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Poll postponement issue up again

WE seem to have a habit of postponing important decisions until the last moment. We are doing it again in the case of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections which are supposed to be held October 23, 2017, but administration officials want them postponed.

As early as last March – five months ago – President Duterte, in a speech before a general assembly of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, said he wanted the barangay elections postponed. Many sitting barangay officials, he said, had been elected with drug money and they are likely to be reelected for the same reason.

Three congressmen immediately filed bills to postpone the elections but it was only last Monday that the House leadership got around to holding an all-party caucus on the three bills. In the Senate, there is strong opposition to the postponement move.

In the absence of any definite action, or even indication, from Congress, the Commission on Elections is unable to properly plan for the election. It finds itself in much the same position as last year. We may recall that Congress approved the postponement law and President Duterte got to sign it only two weeks before the scheduled election on October 31, 2016.

The 2016 postponement was deemed necessary because of “voter fatigue” – it was just after the presidential election – and to save some R3.4 billion in election expenses. The proposed postponement this year is for another reason – the President’s concern that drug money may decide the results. He is for appointment of barangay caretakers instead.

Postponement is opposed by many quarters. “Election is a must. In a democratic society, the people must choose their leaders,” said Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad. The National Citizens Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) favor postponement only in conflict areas in Mindanao.

Opposition Reps. Edcel Lagman and Gary Alejano particularly question the proposal to appoint acting barangay chairmen. The Constitution classifies barangay officials as “local elective officials,” they pointed out.

Our congressmen and senators have 75 days to discuss and debate the various issues involved in the proposal to postpone barangay and SK elections a second time. There is a constitutional angle involved this time, so that may call for longer and more intensive discussions. But they should now wait too long, as they did the last time.