 1991, RA 7160, which provides that elections be held for barangay chairman and councilors.

Is the involvement of barangay officials in corruption and in drugs sufficient reason to stop their election and just have them appointed by the President? What about the involvement of so many mayors and councilors? Would not the same reason apply in a move to cancel local government elections?

If indeed so many barangay officials are involved in drugs, according to Rep. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle against Corruption, his “first preference” is for their replacement by elections, not by presidential appointment. “It is only in free and open elections,” he said, “where the best and the brightest are revealed through fair and square elections.”

In the coming months, Congress will be a battle ground on this issue. On one side will be those who hold on to the idealism of free and clean elections, who are wary of having them simply appointed by a president. On the other side will be those who believe this election system has been corrupted, in particular by drug money.

Wider discussion in and outside Congress should lead to a consensus that will guide our congressmen and senators on this matter of cancelling elections for barangay chairmen and councilors and just having the President appoint them.

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