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Put off barangay, SK polls again? Early decision needed

After President Duterte’s election on May 9, 2016, many officials called for the postponement of the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections scheduled by law for October 31, 2016. With two nationwide elections held so close to each other, they said, there was danger of “voter fatigue.”

There was also the matter of election expenses. The presidential election had just been held, with all the campaign expenses of so many national and local candidates on top of the government’s administrative costs. It was pointed out that postponing the barangay and SK elections would save the government some P3.4 billion.

Congress took its time making a decision. Meanwhile, the Comelec had to continue its preparations, arranging for voting sites and training personnel, while candidates kept up their campaigns. It was only on October 15, 2016 – just two weeks before the scheduled poll date of October 31 – that President Duterte was able to sign the bill that deferred the election one year to October 23, 2017.

It seems we have not learned our lesson from that experience. We are again debating a proposal to postpone the elections – a House bill is for October, 2018, while a Senate bill favors May, 2020.

As in the past, officials are debating the merits of postponement. Administration officials say elections would favor re-electionist barangay officials, many of whom, they claim, are supported by drug lords. They have proposed appointment of new barangay officials but other officials have questioned the constitutionality of any such appointment.

The SK elections for youth leaders are another matter. Sen. Paolo “Bam” Aquino IV said there have been too many SK poll postponements already, causing many youth leaders to get discouraged. Many young people are taking to the streets to air their grievances and their stand on matters of national importance, he said. With the Sangguniang Kabataan, they would be able to go beyond the streets and work on programs to improve their communities.

Whatever stand prevails and for whatever reasons, we must not repeat our experience last year when postponement was only decided at virtually the last moment. The earlier Congress decides and President Duterte agrees by signing a bill, the better it will be for all concerned.

It will save the Comelec considerable sums that it now needs to spend for preparations. It will help candidates for barangay and kabataan positions decide on where to concentrate their efforts. And it will help the citizens to carry out their part as voters in the whole election process.