Nene Pimentel on barangay polls: respect power of the people to elect their leaders    

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 March) — Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr., the “father of the Local Government Code,” is against moves to postpone the October 23, 2017 barangay elections to May 25, 2020 and have his party mate, President Rodrigo Duterte appoint OIC barangay officials.

Pimentel told ANC’s “Beyond Politics” on Tuesday that repeatedly postponing the elections will make the barangay institution “look like a joke.”

“More to the point. If barangay elections were not held, the power of the people to elect their own leaders and not allow their leaders to just be appointed, will be removed away from them. That is a terrible diminution of the power of our people granted to them under a democratic rule,” he said.

Former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. says the power of the people to elect their leaders must be respected. Photo from Senate President Koko Pimentel’s Facebook page.

Pimentel told MindaNews in an e-mail that “there is no question that having the barangay officials elected by their constituents would be more in consonance with our Constitution than having them appointed by the President.”

“Getting the barangay officials elected by the people of the barangay concerned makes them beholden to their voters. Appointing them, on the other hand, makes them feel they owe a debt of gratitude to the appointing power that they have somehow to repay,” added Pimentel, who had served as mayor of Cagayan de Oro, Local Governments Secretary during the transition period of the Aquino administration from 1986 until his election as Senator in 1987. Pimentel also served as Senate President from 2000 to 2001.

Surigao del Norte’s 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers has filed House Bill 5359 to postpone the October 2017 polls to May 2020, declare the seats vacant and let the President appoint OIC barangay chairs and councilors.

There are 42,036 barangays nationwide as of December 2016, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, with at least 330,000 elected barangay officials at one barangay chair and seven councilors each.

War on drugs

In his explanatory note, Barbers, chair of the Committee on Dangerous Drugs, described the barangays as the first line of defense at the grassroots level and that officials “must spearhead the government’s fight against illegal drugs and must maintain a proactive stand in shielding the ordinary people from the drug menace.”

He said he filed the bill in support of Duterte’s call to postpone the barangay polls  “because he does not want those financed by drug lords to win.”

Duterte last year also cited the alleged involvement of barangay officials in illegal drugs as the reason why he sought postponement of the October 31, 2016 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

The 2016 election was reset to October 23 this year by HB 10923 which Barbers’ bill seeks to amend.

Pimentel  told ANC’s “Beyond Politics” that assuming there are drug dealers, drug addicts, drug abusers among the barangay officials, “the solution is to prosecute them, put them behind bars and punish them.”

He told MindaNews that on the issue that some barangay officials are drug dealers or users, “the same can be said, I understand, of some higher ranking LGU officials..”

He added: “The matter cannot be used as a valid reason to remove the barangay officials from the authority of the people to place them in positions of power.”

Pimentel’s son, Aquilino III or “Koko” is the incumbent Senate President and President of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP), the political party that fielded Duterte in the 2016 Presidential polls.  Duterte serves as national chair of the party.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. on Monday expressed confidence they could pass the postponement law when they resume sessions on  May 2 to June 2.

A press release posted on the website quoted Alvarez as saying they can pass the bill especially if it is certified as urgent by the President.

At the Senate, however, several senators from both the majority and minority are opposing the move.  The Senate President said he will meet with the President to clarify his proposal.

“Quite a bit messy”

On March 23, Duterte was asked in a press conference upon his arrival from Thailand to confirm a statement of Local Governments Secretary Ismael Sueno that the President wanted barangay positions declared vacant and the officials replaced with appointees.

Duterte replied: “You know, there’s a problem. There is no legal basis for being there. Walang hold over sa barangay. They are just there, I don’t know de facto, whatever.”

But RA 10923 which postponed last year’s election to October 23 this year, provides under Section 3 that “until their successors shall have been duly elected and qualified, all incumbent barangay officials shall remain in office, unless sooner removed or suspended for cause.”

Duterte admitted having advised Congress not to commit the “mistake” of calling for an election this year “because narco-politics has entered into the mainstream of Philippine politics…” and the 2019 local elections is “just around the corner.”

He said if elections were held this year, the officials on his narco list will win. “Forty percent of the total (number of) barangay captains are into drugs, that’s my problem,” he said.

“Either patayin muna natin ‘tong mga yawa na ito kasi ‘pag ka hindi (either we kill these devils first because if we don’t)  they will be elected again,” the President said, adding it would be dangerous if  barangay officials involved in illegal drugs can still influence the voters and local officials elected in 2019 will be indebted to them, thus putting the country deeper into narco-politics.

But Duterte admitted removing the barangay officials and appointing OICs would be “quite a bit messy.”

“We are looking for a way to appoint na lang the barangay captains but the mechanism of how to go about it, select them… Ako I can, but you know it’s always the President who has the power to appoint,” he said.

He added he would enter into a compromise “with the Church and everybody” for them to nominate three citizens, but typical of Duterte, did not complete his sentence: “They can nominate three citizens from… ”

He said the nominees must be cleared by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), and by the police and military that “they have no connections with the rebels,” that they are not into drugs, and “they are not really the leaders of politicians.”

He said he is asking the religious groups and the Lions Club and other groups  to nominate “so we can do away with shady characters. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)