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Monday, March 4, 2024

Barangay polls

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Should the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled for December this year be postponed to next year?

Last month, the House of Representatives committee on suffrage and electoral reforms approved a motion postponing the polls originally scheduled for December. Twelve members of the committee approved the measure, with only two casting negative votes.

Before the committee hearing, more than 30 bills had sought to put the elections on hold.

These bills cited various reasons, such as setting aside money for the polls to COVID-19 response, not having two potentially divisive elections in a year, and giving teachers who would be serving on election boards enough time to rest and recover from the May 9 polls.

But the plan to postpone the polls is vehemently opposed by various groups. Among them is the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), which said further delaying the village and youth polls is “an attack against grassroots democracy and community power.”

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Last month, the Catholic poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), said the postponement of the barangay and SK elections sets a “dangerous precedent” as it “deprives the citizens not only of the right to affirm and once more vote for barangay leaders who provide good and dependable leadership and ensure the timely flow of necessary services, especially during the trying times of the pandemic, but also denies the people of their right and critical need to replace leaders who do not fully exercise their voter-given mandate.”

The PPCRV said youths, who make up over half of the voting population, would be deprived of their right to suffrage and to participate as youth leaders.

Moreover, since the barangay is the most basic local government unit, it is the most accessible to citizens, and its services are most immediately felt at the community level.

The last time the country held barangay and SK elections was in May 2018.

The next elections should have been in May 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers moved the elections to the first Monday of December 2022. The postponement effectively extended the terms of village and youth officials from just two years to five years.

Commission on Elections chair George Erwin Garcia had earlier urged Congress to decide by the end of August whether to postpone the barangay and SK elections in December so the poll body can make the needed adjustments.

For one thing, he said, the Comelec needed to know whether or not the elections would push through as they had to print 90 million ballots by September for 235,000 projected precincts and it would need a whole month to print, verify and check these before delivery three weeks before the polls.

The Comelec has pegged the cost of postponing the polls to May or December 2023 from P17 billion to P18 billion, more than double the P8.45 billion that will be spent if the polls were held this December.

With Congress unable to decide on the poll postponement by the end of last month, it appears that the barangay and local polls would push through in December this year.

Given all this, we support the position of various groups against postponing the polls to next year.

Let the people in the barangays, including the youth, directly choose their leaders.

This is grassroots democracy that we should allow to thrive so that Filipinos can be given the opportunity to select the next generation of leaders.

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