SENATORS from the opposition Liberal Party said Wednesday the planned cancellation of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections and then allowing President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint village officers in charge could be a step closer to a nationwide declaration of 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 Drilon.
“Postponing the barangay and SK elections for the nth time will deprive the public [of] their constitutional right to choose their leaders at the barangay level.”
Drilon made his statement even as veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal urged the Commission on Elections to continue its preparations for the October 2017 barangay and SK elections, saying no law had yet been passed resetting the exercise.
Besides, he said, the Constitution tags village officials as elected officers and not appointed ones.
“I think proceeding with the election is the best test for our President to determine if the people truly understand what must be done in the government’s campaign against illegal drugs,” Macalintal said.
He was referring to Duterte’s oft-repeated justification for appointing village officials to weed out those involved in illegal drugs in their areas.
Earlier, Duterte expressed his intention to appoint officers in charge in lieu of a holdover status because of the alleged involvement of some barangay officials in the illegal drug trade.
The Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms recently approved a measure that will postpone the barangay and SK elections and allow Duterte to appoint officers-in-charge for the barangay on an interim basis.
However, this provision does not sit well with Senator Francis Pangilinan, the president of the Liberal Party.
“This goes along the same thread of what took place in the House last night, where the CHR [Commission on Human Rights] 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,” Pangilinan said.
“All these to erase our 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.”
In her letter to the Senate committee on electoral reforms, Senator Leila de Lima said she agreed with the position of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform and National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections that “a free election affords us the possibility of replacing barangay officials, perceived to be narco-politicians, through democratic means.”