Press Release
September 13, 2016

Recto : Explanation of No Vote on the Bill Postponing Barangay Elections

Elective officials in this land--from the president down to the barangay captain--have the same employment status: they're casuals elected to fixed terms.

They are hired or fired through the same process-- via the ballot, with their employers, otherwise known as the electorate, each deciding whether to extend or 'endo' their job contracts.

Elections in this land are triennial summer job fairs, with the candidates strutting their stuff all over, or stuffing money anywhere, in a bid to convince their bosses to renew their employment.

The reason why elective positions have expiry dates is one of democracy's greatest virtues.

By subjecting the performance of officials to periodic review, the people retain the right to replace those who have not been true to their oath, or have turned their backs on them.

But for those who have served them well, elections affirm their good work, for nothing validates hard and honest labor than a fresh mandate.

And nothing inspires good performance more than the threat of being terminated. This fear of feeling the end of the boot is what keeps us casuals always on our toes.

It is because of this principle--that only the people can directly extend the tenure of elective public officials--that I cannot agree to the proposal to postpone the barangay elections.

If this was about extending the terms of mayors or governors by one year, there would have been widespread uproar by now.

If this bill was about our terms, there would have been an uprising, with waves and waves of protestors laying siege to this building like those swarms in Train to Busan.

Pero dahil barangay lang ang apektado, parang ang attitude ay "carry lang."

But barangays are not the far outposts of government; they are the first line of public service.

They are the sovereigns' first contact with government, not the last.

When fisticuffs break out over videoke noise, they don't call the police or tell it to the Marines; they call the barangay.

Domestic disputes are not immediately sent up to our clogged courts; they are first arbitrated at the barrio hall.

Sick people don't have senators or congressmen on their speed dial. Their first, and for many, the only option is the barangay kapitan.

He is the first to rush to where flames are, whether from a house burning, or from candles on a cake of a senior citizen.

For many of our people, senators could be distant creatures living in a galaxy far, far away. But barangay officials for them are not unreachable stars.

So it should not surprise us if they want to have a say on the fate of the terms of office of officials they are closest to, a job which should not be done for them, and usurped, by creatures living in a galaxy, far, far away.

Mr. President:

Many reasons have been advanced on why we have to postpone barangay polls.

I put them into four clusters, which I call the four Fs: funding, fatigue, fighting the drug wars, and the freeze on public works and government hiring.

First is funding.

Makakatipid daw? Pero paano? The math here is that by putting off the elections for a year, we are only putting aside funds budgeted for the elections for a year.

We can only save money if we are permanently cancelling the polls. But we are only postponing it.

In budget-speak, savings accrue from a terminated project, not from a deferred one. So instead of spending at least P7 billion if we will hold the elections this year, we will only delay spending it by a year, so in the end, we will still have to spend that P7 billion.

In fact, on the contrary, we will be spending more. Some preparatory activities the Comelec had done will be repeated. For one, the new round of voter's registration will have to be conducted.

Another familiar refrain we are hearing is "election fatigue."

That could be the case if barangay elections are 90-day marathons like the campaign period for the presidency. But the one for the barangay is a short 10-day sprint.

In 2007, we held national and local elections in May, the last time manual counting was done, and then a barangay election later in the year. We also conducted both in 2010 and 2013, but the issue of election fatigue never cropped up.

Why? Because unlike a presidential election, which can be a weapon of mass distraction in a nation where our energy is momentarily dissipated by antics of those applying to solve our problems instead of using it to solve them, barangay polls are small blips in the radar.

There are no trolls who will anger us, no social media bashing that will bruise us, no expensive TV ads that will interrupt our telenovela watching.

The third pretext is that a barangay election would distract the government from pursuing its Great War on Illegal Drugs.

But the effect of the postponement is that barangay officials who coddle or are in cahoots with drug lords are gifted with another year in office.

Those who are barangay captains and drug captains at the same time will have a one year free pass, not courtesy of the people but of their fellow politicians.

Postponement will rob barangay residents of the chance to boot out barangay officials who moonlight as drug traders or whose feeble leadership allowed the proliferation of narcotics in their areas.

Don't get me wrong. Mas maraming barangay leaders pa rin ang matitino. Di hamak na mas marami ang nagseserbisyo. Mas marami ang nagsasakripisyo. Mas marami ang naglilingkod ng todo-todo.

