Sunday, October 07, 2007

Barangay polls becoming deadly

League leader says 30 have died so far in the run up to the Oct. 29 polls

By Nora O. Gamolo, Manila Times Senior Desk Editor

This year’s barangay elections just might be the bloodiest in history, the head of the national federation of 41,995 barangay units said, adding that the polls should have been postponed on this basis alone.

As it is, the synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections are scheduled to push ahead on October 29.

James Marty Lim, president of the Liga ng Mga Barangay ng Pilipinas, said that while everybody is now preparing for the barangay polls, “there is still a flicker of hope [in the league] that it will be postponed.”

“We have already recorded 30 deaths of barangay officials right after the May 15 election. We have recorded one barangay captain killed in Quezon City, one in Valenzuela and four in Batangas, and these are just media reports,” Lim said. The actual figure could be higher, as many cases go unreported.

He added that the league and the barangay units do not have police powers to prevent and investigate cases of election-related violence.

This election is too close to the previous polls, Lim said. “The wounds of the last election have not yet healed.”

The same people who contested each other in the last election five months ago, either as a candidate or political supporter of the contenders, will now have another face-off in this contest, Lim added.

Today, people are still angry, Lim explained. “The contestants are still hot, and many electoral protests are not yet resolved.”

Prayer for postponement

Even though the Senate begins a four-week recess on Monday, Lim said he is hopeful the lawmakers will convene a special session on Tuesday. Even with four senators out in Geneva for the meeting of the International Parliamentary Union, there are still 11 senators in the country—enough for a quorum.

“Whether they want it or not, there should be a voting on the issue,” Lim said.

“It’s all about respect. The president has endorsed it as urgent There is a counterpart bill to this effect from the House,” he recalled.

“We in the Liga simply want to know who wants to have the [barangay] election, and who do not,” Lim said, adding that the Senate is “fence-sitting.”

“They are dribbling the issue to death.”

Lim said that in the Senate’s session last week, the senators practically barred Sen. Miguel Zubiri from defending the counterpart postponement measure in the Senate so there was no discussion.

Zubiri is a co-sponsor of that measure and could have defended it in the absence of the main sponsor, Lim said.

Wish unlikely

Lim conceded, however, that the senators “would most likely get it their way,” decrying that Senate President Villar is practically a hostage of his senatorial peers, and his leadership is compromised by senators who do not want a postponement of the barangay polls.

But Lim insisted that the barangay league does not want to have the elections postponed simply because it means an extension of their term of office.

“We believe that the automation [of the barangay polls] is important. If they want to test [the automation measure], why should it be tested only in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao? It should be tested in two cities and two provinces,” Lim said.

He conceded that only Mayor Marides Fernando of Marikina offered to make her city a pilot area, but no other political leader came forward.

Conduct of polls

Lim said he is optimistic about barangay polls, however, insisting that vote-buying is practically nonexistent in the baran­gay level. “Nobody will tamper with the barangay election because they are neigh­bors. Well, maybe, in only one percent.”

Failure of election is another thing, though. Just the same, “the failure of elections happen in ARMM, not in Luzon and Visayas and Metro Manila,” he asserted.

Among others, failure of elections can be declared by the Commission on Elections in extreme cases when the election materials are lost and when there is preponderant violence involving the election officers.

“If a failure does happen, there is protection for the [electoral] process and the parties. An election will be held later, but it will be held,” Lim said.

Speedy tabulation

Polls at the barangay level are much quicker to process, though. With face-to-face counting, winners are known almost immediately after votes are cast, and they proclaimed immediately “even before the night is over.”

Lim insisted that there was really no two years postponement of the barangay polls, as contended by many.

“What happened was that we just went back to the status quo before when barangay leaders serve for more than five years for every term, even six years. Nobody complained before.”

He explained that the Constitution says that local government leaders serve for three years, except barangay officials as may be determined by law. But this was not invoked in the Local Government Code, which adopted a three-year term for barangay officials based on what the Constitution prescribes for the rest of local government officials and the members of the House of Representative who represent electoral districts. The exception clause for barangay leaders was not invoked.

Lim decried that the term of office of barangay leaders has become a political issue, even while barangay leaders are officially not members of political parties and are banned from express partisan politics that has wracked the nation

No comments: