POSTSCRIPT / August 2, 2022 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Why is Manila not in Pelosi’s itinerary?

We can understand why the congressional delegation led by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi should skip Taiwan in its meetings with their staunchest security partners in the Indo-Pacific region, but why is the Philippines, a long-time treaty ally, left out?

Manila is not in the itinerary of a US congressional group led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi consulting partners in the Indo-Pacific region. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

Pelosi’s delegation, in Singapore yesterday, will proceed to Malaysia, South Korea and Japan while weighing the wisdom of also calling on President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan as China warns of the dire consequences of such a visit to what it claims as its province.

If the Pelosi consultation with allies on “shared interests and values” is any indication, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will have to work harder to pull up Manila from the cellar that his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte had brought down relations with Washington.

Since Duterte’s watch, has the Philippines shrunk into a small dot on the US geopolitical screen of the Indo-Pacific region? Would that speck now loom bigger with the ascendancy of the lead male member of the controversial Marcos dynasty?

President Marcos enjoys the immunity customarily accorded to traveling sovereigns, but members of his family not in his entourage still have to sort out their individual status – and also that of their Stateside assets – should they plan to enter the US.

China has been careful to keep strong the bilateral ties cemented during the term of Duterte, who announced in 2017 his country’s “separation” from Uncle Sam while he was standing in Beijing as guest of President Xi Jin-ping.

In Washington, President Joe Biden raised last week concerns about Pelosi’s trip, telling reporters that the military thinks her trip is “not a good idea right now.” No China policy shift is expected to result immediately from the consultations by her group.

But the Pelosi swing through the region – with a stop in Taipei left hanging – would be productive by helping draw out a deeper and larger view of the official attitude of the inscrutable Chinese leaders on the Taiwan issue and related matters.

CIA Director William Burns has said he believed a Chinese attempt to forcibly seize the island, with its 23 million population – 154,000 of them Filipino workers! – was only a matter of time. But time is an infinite continuum!

Although China sometimes flies warplanes menacingly close to Taiwan, many security analysts say that an invasion at this time is not probable, nor profitable, for China. If one does occur, however, the US is committed at least on paper to rush to its defense.

Such a military confrontation exploding soon may look far-fetched. But if it does happen, what will Manila do? Will Marcos watch from across the Babuyan channel the war raging some 711 air km north of his Ilocandia redoubt?

 ‘Resetting barangay polls unconstitutional’

There is again another move in the Congress to postpone the Barangay elections that have been set to be held this December.

Instead of resetting these village polls to suit the changing politics of some potent groups, why don’t we just make elected barangay officials hold office for life?

After saying that, more in exasperation, we yield to an expert election lawyer, Romy Macalintal, who says that postponing Barangay elections is unconstitutional. He elaborates:

“The Constitution gives Congress the power to ‘fix the term of office of barangay officials’, but not the power to ‘postpone’ their election.  Only the Commission on Elections has exclusive authority to postpone an election after it has determined that any of the causes under Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code warrant such postponement.

“However, Congress has the power to postpone the Sangguniang Kabataan polls since SK is not created by the Constitution and SK officials are not barangay nor local elective officials.

“While Congress has postponed several scheduled barangay polls in the past, said act was never challenged before the Supreme Court. Now that several lawmakers plan to postpone the  Dec. 5, 2022, barangay polls to Dec. 5, 2025, which would be its fourth postponement, it is high time that this constitutional transgression committed by Congress be stopped.

“The moment Congress has fixed the term of office of the barangay officials, say for three years, the said term cannot be extended by law as it will violate the electorate’s right to choose their own leaders. When the voters cast their ballots, the mandate given these barangay officials is only for three years.

“Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that said officials can only ‘legally and morally justify their reign by obtaining the consent of the electorate.’

“It is again proposed that the incumbent barangay officials be allowed to continue serving in a ‘holdover capacity.’ But this, as SC ruled, is ‘a subtle way to lengthen governance without the mandate from the governed. If they want to continue serving, they must get a new mandate in the elections  as scheduled by law.’

“It is unconstitutional because ‘holdover positions’ are actually ‘legislative appointments’ making holdover positions violative of the constitution’s rule that barangay officials should be elected and not appointed.”

“On ‘saving funds’ by postponing the election, we agree with former senator (now representative) Ralph Recto’s opposition when the Senate voted to postpone the 2016 barangay polls. He said: ‘Makakatipid dawPero 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 canceling the polls. But we are only postponing it.’”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 2, 2022)

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