Pero marami ring dapat nang palitan.

PDEA has tagged 13,661 out of the 42,036 barangays in the country as drug-affected. In Metro Manila, the prevalence is higher, with 92 percent of 1,706 barangays penetrated by drug lords according to PDEA.

This high rate of drug infiltration in our barangays can only be used as an argument for--and not against--the scheduled holding of elections next month.

For barangay leaders who put their lives on the line in battling drug trade where they live, a fresh mandate from grateful residents not only recognizes their work but renews their license to wage the war.

But for barangay leaders who have long dipped their fingers into the dirty jar of shabu sales, the election provides the people they have betrayed to "endo" them.

It is the only way they can liberate themselves from drug lords and barangay officials who have conspired in a lucrative Occupy the Barangay project.

By scrapping the polls, we are in effect telling people in the throes of their self-deliverance that "Change is postponed."

Concerns have also been raised that pushing through with the October elections will pull back PNP personnel from the frontlines of the drug war.

But isn't it true that deploying policemen to barangays during the campaign period would, in fact, heighten security in barangays and provide them with the opportunity to conduct Oplan Tokhang in places where they will be embedded?

The last of the alibis is that the barangay elections would freeze public works construction as well as the hiring and deployment of government personnel.

But isn't it true, Mr. President, that whether there are elections or not, projects are delayed? That funds are not released? That allotments are not obligated? That personnel positions are not filled?

This fiscal scourge is called underspending, and the good Budget secretary had pegged at about P1 trillion the total amount of appropriations that was not released on time or was not released at all over the past six years.

Last year for example, P52.22 billion in DepEd allotment was not obligated, P35.01 billion in DOTC allotment was not obligated, P8.96 billion in DA allotment was not obligated, and P106.36 billion in DPWH was not obligated.

For every peso given to it, DOTC managed to obligate only 56 centavos within the fiscal year. On the part of the DPWH, 24 centavos for every budget peso was unobligated within the same period.

In the case of DepED, P1.4 billion out of the P2.4 billion budget for meals for malnourished children was downloaded to the regions only at the tail-end of the year, so instead of DepEd cafeterias bragging about millions served, their slogan should be millions deprived.

So let me ask this: Was an election ever a culprit for underspending? Never.

The previous Senate had spent days probing the issue and poring over hundreds of documents and never was an election or even a barangay plebiscite cited as a reason for the slow use of funds.

So it is time to retire it as bogey for low fund absorption.

The problem lies not in elections. It lies in the incompetence of unelected and unelectable bureaucrats.

The same could be said with the hiring of government employees, and for the same reasons that elections should be absolved of the unfair charge that they cause delay in personnel appointment.

Yearly without fail, we allocate funds to hire more teachers. And yearly without miss, DepEd would fail to hire a single teacher before the June class opening using funds for teacher recruitment for that year.

Were these delays due to elections?

My dear colleagues, the answer is no.

Hindi rin po totoo ang chismis na isang buwan ang haba ng public works ban tuwing may halalan para sa mga opisyales ng barangay at SK.

Ayon sa Republic Act 6679, sampung araw bago mag-barangay elections lamang suspendido ang construction. Inuulit ko po: Sampung araw o siyam na tulog lang. At hindi sakop lahat ng infrastructure projects. Yun lamang pong provincial, city, municipal and barangay roads and bridges.

Hindi kasama ang flyovers, hindi kasama ang airports.

And on this point, I would like to thank Senator Sonny for accepting my amendments that the ban be limited to barangay-funded roads and bridges, and that the personnel hiring and promotion ban, except for barangay-funded positions and job orders, be lifted.

That would have sufficed for me to be a postponement convert but I think, despite Senator Sonny's equally brilliant defense of this bill, I would have to vote on the fundamental principle that we should not tinker with expiry dates of elective offices.

Lastly, so that routinely postponing barangay elections does not become a bad national habit, may I suggest that a real, thorough, comprehensive Barangay Reform Act be pursued.

And there is no better Senate to do it than the one led by the son of the father of the Local Government Code.

Let us go for durable cures, for the real strengthening of our barangays, not band-aid solutions.

Mr. President, I vote 'yes' to barangay reforms but 'no' to this measure.

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