COMELEC: Law needed to postpone barangay elections

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — If government plans to hold off barangay elections again, then it should soon pass a corresponding law, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) said on Monday.

"If Congress actually pushes through with this postponement, we're asking them to do it as soon as possible... mainly because we don't want to be spending too much money on preparations," COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez told CNN Philippines' The Source.

Barangay elections are scheduled for Oct. 23, 2017 after President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law that postponed the elections last Oct. 31, 2016.

Jimenez said a law to again postpone the poll should be enacted immediately to avoid unnecessary and untimely expenses.

He noted that COMELEC is "moving towards that time in... the chronology where we have no chance but to start signing contracts."

Jimenez said three months before the elections is "a generous estimate" of the time they needed, but he would prefer that the law be passed even before July this year.

"As far away from the actual date is the benchmark there... The sooner the better," Jimenez added.

Another poll deferment is a possibility after Duterte again raised Thursday that 40 percent of barangay chairmen nationwide were involved in drugs. He even talked about appointing barangay officials.

Related: Duterte eyes appointment, not election, of barangay officials

However, Jimenez said there is a law on the schedule of barangay election.

"As long as the law exists... saying that we'll have elections in 2017, we will be spending money to prepare for it," he explained. "It doesn't matter who else says otherwise, if the law says that we're going then we're going."

Barangay officials tagged in drugs

With a total of 42,036 barangays nationwide, Duterte's estimate means almost 17,000 barangay chairmen are linked to drugs.

Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas President Edmund Abesamis admits that some officials may be involved in illegal drugs, but they had no figure for how many there were.

"Personally I do not have the basis to say whether or not it's accurate or not but what I can say is that there are barangay officials that are involved in illegal drugs," said Abesamis.

He added that his organization has yet to see the President's narco-list.

"The list is not with us, that is the problem. We are requesting for (it)," said Abesamis.

He recommended that cases be filed against barangay officials linked to the drug trade.

Abesamis also suggested that Congress can look into how long the process will take "instead of looking into the mode of selecting barangay [officials]."

Jimenez added there is "a whole raft of possible solutions" to the drug issue apart from appointing officials.

"The president said that this problem exists-we can take it at his word-but do we have to adopt such a draconian measure? I guess that's the main question," said Jimenez.

Appointing barangay officials

Jimenez said the COMELEC maintains elections are an important aspect of democracy.

"As far as the COMELEC is concerned, we are committed, of course, to elections. We believe that elections are the way to keep democracy going," said Jimenez.

Jimenez added they would leave "the wisdom of holding elections... to Congress."

Abesamis believes appointing barangay officials is against Constitution.

Article 10, Section 8 of the Constitution states, "The term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms."

"What Congress can do is change the term of office, but not the mode of choosing the barangay officials from election to appointment," Abesamis explained.

Protection from partisanship

Abesamis also added that the barangay should not be politicized and partisanship can enter the barangay level when mayors or other officials appoint or recommend barangay leaders.

"The law provides that the barangay is non-partisan or apolitical. We will not be insulating the barangays from politics if appointment will be the case," he explained.

He noted that barangay officials also represented their communities at the municipal, city, and provincial levels.

"They become councilors or board members of the province. If it is by appointment, it is like giving authority to the [appointer] to choose councilors and board members also," said Abesamis.