EDITORIAL - Institutionalizing overstaying

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Institutionalizing overstaying

Elections are held regularly in a democracy to review the mandate of office holders, to boot out non-performers and allow a new set of officials to apply new ideas. It’s like a new year: you ring out the old and ring in the new.

So the incoming batch of lawmakers should think carefully before postponing anew the barangay elections scheduled in December. Such postponements are seen mainly as a reward for village officials who, while required to be nonpartisan, actually serve during elections as grassroots campaign leaders of candidates, usually the incumbent officials. Obviously, such partisan roles for barangay officials become more important during general elections such as the one held this month.

The incumbent village officials have been in their posts since June 2018, with the vote postponed three times – first in October 2016, then in October 2017 and again in December 2019, allowing about 42,000 barangay personnel to overstay.

Even before that 2018 vote, President Duterte had decried the involvement of barangay officials in drug trafficking. His administration has indicted scores of barangay officials, most of them captains, on drug-related charges, with several among those killed by police in the course of the war on illegal drugs.

The COVID pandemic turned the overstaying barangay officials into frontline enforcers of public health protocols. In the two years of the pandemic, several barangay officials were charged for various offenses related to the malversation of cash assistance or ayuda distributed to the people for coping with the public health crisis. There were also complaints about abuses in the enforcement of COVID health safety protocols by certain barangay officials particularly in depressed areas.

Proponents of yet another postponement argue that the government stands to save P8 billion if the December vote is deferred. But it could take decades before the country fully repays the P12.68-trillion debt it has so far accumulated for the pandemic response. How many times will the barangay polls be postponed in the interest of saving public funds? If cost-saving is the goal, it might be better to just abolish the barangay system, and toss in the Sangguniang Kabataan or youth councils.

The bigger midterm and general elections cost even more, but they are not deferred for any reason. After four years – a year longer than the terms of congressmen and local government executives – the current batch of barangay officials must secure a fresh mandate. Overstaying must not become institutionalized for elective officials.


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