Press Release
September 13, 2016

Senate moves to defer SK, bgy polls, to give time for reforms

With 20 affirmative votes and two negative votes, senators today approved on third and final reading a bill that seeks to postpone the upcoming October 2016 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections to give way to necessary reforms that will improve the institutions' ability to serve its constituents.

Senate Bill No. 1112, primarily sponsored and authored by Senate Committee on Local Government Chairman, Senator Juan Edgardo "Sonny"Angara, and coauthored by Senators Leila de Lima, Alan Peter Cayetano, Loren Legarda, Joel Villanueva, Cynthia Villar and Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri, was the first bill to be approved for the 17th Congress.

Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said the passage of the bill complemented similar moves in the House of Representatives where congressmen have approved their own version of the proposed measure.

According to Angara, the measure aims to move the twin elections, originally set on October 31 this year, to the fourth Monday of October, or October 23, 2017. In the meantime, the terms of incumbent and SK officials will be extended "for a year unless they are removed or suspended from office."

De Lima, who chairs the Senate electoral reforms committee, said this measure, once enacted into law, will give more time for local officials to implement their projects and programs in their respective localities.

"Naniniwala po tayo, walang dapat kilingan ang mga barangay kundi ang mamamayan. Para higit na makapagsilbi sa Pilipino, ang barangay ay hindi dapat maging partisano at maging kasangkapan ng sistemang padrino," she said.

Minority Leader Ralph Recto said he voted against the postponement of the SK and barangay polls because the reasons cited by other senators such as lack of funds would still exist by next year. In fact, he said, the government would be spending more than the current P7 billion needed to hold the SK and barangay polls this year.

For her part, Senator Rissa Hontiveros said she was against the postponement of the SK poll because it would send "the wrong signal that the government is not sincere in including the youth in governing the country."

Reforms, election fatigue

"A foremost reason for pushing through with postponement is to allow more time for the full implementation of the SK Reform Act or Republic Act No. 10742, which was a product of the hard work of our colleagues, Senators Bam Aquino, JV Ejercito, and former Senator Bongbong Marcos," Angara explained.

He said the government was not ready to implement many of the provisions and programs under the SK Reform Act, which was signed into law in January of this year "to improve the services of the SK and make it more meaningful."

"For instance, RA 10742 calls for the creation of a training fund worth P50 million to be used for the mandatory training of SK officials. But these trainings cannot take place this year given the 2016 GAA does not provide any such training funds," he said.

Angara also cited the presence of 'election fatigue,' among voters since only four months have passed since the national elections last May: "Consider how, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) only 3.095 million - or less than 50 percent - new voters were registered in time for the SK polls out of the target six million this year."

"Postponement only gives the Comelec more time to assure higher voter turnout for these elections, and would-be voters the head space to fully consider who should lead their barangays," he said.

Similarly, Villanueva said that a postponement would be particularly beneficial to senior high school and college students who were not able to register for the SK and barangay elections, since classes were already ongoing during the 15-day registration period last month.

"In fact, the 15 day period can also be questioned because the Implementing Rules and Regulations SK Reform Law states that there should be a special registration and it should not be less than 1 month including Saturdays and Sundays," he added.

No postponement of appointments, projects

Pimentel earlier said that a key provision of the bill was that it would allow President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint "new government officials to man sensitive posts that would be temporarily shelved because of an election ban."

"The President cannot appoint officials during the election period. Movement of personnel is also prohibited," the Senate Chief pointed out.

No interruptions to drug war

For his part, Cayetano said the bill would ensure that the ongoing fight against crime and illegal drugs would not be slowed down and affect the anti-illegal drug operations in barangays. Data from the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) show 98% drug affectation rate in the 1,611 barangays in Metro Manila alone.

"To hold said elections now would complicate matters concerning the government's crackdown on illegal drugs, especially if barangay officials linked to the said illicit activities will claim political motivations/election-related reasons behind such accusations," Cayetano said.

Similarly, Zubiri said allowing the elections to push through this October "will necessarily slow down the current administration's campaign against illegal drugs."

"After the initial efforts of the President and national law enforcement agencies -- the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and National Bureau of Investigation -- on the war on drugs, this will have to be sustained down to the municipal and barangay levels," he stressed.

Funds for youth-oriented projects

To address concerns regarding the continuation of development projects for the youth nationwide, the bill includes a provision that demands that the Sangguniang Kabataan Fund will not be used "except for youth development and empowerment programs as provided under RA 10742,"

According to Senator Risa Hontiveros, who introduced the amendment, this will guarantee the "continued allocation and utilization for barangay youth related development activities," until the next elections of new SK officials. (Jardine Chua)

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