Namfrel reiterates call for barangay, SK polls to push through

MANILA — The citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in previous electoral exercises has reiterated its opposition to the proposed postponement of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) Elections scheduled to be held on Oct. 23.

“Elections should be conducted with certainty and regularity. Doing otherwise undermines a democratic process instituted to ensure every citizen’s right to choose their leaders and make them accountable. Regularity of elections is important to establish this mandate, legitimacy and moral authority,” National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) said in a statement.

“Regular election is a vital exercise in a democracy. In a youth-laden society, and the Barangay comprising the most basic political unit, the importance of the polls is more apparent. Postponing elections on a whim could undermine the democratic process of ensuring every citizen’s right to choose their leaders and make them accountable,” it added.

With this, the group believes that pushing through with the scheduled polls may enhance the Duterte government’s anti-illegal campaign and may also test the SK Reform Act enacted in February 2016.

“Conducting the elections may even enhance the government’s anti-drug campaign and aid in putting a stop to narco-politics by not re-electing those compromised and entrenched local leaders using narco-money to get themselves elected and/or perpetuate themselves in office. This is part of the continuing effort on campaign and election finance reform,” it added.

Namfrel noted that the plan to appoint barangay officials, in case the polls are postponed, would violate the Constitution.

“First, the plan to appoint officials would violate Sec. 41 of the Local Government Code (RA 7160), which ensures that the electorate has the right to choose their village leaders and contravene Sec. 2.2, Article 9 and Sec. 8, Article 10 of the 1987 Constitution. Second, there is a need to first deliberate these proposals in the Electoral Committees of the House and Senate then pass a postponement law and pass another law to allow for their appointment. They have to do it now since the Comelec is in the thick of preparations for the scheduled manual elections,” the statement said.

“There are concerns and apprehensions of not having elections regularly and opting to appoint village officials. Going by the criteria: what is their mandate, legitimacy and moral authority? Those appointed may be prone to abuse their office and may form a misplaced debt of gratitude to their appointing authority instead of to their constituents.”

Namfrel added the poll body could partner with other government agencies to be able to thoroughly screen candidates.

“To address the drug-problem in the barangay, Comelec can partner with agencies such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to vet applicants and screen candidates who have documented links in illegal drug trade as they file their candidacy. Those found guilty of criminal offenses or have a string of administrative complaints, especially if these are drug related, should be flagged and his/her application be rejected,” the organization said.

“While the Comelec may not have the power to disqualify those with suspected drug links without a guilty ruling, those guilty with final judgment for criminal acts – among them drug-related, can be disqualified from running. This will ensure that the final list of candidates contain upright and qualified candidates. While tedious due to the number of applicants, the Comelec can utilize its intelligence funds and can crowdsource this vetting by involving their local Comelec offices in partnership with the local community/groups for validation,” it added.