Bunye: Should President Duterte be allowed to appoint barangay officials?

Atty. Ignacio R. Bunye

THE recent move by Congressman Robert Ace Barbers to seek the further postponement of the barangay elections and to authorize President Rodrigo Duterte to just appoint barangay officials has certainly kicked up a lot of discussion.

Based on reactions from public figures, the academe, as well as netizens, we have drawn a broad spectrum of very cogent arguments -- both for and against the proposal.

As can be gleaned below, the justifications fall into one of three categories:

1. Constitutional/legal grounds
2. Moral grounds and
3. Practical grounds.

Constitutional/Legal Grounds

Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre argues there are no express provisions in the 1987 Constitution that prohibit the President from appointing barangay officials. It’s a “go” as far as Aguirre is concerned.

Election Lawyer Emil Maranon III counters: While there are no express provisions, we have to look into the spirit of the Constitution, which contains at least two references to barangay officials as “elective officials.” Ergo, barangay officials should remain elective.

Former Senate President Aquilino Nene Pimental, the acknowledged Father of the Local Government Code, argues that the Barbers proposal would be violative of the express provisions of the Local Government Code.

House Speaker Alvarez counters: We can always amend the Local Government Code.

Curiously, Senate President Koko Pimentel takes the side of Alvarez and disagrees with his father.

To this, the elder Pimentel said: I do not have direct influence on Koko, adding in jest: “I don't even get to see him. If I want to know where he is, I have to ask NBI’s assistance to get that information.”

Moral Grounds

President Duterte insists that given the current broad reach and resources of drug lords and criminal syndicates, chances are very high that the outcome of the barangay elections would be tainted by narco-politics. The stated objective, in so far as the President is concerned, is to prevent the emergence of a narco-state.

Those who disagree with the President see this as an admission of weakness. With his 16 million plus followers, critics suggest that the President should field his own candidates and just let the people decide.

Besides, critics argue that there are enough checks against tainted local officials. They can be removed and even prosecuted on legal grounds.

But more to the point, critics question the very motive of the President’s plan. It is pointed out that this will make the appointees beholden to the President.

That would be concentrating too much power in the hands of one person. That would be very undemocratic.

But didn’t President Cory, the Icon of Democracy, also appoint OIC Governors and Mayors shortly after the Edsa Revolution?

That is correct, critics counter. But the circumstances then were different. She assumed power under a Revolutionary Government which conferred wide powers on the President. To her credit, she soon reverted to a democratic government, where representatives of the people are duly elected.

Practical Grounds

Proponents cite the huge budgetary savings by foregoing the barangay elections.

Critics, on the other hand, argue that preserving democracy and its institutions is well worth the cost.

Supporter Reynan Cañete argues: “Why not give it a chance? Nothing to lose. So-called democratic elections have seen politicians with questionable reputations get elected over and over again. At least here's one brave President willing to take the blame by himself if things go wrong.”

Proponents further cite that in the process of appointing barangay officials, consultations will be made with various community sectors, including the church. Thus, the fate of the appointees will not just rest solely in President Duterte.

Still, the appointing process itself would be a nightmare. Dax Lucas, veteran reporter of the other No. 1 newspaper, has this to say:

“Logistically speaking, it would be very difficult for him to appoint 42,000 barangay captains. As it stands, they can't even fill up the 7,000 appointive positions in the executive branch.”

There you have it.

As my good friend and fellow Bulletin columnist Chito Villanueva is fond of saying: “You be the judge.”

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